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I've read about some of the things about Houston's historic crummy reputation and the appalling crime/pollution in Houston in the past, but how bad did it get?

I know for a fact that at a point prior when I was born (we're talking late 1980s/early 1990s timeframe here), when my father was looking for a job away from Corpus Christi, Houston and the surrounding area was at the bottom of my mother's list on places to live. It's not like she had no experience in the area, her brother lived in Baytown as a white-collar Exxon employee during research, and while she tended to have an aversion to large cities, Dallas or San Antonio was somehow more acceptable...but she hated Houston with a passion.

So knowing some of the legitimate concerns about pollution and crime in that era, was it really that bad in Houston (hence the topic title), or was it just a bad reputation?

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I don't think Houston's reputation has ever been all that horrible, apart from some schadenfreude perhaps after the bust in the 1980s.  Back then there was higher pollution and crime everywhere - Houston was hardly a standout exception.  I've lived in other cities, and not once did anyone ever say something like "Ugh, Houston is so awful!"  

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The only thing i remember from those times was my dad was laid off for a couple of years. He was a hard core saver, so we just lived off savings for 8 years.

i do remember that houston was the murder capital for at least one of those years.

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Houston's economy did take a big hit when oil went south in the early 80s, and a lot of people lost their jobs. There were thousands of foreclosed homes all over the area, especially in the suburbs. Homebuilders that were building homes knowing they would sell stopped doing that, and started waiting to sell before they would build.

 

That was what my wife and I found when we moved to Houston in 1988. No spec houses waiting to be sold. Just a few model homes and a lot of vacant lots to put the model of your choice on. The new housing market was so bad it took three months to build our house because so many carpenters and sub-contractors had left town for greener pastures.

 

Homebuilders were competing with all the cheap foreclosures which were everywhere, which drove new home prices so low you wouldn't believe it. In 1988 we paid 68 thousand dollars for a new home in a surburban neighborhood that became part of Copperfield. When we sold it in 2010 we got 130 thousand.

 

Things finally started getting better in the early and mid 90s. As for Houston crime, it's no better or worse than any other city of comparable size.

 

 

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Houston's economy did take a big hit when oil went south in the early 80s, and a lot of people lost their jobs. There were thousands of foreclosed homes all over the area, especially in the suburbs. Homebuilders that were building homes knowing they would sell stopped doing that, and started waiting to sell before they would build.

 

That was what my wife and I found when we moved to Houston in 1988. No spec houses waiting to be sold. Just a few model homes and a lot of vacant lots to put the model of your choice on. The new housing market was so bad it took three months to build our house because so many carpenters and sub-contractors had left town for greener pastures.

 

Homebuilders were competing with all the cheap foreclosures which were everywhere, which drove new home prices so low you wouldn't believe it. In 1988 we paid 68 thousand dollars for a new home in a surburban neighborhood that became part of Copperfield. When we sold it in 2010 we got 130 thousand.

 

Things finally started getting better in the early and mid 90s. As for Houston crime, it's no better or worse than any other city of comparable size.

See, that's a problem--while my parents could've moved to a cheap home in that era, the neighborhoods were so much in flux that it would be unknown if they were moving to a cheap place that would spring back to life or a neighborhood that would continue to deteriorate. Lots of trendy 1980s neighborhoods went on the market for cheap and just got worse.

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In the mid eighties I was working in the commercial steel fabricating business here in Houston. By the time I got out in 1986 steel was selling so cheaply we couldn't give it away. The main culprit was the Savings and Loan collapse. They had been deregulated and had decided that gambling was a more lucrative occupation than investing. As a consequence, anyone with an idea that included real estate investing could finance it at a savings and loan (similar to the late unlamented housing bubble). I distinctly remember whole strip centers being built, apparently on speculation, that never had a tenant, the most memorable to me being the Tang City Mall on South Main (Hwy 90) near where Beltway 8 now crosses 90. This mall was demolished a few years ago. At the time you could drive around the city and see "For Lease" signs on almost every mid rise building.

 

As far as residential neighborhoods, I went looking for a house amongst all of the foreclosures of the time (it seemed like there was a foreclosure auction every week), the neighborhood that seemed the hardest hit was Mission Bend. I drove around that neighborhood many times and it seemed like there was a foreclosure on every block.

 

As far as pollution is concerned, I don't believe that Houston has ever been really bad mainly because, wirth our flat landscape and constant sea breeze, the pollution is quickly blown to other parts.

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In the mid eighties I was working in the commercial steel fabricating business here in Houston. By the time I got out in 1986 steel was selling so cheaply we couldn't give it away. The main culprit was the Savings and Loan collapse. They had been deregulated and had decided that gambling was a more lucrative occupation than investing. As a consequence, anyone with an idea that included real estate investing could finance it at a savings and loan (similar to the late unlamented housing bubble). I distinctly remember whole strip centers being built, apparently on speculation, that never had a tenant, the most memorable to me being the Tang City Mall on South Main (Hwy 90) near where Beltway 8 now crosses 90. This mall was demolished a few years ago. At the time you could drive around the city and see "For Lease" signs on almost every mid rise building.

