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Anaheim, Shmanaheim!

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Originally from Gus Van Horn,

While I understand why some of my fellow Objectivists, including none other than Robert Tracinski of TIA Daily seem so enamored of this Wall Street Journal article about Anaheim, California's relatively laissez-faire approach to revitalization, I submit that this doesn't hold a candle to what has been happening in Houston, Texas, for at least the past decade.

Bob Lanier knows a few things about politics and real estate. As Houston's mayor from 1992 to 1998, Lanier pushed the Inner Loop infrastructure improvements that quite literally paved the way for today's residential boom. Lanier is also a successful developer. Ensconced in the paneled library of his River Oaks mansion, Lanier, who is now 81, hasn't forgotten the modest means from which he came. Behind his desk hangs a picture of his childhood home -- a tidy shotgun much like the old houses in the Third Ward.

Lanier believes that integrated, mixed-income neighborhoods are the ideal. And he thinks that the private market's doing a pretty good job of providing racially diverse housing. "Apartments in this city are solidly multiethnic now," he says. "It's mostly a third, a third, a third" -- that is, one-third black, one-third white, one-third Hispanic. Lanier also points out that Houston, with its lack of zoning and minimal building regulations, produces the most affordable housing of any city in the United States. "I'd rather see the government not put any restrictions at all and let the market determine what happens," he says. [bold added]

That's right. Our nation's fourth largest city has no zoning! And Lanier is not exactly a capitalist. The Democrat admits being conflicted about unbridled regentrification in his next breath.

Amusingly, politicians of the "civil rights" establishment are on the defensive, looking for political means that would -- ahem -- "keep black neighborhoods black".

[Garnet] Coleman is determined to stop gentrification in Houston's Third Ward before it gets out of hand. "I understand how this happens," he says. "I understand how to stop it." He's also uniquely situated to do something about it. Coleman is an influential player in Houston's local politics, owing partly to his House seat and partly to his family lineage. Coleman's father, whose name adorns the office building he works in, was a prominent black physician, businessman, philanthropist and Houston civic leader.

Coleman is taking an unconventional and controversial approach to keeping the Third Ward affordable for longtime residents. Quietly, the board of a tax increment financing district that he partially controls has been buying up land in the Third Ward. Not only does Coleman want to keep the land away from developers. He also wants to saddle the property with restrictive deeds and covenants that would ensure that it could be used only for rental housing in perpetuity. "Quite frankly, this is personal," Coleman says with grim determination. "We can give tax abatements out the wazoo for lofts and condominiums. The question is what are our values and whether or not we are willing to spend the same money on people who need a nice, affordable, clean place to live."

Gentrification, a phenomenon normally associated with coastal cities such as New York and San Francisco, is now heading inland, transforming inner-city neighborhoods from Milwaukee to Raleigh-Durham to Albuquerque. It's even come to Houston, the three-beltway city that loves to sprawl. Since 2003, the number of Houston-area suburbanites "very interested" in moving into the city has doubled, according to sociologist Stephen Klineberg, who regularly surveys regional attitudes toward the city. Homebuilders are responding by blanketing neighborhoods close to downtown with three-story town homes and lofts. [bold added]

Restrictive covenents, eh? Makes me think of the ones I heard about growing up that were used to keep blacks from buying in white neighborhoods! Aside from possibly interfering with the property rights of his own constituents, who may well want to sell to the well-to-do, Coleman is dishonoring his own city's history of excellent race relations. Many blacks left the Third Ward for white neighborhoods ages ago. Why in the world can't non-blacks move to the Third Ward?

-- CAV

Related: This six-part series in defense of property rights in Houston at Capitalism Magazine.

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Wow. Interesting article. Being a native Houstonian I've seen many mayors come and go. Zoning rears its ugly head every once in a while but people here like the freedom for the most part. The real push for zoning does seem to come from people in "the wards" or I think the pc term is "historically African American neighborhoods" from "gentrification." Race relations here are better than just about any other place I've lived. People don't seem to care what the color of your skin is here as much as some other places I've been. Frankly, it's just to damned hot to care whether your forefather came from Zimbabwe, Hyperbad, Nuevo Laredo, Xianghai, or Croom.

FYI, the authors Warren and Brian are active members of the Houston Objectivist Society. Brian got a good bit of press back when Greenwood proposed enacting zoning from what I remember. They were really vanguards.

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