The city of Houston, Texas, is taking critical first steps to deal with deteriorating multifamily housing developments, according to a panel of experts who visited in December as part of the ULI Rose Center for Public Leadership in Land Use’s Daniel Rose Fellowship program. The panel commended Mayor Annise Parker’s administration for demolishing unsafe properties that were harboring criminal activities and spreading blight to the surrounding community, and advised the city to now develop a comprehensive approach to the challenges of neighborhood revitalization.

Houston’s land use challenge is how the city should approach the problem of deteriorating multifamily housing stock, which is affecting about a dozen developments in the city. Many of these developments have exceeded the life expectancies of their construction, and the city is faced with multiple questions about how to prevent this trend of disinvestment from spreading into nearby healthy communities.

The study visit included briefings from local officials, ULI Houston District Council leaders, and meetings with community stakeholders. The panel also toured two different communities with this problem: the Broadway corridor north of Hobby Airport, and the Antoine Drive corridor between Highway 290 and the city limit.

After offering its observations about the city and the study areas, the panel said that by demolishing longstanding problem properties on the basis of health and safety violations, the city was on the right track toward stabilizing these neighborhoods. But the panel also said that for Houston to achieve its community development goals, it needs to first set high-level priorities for neighborhood revitalization. This means defining what success will look like and developing real measures that the city and stakeholders can use to stay focused on ongoing needs and implementation challenges.

As a homework assignment, the panel suggested that the Houston Rose Fellowship team select at least one area to demonstrate a collaborative multiagency approach to neighborhood revitalization. Through this process, they could begin to create the elements of a comprehensive neighborhood revitalization plan, such as housing, amenities, infrastructure, connectivity to jobs, and so on.

The policy question for Houston is really: What is the public sector role in a market-driven strategy to create places of lasting value? While the panel offered the city many ideas, it needs to answer this question based on its own civic values, culture, needs, and politics. The Rose Center and ULI Houston District Council will continue to work with the city to help it to develop approaches to that answer.

The panel was cochaired by Rose Center Faculty members Antonio Fiol-Silva of Philadelphia-based Wallace Roberts & Todd and Marilee Utter of Denver-based Citiventure Associates. The rest of the panel  was comprised Rose Fellows John Hodgson of the Sacramento-based Hodgson Company, Olga Stella of the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation, and alternate fellow Jim Schumacher of the city of Charlotte, as well as Nadine Fogarty of Berkeley, California–based Strategic Economics, and Harvard Loeb Fellow and former Miami planning director Ana Gelabert-Sanchez.

See the ULI Rose Center for Public Leadership in Land Use and the Daniel Rose Fellowship program for more information on its mission and its fellows.