Traffic Is Still the Worst, But Houstonians Are Bullish on Jobs and Safety in Annual Rice Survey

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Houstonians are less worried about crime than in the past and want more walkable neighborhoods — but traffic remains the biggest headache for residents across the city. And as the city diversifies, more residents are seeing immigration as a boost to the economy rather than a drain on public resources.

Those are the highlights from the Kinder Institute for Urban Research's annual Houston Area Survey, released Monday.

The Houston area is now the single most ethnically diverse urban region in the country, the study found, and Anglo, black and Hispanic respondents said they believe racial relations are improving. Sixty-three percent of respondents said they believe immigrants contribute more to the economy than they take, up from 45 percent just seven years ago. More Houstonians than in the past also said they are OK with immigration levels staying the same, instead of calling for the government to place stricter controls on immigration. Despite these more open attitudes toward diversity, Anglo residents, who account for 40 percent of Houston residents, are largely unwilling to move into majority-black or Hispanic neighborhoods, a position that hasn't changed since 2004.

“It seems undeniable that Houston’s persistently high levels of residential segregation are at least in part a reflection of the continuing preferences and concerns of Anglo Houstonians themselves,” Rice University Sociology Professor Stephen Klineberg said in a statement.

Despite cheap energy prices that have benefited many other areas of the United States, except Houston, home to much of the country's energy industry, Houstonians remained bullish on their economic prospects. Though unemployment here (5.8 percent) is higher than the national average, 24 percent of Houstonians said traffic is the biggest problem facing the area today. Sixteen percent said the economy was the biggest problem, and 15 percent pointed to crime.

In the past decade, Houstonians have reported a remarkable shift in how safe they feel in the city. In 2007, 35 percent said crime was the biggest problem, but that number has declined steadily since. A different measure paints an even wider gulf between how safe residents felt then and now. To the question, “How worried are you personally that you or a member of your family will become the victim of a crime?” a whopping 47 percent answered yes in 1995. Now, that figure stands at 18 percent. Only 7.2 percent of Houstonians reported feeling unsafe in their neighborhoods.

Houstonians should keep a close eye on how that feeling may change over the course of this year, as Mayor Sylvester Turner has warned of layoffs to an already stretched police department if legislators fail to pass Houston's pension reform plan. Houston Police Department Chief Art Acevedo has also said his officers are too busy to help with immigration enforcement, as the federal government as asked city police forces to do.

And despite how much Houstonians complain about the oppressive heat, traffic jams and urban sprawl, they were singing its charms to surveyors. A full 90 percent of Houstonians said that compared to other metro areas in the United States, Houston is a "slightly better" or "much better" place to live, while 81 percent said the city is a good or very good place to live.

Read the whole survey here:

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