If you’re not in the habit of scanning the business news each morning, you might have missed the recent story about Centex Development’s purchase of CityHomes.

CityHomes is a relatively small-scale residential development company operating mostly in the part of Oak Lawn between Knox Street and Uptown; the company made a name for itself in the last few years by building and selling upscale residences on inner city infill lots.

According to the reports, Centex, one of the country’s largest homebuilders, saw this as a very desirable market niche and decided a deal with CityHomes was a good way to pursue it.

What does that have to do with our neighborhood, and why should we care? Several reasons.

First, the fact that a very large, and very successful, company has decided that it wants to be in the inner city infill housing market in a big way indicates that some very savvy people believe that market has a real future. You can drive around many parts of our neighborhood, especially in and around Bryan Place, and see much the same thing as in Oak Lawn and Uptown.

At first, these projects were, and really at this point still are, mostly being done by smaller developers who carved this out as their niche. Now, however, not just Centex but other large-scale homebuilders are entering the inner city market. The product being built includes everything from cutting-edge postmodern designs to vintage reproductions tailored exactly to their historic district locations.

These builders have come in from the suburbs because they see an opportunity to serve the fast-growing market of empty-nesters, young professionals and others who want to live near Downtown or are just tired of commuting to and from the suburbs.

This same trend, which is at least as strong in most other cities as it is in Dallas, is raising the value and resale prices of existing neighborhood homes. While this is a good thing (except at tax time) if you bought low before the area became so popular, it also means that more people who would like to live here, or stay here in a larger house, get priced out of the market.

Of course, it should also mean that houses, blocks and whole neighborhoods that may now be run-down become worth repairing and restoring, which benefits all of us. While most of us already here believe this back-to-the-city neighborhood revitalization trend is a very good one, it also frequently raises some thorny issues.

For example, rising property values and home prices inevitably lead to what some might describe as gentrification – that is, a neighborhood changes to become so high-priced that it’s no longer an option for lower (or even moderate) income people. The quickening pace of redevelopment brings other tradeoffs, too – for example, friction between people rehabilitating older structures and historic preservationists, or between new retail and entertainment uses and adjoining residential neighborhoods.

These aren’t easy questions to sort out, but these types of disputes, certainly not unique to Dallas, are some of the unavoidable growing pains of redeveloping neighborhoods on the rebound.


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