 

As far as residential neighborhoods, I went looking for a house amongst all of the foreclosures of the time (it seemed like there was a foreclosure auction every week), the neighborhood that seemed the hardest hit was Mission Bend. I drove around that neighborhood many times and it seemed like there was a foreclosure on every block.

 

As far as pollution is concerned, I don't believe that Houston has ever been really bad mainly because, wirth our flat landscape and constant sea breeze, the pollution is quickly blown to other parts.

I found a few references to Tang City, including "having two tenants at its peak" and this 1986 article which states the following:

Already in operation are an Oriental fine-furniture store and a trading company, both owned by Hong Kong-based business officials. But business is slow at both stores, and a Japanese restaurant recently closed after a dispute with the mall over interior improvement costs.

I'm guessing the three were the best it got. And of course, another failed 1980s thing was Continental Plaza, a subdivision that never developed and is now a scary grid of deteriorated roads and other stuff.

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Heritage Plaza was see through for several years after it was built, until Texaco moved in (vacating the Texaco Building now being renovated).  It was also the last big building put up downtown until Enron put up its second building as it imploded.  

 

We started getting the wisps of bad stuff the rest of the country was going through in about 1982, with stuff really going into the dumper in '83 - '84.  I'd say the bottom here was around 1989, with slow but stable absorption of foreclosed and otherwise vacant properties after that for a long time.  It well into the '90s (if not longer) before things started to pick up again.  

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Heritage Plaza was see through for several years after it was built, until Texaco moved in (vacating the Texaco Building now being renovated).  It was also the last big building put up downtown until Enron put up its second building as it imploded.  

 

We started getting the wisps of bad stuff the rest of the country was going through in about 1982, with stuff really going into the dumper in '83 - '84.  I'd say the bottom here was around 1989, with slow but stable absorption of foreclosed and otherwise vacant properties after that for a long time.  It well into the '90s (if not longer) before things started to pick up again.

And so now we come full circle back to why my parents (my mother, actually) never liked it. I knew that Houston was pretty bad in terms of pollution and other stuff (but then again, so was the rest of the country) and the recession did hurt and hurt bad, but I was trying to figure out if it was a legitimate concern or just a bad reputation. I mean, I agree with Subdude in no one actively disliking Houston, it never got to Detroit/Philadelphia/New Orleans/Cleveland-levels of bad reputation but it wasn't worth liking a lot either. After all, we're only just now reading articles that say "Hey, maybe Houston isn't so bad after all!"

I'm not here to say my life would've been better or worse if I grew up in Houston, and it's possible that I'll move to Houston myself in 2015 after I graduate. It could happen.

As for my uncle in Baytown, around that same time, he moved out of Baytown to Baton Rouge and continued to work for Exxon (and later, ExxonMobil) until he retired at which point he moved back to Texas (but not in Houston area).

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Houston has always had a reputation as sort of a chaotic mess due to its lack of zoning.  I know a lot of people from other parts of the country who dismiss Houston because it is "ugly". 

 

Apart from the local economic problems in the 1980s, the movie "Urban Cowboy" didn't really do the city any favors either during this period.  Many people came away from the movie thinking Houston was just a city full of redneck oilfield workers.

 

But back to the local economy in the 1980s - given the current state of the local real estate market, it is hard to believe that the city was in such poor economic shape back then.  I remember seeing a lot of vacant commercial buildings; and some of them sat vacant for years.  Anyone remember the two vacant office towers on the West Loop by Memorial Park?  Those buildings sat vacant for at least 15 years until they were re-skinned and renovated around 2000 (Cameron is in one now).  There were also some similar buildings on the Southwest Freeway near Weslayan that sat vacant for an extended period of time until they were demolished a few years ago.  Some parts of town really went downhill in terms of desirability and never recovered.  I had some friends that built a new house in Fondren Southwest, which was a trendy area in the late '70s.  It was amazing and sad to see how quickly that part of town transitioned to having the reputation as an undesirable area.

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In the mid eighties I was working in the commercial steel fabricating business here in Houston. By the time I got out in 1986 steel was selling so cheaply we couldn't give it away. The main culprit was the Savings and Loan collapse. They had been deregulated and had decided that gambling was a more lucrative occupation than investing. As a consequence, anyone with an idea that included real estate investing could finance it at a savings and loan (similar to the late unlamented housing bubble). I distinctly remember whole strip centers being built, apparently on speculation, that never had a tenant, the most memorable to me being the Tang City Mall on South Main (Hwy 90) near where Beltway 8 now crosses 90. This mall was demolished a few years ago. At the time you could drive around the city and see "For Lease" signs on almost every mid rise building.

