Research and discussion for citizens and decision makers

Building Permits Analysis

Studying Houston trends

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I gave a presentation last week at the monthly Livable Houston / Smart Growth Initiative meeting that we co-host with the Houston-Galveston Area Council on the 2006 Residential Permits data from the U.S. Census Bureau. We looked at data on the City of Houston and Harris County and compared those to the nine other largest cities in Texas and their surrounding county as well as the nine other largest cities in the country and their surrounding counties.

The talk turned into an interesting discussion, which was the intention, because we really were exploring this data and trying to figure out what it means. Houston and Harris County are unique in many ways, most importantly in that we saw a building boom in 2006 and the Metropolitan region had more permits filed for new residential units than any other region in the country. Much of the discussion was spent dissecting this fact and looking at what type of units we are building and the share that is going into the central city or into unincorporated areas of the county. Looking at it from one point of view, the City of Houston is doing a bad job of capturing its share of the growth that is occurring in the region. When we looked at multi-family units, though, we found the opposite is true, in that the city is developing multi-family units at a much higher rate than the county.

One of the final graphs presented, shown below, shows the unique character of Harris County compared to both other counties in Texas and those that surround the biggest cities in the country. In those areas of Harris outside of the City of Houston only 11% percent of new units are multi-family units, the lowest figure for this variable of any of the counties we looked at in the study, except for Collin County in Texas, in which you will find Plano, one of the cities that is developing drastically differently than its surrounding county.

I think that there is more to be learned from this data, so we are making our work available so that others can look at it easily, do their own analysis, and continue the discussion. Please share any further work with us and we would appreciate credit if anyone uses the variables we created in any reports or publications. An obvious next step that I haven't taken yet is to obtain this data for all the cities in Harris County (or in the whole region) and run the same numbers. Obtaining the data in the same way as we did for the current study would take a long time, so I think I would spend some time seeing if the Census provides for downloading the data in one step or if contacting them directly could lead to a simple email of all the data for the region.

The compiled data and variables in Excel 240 KB .xls

Powerpoint presentation from Livable Houston meeting 2.3 MB .ppt

Descriptions of the variables 293 KB .doc

UPDATE: Excel of just the Census data 34 KB .xls

Slight Disclaimer - An observer with an exacting lens will note a discrepancy between the data for Harris County on the worksheets for US and TX cities. The Texas data was collected when the U.S. Census had newly published the data. The annual totals at this time were only available in the Cumulative Year to Date columns of the December 2006 report, whereas the US cities data was taken from the actual annual figures which were published later. At this time, the online building permits data still show this discrepancy. To see what I mean, select Harris County and set the date to December 2006 and compare that cumulative total to those shown by selecting Annual 2006 from the pull down menu. The difference is tiny and I don't think actually affects any of the variables in the report, so I didn't feel like redoing the worksheets to have perfectly matching data.

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.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) said:

1.  Tom Christoffel Says:
August 29th, 2007 at 9:01 am

A link to this post will be in the August 29 issue of Regional Community Development News. It can be found on the blog website like on August 30.


Posted on Dec 11, 08 at 4:06 pm

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