Bolivar bounces back, workers need housing
If you were thinking about a place where ordinary workers couldn’t afford to live near their jobs, thereby causing nagging labor shortages, you’d probably think about a thriving city like Houston or Dallas, or perhaps San Francisco or Seattle out west. Yet this is exactly the challenge the Bolivar Peninsula is facing a decade after being ravaged by Hurricane Ike.
It’s similar to that old saying about a football team with two solid quarterbacks — a “good” problem. As our story on Sunday reported, Bolivar has bounced back, in some ways better than ever. Humble beach shacks and retiree cabins have given way to impressive (and expensive) homes that look like something out of the pages of a tony magazine. The average home value is nearly $300,000. People with money discovered the secret about Bolivar: It was one of the last beachfront locations in the Sunbelt with relatively affordable real estate.
That’s way better than the other extreme — a peninsula still dotted with concrete slabs and damaged buildings. If you roamed Bolivar in the dark days after Ike, you might legitimately wonder if it would ever come back.
But all this success comes at an odd price: The people who work in the stores and restaurants on the peninsula often have to commute in because they can’t afford to live there. That makes it harder for businesses to expand or even reach their full potential. The result is an odd stalemate — a place that looks so promising but still can’t blossom the way it could.
One obvious solution is more affordable housing — apartment complexes — for middle-income workers. Galveston and Chambers county commissioners should explore these options involving tax credits that have been used in some cities in Southeast Texas. They should also be prepared to deal with a certain level of opposition from residents who think that might be a good idea — but Not In My Back Yard.
The need here is real. If it can be met, the Bolivar Peninsula can generate more tax revenues that can be used to pay for better infrastructure like water and sewer utilities. Those improvements would boost the quality of life for peninsula residents — and keep more of them there year-round.
It comes down to guiding growth in the right direction, and reaping the benefits, or letting it evolve on its own, with uncertain results. With the right political and civic leadership, the Bolivar Peninsula can become a strip of land known far beyond Texas.