Saturday, February 6, 2010

The Value Added Fallacy - a Rebuttal to Tory G

A few months ago, Chronicle Blogger Tory G wrote “Developers transform underutilized land into better and higher uses by increasing property value.” The statement makes logical sense. But it misses some important points.

First, poorly sited development can cost more than it brings. Consider the case of a dirty factory in a residential neighborhood. The owners increased the value of their property by improving it. But nobody wants to live next to a factory, so the values of neighboring properties decrease. It is entirely plausible that the decrease in neighbors’ property values could be greater than the increase in value at the new factory.

Second, when development deteriorates, the costs to surrounding neighborhoods increase. As an apartment complex starts to deteriorate, for example, the necessity of police and fire protection increases. Units that were intended for young couples now house families – so the schools become overcrowded. These things all cost money for the City to deal with. At the same time, neighbors no longer have the safety and services they once did, so their property values fall. The costs incurred over the life of the apartment complex could be greater than what that complex brings in taxes.

The City of Houston is going to court to demolish the Candlelight Trails Condominiums. It’s going to cost nearly $500,000 to tear down that development, and chances are the taxpayer will bear that cost. The Candlelight Trails Condominiums were built in 1983. The City would have had to collect $19,000 a year over their 27 year lifespan just to cover the costs of demolition.

Tory G’s statement needs rebuttal because Houston is not like other big cities. We don’t rely on a zoning ordinance to dictate what can be built where; and we shouldn’t have to. Developers need to look beyond the borders of their own sites, and beyond the here-and-now.

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