Multifamily and townhome housing growing to meet Houston needs

Rice University
Office of Public Affairs / News & Media Relations

David Ruth

Amy McCaig

Multifamily and townhome housing growing to meet Houston needs
Decline of older, more affordable housing raises concerns about gentrification

HOUSTON – (April 17, 2017) – Although single-family detached homes constitute 61 percent of Houston’s housing stock, the number of multifamily properties and townhomes is growing at a faster rate and is consistent with Houstonians’ living preferences, according to a new report from Rice University’s Kinder Institute for Urban Research. However, the report noted, the area’s growth has eclipsed housing production and resulted in a tighter market.

A large apartment complex spanning several blocks in Houston’s Gulfton neighborhood. Photo courtesy of Google Streetview.

The report also warned that the decline of older, more affordable housing units that have been replaced by newer and often more expensive units raises concerns about the threat of gentrification.

“Taking Stock: Housing Trends in the Houston Area” describes the array of housing options available in Harris County, the central and most populous county in the Houston metropolitan area. Using 2016 data from the Harris County Appraisal District, report author and former Kinder Institute researcher Kelsey Walker examined the age and structure of residential buildings and considered how single-family detached homes, multifamily properties with five or more units, single-family attached homes (townhomes) and multifamily properties with fewer than five units contribute to the countywide housing supply.

Walker also compared building records from 2016 with 2007 to assess how the region’s residential building stock has grown and matured since the peak of the housing bubble. She identified the five neighborhoods with the highest population densities in Harris County to examine the composition of the housing stock and the population of each neighborhood.

“‘Taking Stock’ highlights really foundational patterns about the age, type and density of Harris County’s housing stock,” Walker said. “It helps us understand how the market is changing the type of housing being built and highlights areas of the county where gaps in particular housing types may be emerging.”

The report found that more than 97 percent of Harris County’s housing stock is either single-family detached homes (61 percent) or larger multifamily properties with five or more units (37 percent). However, the supply of larger multifamily properties and single-family attached homes (townhomes) is growing faster (at 14 and 13.7 percent, respectively) than the stock of single-family detached homes (at 12.2 percent).

Walker said this shift reflects the living preferences of the Houston population. In the most recent Kinder Institute Houston Area Survey, approximately 50 percent of Harris County residents indicated a preference for living in smaller homes in more urbanized areas, while the other half of respondents wanted to live in single-family homes with big yards.

However, Walker said, population growth since 2010 has eclipsed the production of housing in Harris County. The result is a tighter market, with only 8 percent of all units vacant in 2015.

“The countywide vacancy rate is lower today than at any point in the past 10 years,” she said.

The three types of housing built in large quantities since 1985 — single-family detached homes, larger multifamily properties and single-family attached homes — all cluster in the neighborhoods west and immediately east of Main Street inside Loop 610. The return of single-family detached homebuilding to the Inner Loop is unprecedented, and Houston’s stock of duplexes, triplexes and fourplexes, built primarily before World War II, is dwindling, the report read.

“The dwindling stock of duplexes and fourplexes provides reason to believe that the new developments built inside Houston’s inner loop come at the expense of more affordable options in these neighborhoods,” Walker said. “Old duplexes and fourplexes make for inexpensive rental units, so their gradual disappearance raises questions about other varieties of residential redevelopment and the threat of gentrification.”

According to the report, Gulfton and Westwood, both located between Loop 610 and Beltway 8 in southwestern Houston, are by far the densest communities in Harris County. Large multifamily properties built between 1960 and 1984 account for 93 percent of housing in each community. Pecan Park, Mid-West and Montrose, also among the county’s densest communities, achieve comparable levels of population density through wildly different configurations of building types. While large multifamily structures account for most of the housing in Montrose and Mid-West, single-family detached homes account for a majority of the units in Pecan Park.

Walker said that as older homes in these areas give way to new developments, other residents run the risk of being priced out of their neighborhoods and displaced. She said that future Kinder Institute reports will examine how different varieties of residential redevelopment relate to changes in neighborhood composition.

For a copy of the report, visit For an interactive map of the data, visit


For more information, contact Amy McCaig, senior media relations specialist at Rice, at 713-348-6777 or

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Photo credit: Google Streetview.

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About Amy McCaig

Amy is a senior media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.