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Emmett addresses land, affordability in wake of Harvey

August 28, 2018

Land and housing preservation is key to the Houston region becoming more resilient, Harris County Judge Ed Emmett said Tuesday, on the heels of last weekend’s vote that approved a $2.5 billion flood infrastructure bond.

“We need to not fight with nature, we need to live with nature and allow those areas to be green that need to be green, and frankly, allow those areas to be wet that need to be wet and not try and change that,” Emmett said during a luncheon presentation to members of the local chapter of the Urban Land Institute.

Emmett specifically called for the Katy Prairie, a vast area encompassing much of western Harris and eastern Waller counties, to be maintained and expanded.

“I think that’s a very easy one for the federal government or the state to declare as a nature preserve and just set it aside and move on,” he told the crowd of several hundred developers and real estate professionals in the ballroom of the Junior League of Houston.

He praised the public’s overwhelming approval of the county bond measure, designed to protect the area in future storms. The measure, the largest bond Harris County voters have ever approved, had more than 85 percent of the vote.

In a presentation tailored to the real estate industry, Emmet also addressed one of the city’s most pressing concerns: housing for all Houstonians regardless of their incomes.

Homes in flooded neighborhoods are having to be rebuilt to higher storm standards. Those who can’t afford to rebuild are having to sell and find housing elsewhere.

“There is a conversation going on about how many of those homes are being bought up by speculators and will be destroyed and then the lots consolidated. And you end up with McMansions in places where there might have been four lower to moderate-income houses before,” Emmett said. “Where are those people going to go live?”

The challenges brought by Harvey will give city and county leaders the opportunity to make positive changes as it recovers, he said.

One such improvement: a better system of urban governance.

If unincorporated Harris County was a city it would be the fifth largest in the U.S.

“We cannot continue to do that,” Emmett said. “We have got to find a way for city for Houston and Harris County to come up with a new structure of urban governance. “I view Harvey as kick-starting a lot of these conversations.”

nancy.sarnoff@chron.com

twitter.com/nsarnoff

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