 

As far as residential neighborhoods, I went looking for a house amongst all of the foreclosures of the time (it seemed like there was a foreclosure auction every week), the neighborhood that seemed the hardest hit was Mission Bend. I drove around that neighborhood many times and it seemed like there was a foreclosure on every block.

 

As far as pollution is concerned, I don't believe that Houston has ever been really bad mainly because, wirth our flat landscape and constant sea breeze, the pollution is quickly blown to other parts.

 

The oil glut/S&L collapse sent some areas (Greenspoint, Alief, Sharpstown among others) into tailspins that they never recovered from.

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Prior to the 80s bust, newly-minted college graduates with chemical engineering degrees could count on getting entry-level jobs in O&G at starting salaries that were the envy of other graduates. Afterwards, they were lucky to get any jobs, at significantly lower salaries. I remember students entering college when the gravy train was still chugging along, but by the time they graduated the worth of their Chem E degrees had plummeted, and they had to make some unanticipated career decisions. The tail-end effects of the bust are now being felt in the shortage of qualified people to fill petroleum engineering jobs being vacated by retirees. 

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This -- and the current boom in production -- is why people coming out of college with practically any degree related to oil and gas can take their pick in the O&G job market. Many companies are even offering signing bonuses. Here's what it says on an oil industry jobs website:

 

http://www.oiljobfinder.com/oil_and_gas_jobs_faq.php

 

"Most companies also offer a generous benefits package that often includes: medical and dental insurance, life insurance, disability insurance, 401K plan, profit sharing plans, vacation time, etc. People coming out of college with undergraduate or graduate degrees applicable to the petroleum industry can receive pay exceeding $60,000 per year plus signing bonuses."

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  • 4 weeks later...

The late 80's led to the deterioration of many neighborhoods - sharpstown, greenspoint as mentioned above that never recovered.  i also remember meyerland slipping, meyerland plaza was pretty empty until wolfe tore down the plaza part and rebuilt it.  i miss the vertical meyerland sign (replaced by a smaller sign in the back) that fell during hurricane carla and wish it still had the plaza in the middle.  the stores could have had a front and back entrance and be able to walk easily from bad bath & beyond to target.  who would have thought that meyerland and bellaire would rebound by sharpstown wouldn't.  i think that has to do with the apartments surrounding sharpstown that went downhill in the 80's and are just dumps now.  to have bought a house in meyerland and especially bellaire in the late 80's for song, would have been a sweet investment.  

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  • 5 years later...
On 6/2/2014 at 2:37 PM, msteele6 said:

In the mid eighties I was working in the commercial steel fabricating business here in Houston. By the time I got out in 1986 steel was selling so cheaply we couldn't give it away. The main culprit was the Savings and Loan collapse. They had been deregulated and had decided that gambling was a more lucrative occupation than investing. As a consequence, anyone with an idea that included real estate investing could finance it at a savings and loan (similar to the late unlamented housing bubble). I distinctly remember whole strip centers being built, apparently on speculation, that never had a tenant, the most memorable to me being the Tang City Mall on South Main (Hwy 90) near where Beltway 8 now crosses 90. This mall was demolished a few years ago. At the time you could drive around the city and see "For Lease" signs on almost every mid rise building.

 

As far as residential neighborhoods, I went looking for a house amongst all of the foreclosures of the time (it seemed like there was a foreclosure auction every week), the neighborhood that seemed the hardest hit was Mission Bend. I drove around that neighborhood many times and it seemed like there was a foreclosure on every block.

 

As far as pollution is concerned, I don't believe that Houston has ever been really bad mainly because, wirth our flat landscape and constant sea breeze, the pollution is quickly blown to other parts.

Interesting. I lived in Mission Bend (Leona) at that time & saw none of this. My parents got a lot & had a really nice home built at the end of 83, we moved in around Feb of 84 & that's where I lived all thru high school at Elsik. Never once saw a foreclosure or even an empty house until the 90's. In fact, we still had empty lots on our cul de sac when we moved in and over the years new homes were built around us. Purchase price of ours in 83 was about $120k and it was sold the first time in 2005 for a profit. I just saw it was listed a few days ago at $250k. Not sure what part of Mission Bend you were referring to but I'm guessing the back part that's closer to the Ft Bend county line...the smaller, single story ranch carbon copy ones in old school Mission Bend?

As far as pollution I don't recall any at all, although southeast around the oil & gas refineries didn't exactly smell like roses. If you venture far enough east & into downtown & the winds were right, you can smell ol' Stinkadena. Trivia: this was the Urban Cowboy era which was filmed in Pasadena in 1980. 

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