5 Reasons It Might Be Time to Move Out of the Heights

I am a big fan of the Houston Heights. I lived there for the better part of 15 years and spent countless summer days at my grandparents' house just about 8 blocks east of there. It has so many things that make it a desirable place to live, from the big old oak trees to the quaint shops to the location so close to town. It's a far different place from when I bought there back in 1996.

At that time, there was still regular gunfire nearby. I saw a car chase right on my block complete with one car blowing out the back window of the other with a shotgun in a drug deal gone bad. About 2 a.m. one New Year's Eve, I heard the familiar sound of a machine gun -- yes, fully auto and everything -- being fired off just down the street. Of course, my house cost about one-third what it would cost now -- when I sold in 2009, I got substantially more than double what I paid -- and my guess is that the OK Corral-style shootouts are mostly a thing of the past.

Still, over the years, the growth and the popularity of the charming neighborhood has begun to take its toll. The gentrification has begun in earnest and doesn't appear to be beaten back in quite the same way it has been in the Montrose. But, the Heights has never had the level of commercial and retail development as Westheimer, so this is happening more to the homes and streets themselves, which is why, if you live there, I think it might be time to consider a move.

5. Crazy Development

Beyond the strip centers that are ever so slowly making their way into the area, the biggest threat is from homebuilders, who have taken -- like they do in so many places -- to buying up a single lot and cramming four town homes onto it just feet apart from one another. Where lovely, wood-frame, pier-and-beam bungalows used to stand, there are now brick squares three stories high. Tress are cut down for more land space and if they don't build town homes, they put in homes so skinny you could touch both walls with your arms outstretched so two could fit in a space designed for one. It's much like what began in West University years ago, but with more reckless abandon.

4. The Death of the Front Porch Living

I'm not just talking about the fact that so many of the aforementioned new home developments put as their front door to the street a garage door instead of an actual front porch, I'm also talking about the slow demise of friendly neighbors right on your block. One of the really wonderful features of a porch is how it draws people out into the front yard. Houstonians are naturally friendly, so being there and seeing others lends itself to getting to know one another. As this style of home begins to disappear, so does this type of lifestyle so intrinsic to life in this historic hood.

3. The Events That Overrun the Neighborhood

Years ago, I rented a space in an antique shop on 19th Street. At the time, there was very little in the way of marketing done to interest people in shopping at the shops that lined the street. Restaurants came and went -- I still miss the fantastic croissant breakfast sandwich I got at Khaldi Cafe before it was shuttered and became Shade -- but most of the shops remained relatively the same. Only, very few young people knew they were there. The merchants got together and started the idea of a holiday event to coincide with the holiday Home Tour. Soon, there were other events like White Linen Nights, which have completely inundated the entire area with drunk visitors. It might sound more sophisticated that the Westheimer Arts Festival, but the results have become unfortunately similar, which is why the Arts Fest was kicked out of the Montrose.

2. Chains Slowly Creeping In

For years, Starbuck's tried to get a spot near 19th Street but was rebuffed. Now, a Starbuck's sits conveniently across the street from a giant Walmart and next to Jimmy John's, Chipotle, the Corner Bakery and other chain establishments just across the freeway from Heights Boulevard. Slowly but surely, chain restaurants and stores are replacing independents. Fortunately, there are still some outstanding local eateries and shops throughout, but the new, widespread development should be a concern to residents.

1. The Cost

Not only does it cost well into the three hundred thousand dollar range for a 1100-square-foot bungalow, but the escalating real estate market is driving the diversity right out of the neighborhood. For years, remodeled homes sat next to small, old rent houses. Now, an empty lot costs more than $200k. Just the dirt. I'm glad the housing market has grown so dramatically in Houston. It certainly benefitted me. But, the explosion in the Heights has gotten out of hand and with all the money in property, it's no wonder developers are moving in and destroying the character of the neighborhood. Frankly, if I owned a house that I bought there even 10 years ago, I'd cash out now while the values are this high.

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Jeff Balke is a writer, editor, photographer, tech expert and native Houstonian. He has written for a wide range of publications and co-authored the official 50th anniversary book for the Houston Rockets.
Contact: Jeff Balke