Fort Bend County’s continued population boom has brought with it a demand for housing that has consumed nearly all buildable ground in Sugar Land, with land in Missouri City dwindling as well, according to real estate professionals and city officials.

The lack of buildable land, coupled with a population projected to nearly double in the coming decades could send area housing costs soaring. Real estate agent Cathy Stubbs has worked in Sugar Land and Missouri City for
22 years and said she has seen increasing numbers of homebuyers—particularly younger people—struggling to find affordable properties in the cities.

Land scarce as Sugar Land, Missouri City populations boom“I think that's probably one of the major problems that we have,” Stubbs said. “Sugar Land has priced itself out of first-time home buyers for the most part or really anyone who’s very budget-minded.”

With its town square shopping hub and tree-lined boulevards, Sugar Land has become a much sought-
after address in Houston’s southwest suburbs. Its median home price already tops $425,000.

From October 2013 to November 2016, the most recent available data from Move Inc. and the National Association of Realtors, median housing prices for Sugar Land increased from $334,000 to $428,000 while Missouri City’s median prices rose from $254,000 to $348,000.

“It’s its own city so it generates its own demand,” Stubbs said. “It’s not really part of Houston.”

People on the move

Land scarce as Sugar Land, Missouri City populations boomThe population of Fort Bend County was about 579,000 in 2010 and is expected to reach 1.06 million by 2030, according to the Houston-Galveston Area Council, an association of Houston-area counties. With that many more people moving to the county, the lack of space on which to build additional housing could boost home prices significantly in coming years.

Missouri City and Sugar Land have already seen their populations increase substantially. Missouri City’s population grew nearly 10.3 percent from 67,225 people in 2010 to 74,139 people in 2015. During that same time, Sugar Land’s population grew by about 11.4 percent from an estimated 79,113 people to an estimated 88,156 people, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates.

Sugar Land will see its population jump to about 117,000 when it annexes Greatwood and New Territory at the end of the year. Annexing the two communities will add about 17 percent more land to Sugar Land’s borders, but Sugar Land Planning Director Lisa Kocich-Meyer said those areas are also largely built out and do not have space for additional residential development.

Based on the laws of supply and demand, housing prices will continue to increase if the number of available housing units does not keep pace with the demand for housing from people continuing to move in. Kocich-Meyer said no demands for multifamily housing have arisen thus far.

With buildable land in short supply, Sugar Land officials expect the city’s population levels to stabilize in coming years due to the city’s commitment to predominantly focus on single-family homes, based on the Future Land Use Plan last updated in 2012.

Stubbs said with more big companies relocating to Sugar Land, more workers will look to move in. If they do not buy a new home, they will likely remodel or replace an older home, which she said is becoming more common.

Land scarce as Sugar Land, Missouri City populations boomBeyond Sugar Land, Fort Bend County will see major job growth, with the H-GAC predicting the number of jobs in the county will increase from about 148,000 in 2010 to 283,000 by 2040.

Housing options dwindling

Three major Sugar Land housing developments—Riverstone, Imperial and Sienna Plantation—added to the housing stock in recent years but are nearly complete. Once they are fully inhabited, the population is expected to basically stabilize, Kocich-Meyer said.

Those three master-planned communities are all being built by Johnson Development Corp., and are the biggest sources of new housing in the area, city staff said. Imperial and Riverstone contain the only available land for new homes in Sugar Land, according to Kocich-Meyer. Each development’s general manager predicted up to three more years of construction before each would reach full residential buildout.

“That’s really the only space that’s left for residential development,” Kocich-Meyer said.

Shay Shafie, Imperial general manager for Johnson Development, also pointed out that undeveloped land is scarce in the area. “The opportunities [to build] are pretty limited,” he said. “The city is landlocked.”

Sienna Plantation’s growth has been so rapid that Fort Bend ISD will open a new elementary school this fall and a middle school in 2018 in the community.

Trey Reichert, Riverstone general manager for Johnson Development, said construction accelerated in the last three years due to the attention Newland Communities’ Telfair master-planned community brought to Sugar Land. Once Telfair sold out, people started looking elsewhere in the city, he said.

“When they sold out of those lots and buyers said they wanted to live in Sugar Land in Fort Bend County, the only option they really had was Riverstone,” Reichert said.

Stubbs said people who are priced out of Sugar Land or Missouri City will move further south along Hwy. 59 into Richmond and Rosenberg. Although Missouri City has more room to spare for development, she said a Sugar Land address is sometimes more popular with buyers.

Land scarce as Sugar Land, Missouri City populations boomCities facing heavier traffic

The area’s continued growth has brought with it concerns about increased traffic congestion.

Sugar Land and Missouri City are focusing less on building and extending roads; instead both are increasingly focused on maintenance and repair. Both cities increased transportation spending for fiscal year 2016-17 over
FY 2015-16.

In Missouri City, workloads will increase for public works staff in 2017 as more projects are implemented to account for increasing traffic, Assistant City Manager Scott Elmer said. This includes $4.6 million of improvements to Trammel Fresno Road near Sienna Plantation, which will begin this year.

“Every year, traffic volumes typically increase around 4 percent on average, with the larger portion of this increase being located on the south side of Missouri City where most new residential development is occurring,” Elmer said in an email.

Land scarce as Sugar Land, Missouri City populations boomThe city’s traffic operations division and traffic management team will have to manage roadway capacity to make existing roadways more effective, especially those that cannot be expanded, such as Cartwright Road, Elmer said. Traffic operations manages the city’s traffic signal system, and the traffic management team addresses operational problems, he said.

Meanwhile, Missouri City’s various drainage, parks and transportation master plans include $300 million worth of improvements necessary for the city to reach its full build out, he said. The master plans give time frames extending to 2025.

“Growth within Missouri City, as with any fast-growing community, will always provide challenges, as it becomes easy for needs to exceed resources,” Elmer said.

Sugar Land city engineer Chris Steubing said two major transportation projects that carried over into 2017 are the widening of Hwy. 6 and the extension of University Boulevard North.

Seeing there would be fewer places on which to build—and with Sugar Land becoming more fully interconnected—the city began planning for fewer new roads and more maintenance of existing streets between six and eight years ago, he said.

“I would say we’re kind of there now,” he said.

This story is one update from The January Issue. View the full list of 8 things to look for in 2017 here.