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Record Housing Shortage Is Flip Side Of Houston’s Hiring Boom

Home builders are scrambling to cope with the flood of new residents.

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“You’re asking for 35 on the other one, right?”

Sara and Tom Sung are planning to move from Spring to downtown Houston. Their son is starting college at the University of Houston’s main campus in the fall, and they want to live close by. This morning, they’re looking at houses in the Riverside Division, just south of downtown.

“My husband looked at these houses a couple of years ago, and the prices were like maybe half the price of what it is right now. As we’re looking, even empty lots are going for almost $200,000.”

Houston suffered less from the housing crash than most other parts of the country, but the credit crunch that followed stymied new construction here for years.

When the supply of homes roughly equals demand, housing inventory is about 6 months. Houston’s inventory has been stuck at 2.6 months since December. Sharone Mayberry heads Mayberry Homes, the company building the house the Sungs are checking out.

“This time last year was considered a buyer’s market. Well, now those things have changed to where there’s just not enough homes to supply the demand right now.”

The housing shortage is the flip side of Greater Houston’s hiring boom. Tens of thousands of people are flocking here every year in search of work.

Baytown is a perfect example. ChevronPhillips and ExxonMobil are both expanding their chemical complexes here, while Enterprise Products is building out its liquefied petroleum gas terminal. I spoke with Baytown Mayor Stephen DonCarlos, who was fresh from the groundbreaking ceremony for a new apartment complex.

“The market is pretty tight out here. It’s going to get tighter for these guys coming into town, and we are frankly scrambling to find places for them to live near the projects.”

It doesn’t help that skilled labor is in short supply. Between 2006 and 2011, nearly a third of all U.S. construction workers lost their jobs. More than 800,000 of them left the industry for good. Ken Simonson is chief economist for the Associated General Contractors of America.

“It’s really getting tough for many contractors to find experienced workers, because so many of the ones who had been laid off have now moved on to other industries or have retired.”

In Texas, many of those workers moved south to the Eagle Ford Shale or west to the Permian Basin, taking jobs in the oil and natural gas industry. Houston contractors are having a tough time luring them back.

The situation is far from hopeless. According to the Greater Houston Partnership, the City of Houston issued residential building permits totaling $2.4 billion for the year ending in March — up nearly 30% compared to the previous twelve-month period. But the region is just now entering the peak of the season when people are relocating for work or school. The supply of new homes isn’t likely to show much improvement before September.

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Andrew Schneider

Andrew Schneider

Politics and Government Reporter

Andrew Schneider is the senior reporter for politics and government at Houston Public Media, NPR's affiliate station in Houston, Texas. In this capacity, he heads the station's coverage of national, state, and local elections. He also reports on major policy issues before the Texas Legislature and county and city governments...

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