He called them “the little houses”. It was the shotgun huts and rotting Victorians, the dumps where the beggars fell and the drug dealers weighed stones. Along the crabgrass yards of Fourth Ward slum, they bred the kind of crime and poverty unprecedented in Rich Agnew’s Clear Lake neighborhood. But when Agnew walked through the narrow streets with a realtor, she could barely see them.
Instead, he saw uniform brick facades reminiscent of new row houses in old London. Cobblestone-striped sidewalks led him past young shrubs planted with cookie-cutter precision. The agent showed Agnew through the door of a new model townhouse, one of hundreds of vanities, granite countertops, and gleaming hardwood floors.
A top window gave Agnew and his wife a view of the downtown skyline. The middle-aged couple imagined an exciting life without commuting, lawnmower, and electricity bills. But they wanted this lifestyle without the chaos of Houston urban clutter; They feared losing the programmed, suburban flair of the Perry Homes neighborhood where they had raised their children.
And that’s why Sutton Square, one of Perry’s new urban versions of the suburbs, was almost perfect.
Support the independent voice of Houston and help keep the future of the Houston Press free.
Keep the Houston press free.
“We liked the look of the houses they built,” says Agnew. “And we really believed that Perry would eventually buy the rest of those little houses and build townhouses.”
Since the construction boom hit downtown Houston in the late 1990s, thousands of home buyers have made the same leap of faith. Attracted by emerging neighborhoods, better nightlife, and rising property values, they have moved from a distant cul-de-sac into the shadows of downtown, often paying more than $ 300,000 for thin slices of wood and brick in new urban villages. Perry Homes is at the forefront of this trend, proponents say, and is creating an urban renaissance, one foundation at a time.
The company promises that its homes will be solid, worry-free, efficient, and economical.
Agnew’s new townhouse was all of these things – for about a year. In 2002, cracks appeared in the garage floor and in the bricks and mortar of the house. A pipe in a bedroom wall has leaked. Nails pierced through toppling drywall, and unbalanced doors would not stay open. Torn open within a few months, the Agnew building was to be protected from major defects for a decade. But Perry Homes refused to fix most of the problems.
Agnew’s real name has been changed; He hopes to sell his house one day and fears that his public identification would make it impossible.
Perry Homes agreed through a spokesman to accept a list of written questions for this story, but replied a week later that it would not be answered.
“For me there is no longer any trust in Perry Homes,” says Agnew.
Customers aren’t the only ones who have lost trust in Perry. Other Inner Loop residents feel equally betrayed. You’ve escaped the boring suburbs only to see the old downtown oak trees fall and bright cottages collapse. You describe a campaign to wash away the anarchic soul of the city. They call it Perry homogenization.
Few businessmen provoke sharper differences among Houstonians than Bob Perry. Perry Homes founder is the nation’s largest private political funder for Republican causes. From his humble house in Nassau Bay, he writes checks, gives voice to the conservative suburb, and triggers nightmares among center-left politicians in the city center.
And it is no less controversial in the camps of its own industry. University of Houston architecture professor Tom Diehl speaks for many in his profession when he simply calls the 72-year-old former teacher “the enemy”.
Celeste Williams stands with Diehl in the lounge of the Gerald D. Hines School of Architecture and giggles. The Manhattan native, who teaches design history courses, struggles for her own words to describe Perry’s townhouses. “I can’t even call it vanilla,” she says, “because I love vanilla so much.”
Williams gets into her blue Audi and drives through the Third Ward. The architect has agreed to view several Perry developments and conduct an informal “good neighbor test” – a measure of how the townhouses interact with their surroundings. She stops at Baldwin Park, where old oak trees are fringed by a young wall of identical brick facades.
As Williams leaves the park and goes out into the street, Williams catches simultaneous views from two sides of a new Perry townhouse. “It looks like two different buildings,” she says. The bricks at the front of the house fizzle out halfway in favor of the siding. Windows are rare and their window sills do not match those in front of the park. It’s a classic example of the waste of a valuable corner lot: “When you stand on the corner, you have an incredible opportunity to bring both streets to you,” she says as a car rushes by, “and you can see that it is lost a lot. ”