About a week ago, I asked artists to respond to an informal poll about where they lived. I wanted to see if there were particular neighborhoods that artists favored. I got 52 responses and added to that 22 artists and their dwellings that I personally knew about. This is in no way a scientific poll (below I'll talk about the information I'd want for a better poll). But the results are interesting and suggestive.
One thing I asked was whether you rented, owned or had some other arrangement (for example, you live with someone but don't pay rent). Respondents said the following:
I think this result reflects the age of the respondents. In some cases I know (roughly) the ages, and I suspect that the older you are, the more likely you are to own your home. In any case, a similar poll in New York would probably yield a very different result. This is one advantage for artists Houston has over New York or other art capitals. Buying a building in Houston is very much doable for artists, particularly if you are willing to live in a marginal neighborhood (which many artists are more than willing to do). Har.com is currently listing 19 houses for sale in Houston for less than $20,000, for example.
Owning a house provides you a hedge against gentrification--if your neighborhood becomes more valuable, your property likewise increases in value. You can use it as collateral for a loan or sell it for a capital gain. A renter, on the other hand, faces nothing but years of rent hikes as his neighborhood gentrifies.
Above are the neighborhoods that respondents gave us. When I read these neighborhoods, what struck me was how many I had never head of. Many of them are subdivision names, left over from a time when some developer was trying to market the houses there. The biggest surprise for me was Glenbrook Valley. Glenbrook Valley seems like a typical Houston developer-coined name for a subdivision. It is redundant (a glen is a valley), it is incorrect (there is no valley there), and it ignores the one natural feature that does exist there, Sims Bayou (hardly a "brook"). This is a neighborhood just north of Hobby Airport.
Glenbrook Valley surprised me because I had no awareness of it before. It not only wasn't on my radar as an artsy neighborhood like Montrose or the Heights, it wasn't on my radar at all. There are no artistic institutions there--no galleries, no art spaces, no museums. The closest is the Orange Show, as near as I can figure. But apparently a few artistic types have found it an amenable place to live.
Eastwood is a little less of a surprise. Eastwood is a neighborhood just north of I-45 and of UH.
I was very surprised to see that there were artists living in Greenspoint, a neighborhood that to my mind has nothing to recommend it (except for easy access to some pretty good Mexican food).
Independence Heights was already well-known as an artists' enclave known as Itchy Acres.
Houston is divided into "superneighborhoods" by the city of Houston, and I decided to look at their artistic population. (The "blank" entries reflect respondents who do not live in Houston.) No big surprises here.
If I were running this as a more scientific poll, I would have included some more demographic information--specifically age and marital status, two items that I think are strongly related to home ownership. (Younger unmarried people are less likely to own homes.) I'd also like to know what the primary source of income for one's household is. If you make most of your income from doing art, I suspect (but don't know) that you may be less likely to own a house and more likely not to live in a gentrified neighborhood like Montrose or the Heights. (I can think of several exceptions I know, however.) If your primary income comes from teaching, your spouse's job, or some other day job you have, you may be more likely to own a house. But these are just guesses! That's why I wish I had done a more serious, thought-through poll instead of the very casual one here.
Still, this is interesting information. If, as has been suggested many places, artists are on the cutting edge of gentrification, some real estate sharks might start investing in Glenbrook Valley and Eastwood. Of course, they may be too late--there are houses going for over $400,000 in Eastwood. However, Glenbrook Valley still looks like a bargain. If I were in the market, I'd snap up the Glenbrook Valley house pictured below.
Designed by modernist architect Mel O'Brien and built in 1957, it can be yours for $139,000. It would nice if artists moved into this lovely mod. Apparently they'd have some pretty artistic neighbors, too.