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I don’t plan to be buried in Houston. I wish to be cremated and have my ashes scattered in New York at my hometown lake or my high school track. For me, that would be enough.

End-of-life planning is not the sexiest topic. While thinking of my own mortality this winter and remembering that I need to finally create a will, I started wondering if there will be enough space in the Houston region, among so much cement and highway, during the next 50 years for cemetery growth and burials to meet demand.

Between Jan. 1, 2021, to Jan. 1, 2024, the city of Houston reported 84,505 deaths, according to the Houston Health Department. Among those deaths, 32,337 were burials and 45,662 were cremations. However, not all deaths end in a burial at a cemetery. According to the Houston Health Department, there are actually seven possible methods of disposition: burial, cremation, donation, entombment, removal from state, mausoleum and other.

To learn more about cemetery growth in the region happening now, I connected with Michael Johnson, vice president of revenue and procurement at Service Corporation International, best known as Dignity Memorial, the largest provider of funeral, cemetery, and cremation services in the U.S. You’ve probably driven past one of their 15 cemeteries in the greater Houston area.

Johnson said that as the population expands, Houston will likely not have enough burial space in the next 50 years.

“However, we have successfully demonstrated our ability to develop new cemeteries in high growth areas,” he said.

This includes serving Sugar Land, Richmond and Katy, Johnson explained in an email.

“At present, we have approximately 14 years of developed inventory available for purchase. We have enough undeveloped acreage for future development that will provide an additional 35 to 40 years of inventory,” Johnson said.

When it comes to which cemeteries have the most availability now, the ones with ample available property are Forest Park East, Brookside and Forest Park Southwest, which is a brand-new cemetery in the Fulshear area.

“We have the ability to purchase new land, successfully rezone for cemetery use and install the operational required to successfully operate the new cemetery,” Johnson said.”We expect to develop new cemeteries in the Houston/Harris county region in the coming years.”

The impact of House Bill 783

New opportunities for cemetery growth in the future may have something to do with House Bill 783.

I learned that up until Sept. 1, 2023 when HB 783 was passed into law, it was unlawful in Texas to establish a new cemetery within a certain number of miles of any municipality that has a population of more than 5,000. According to the Texas Cemeteries & Crematories Association, you could expand an existing cemetery onto adjacent land, but you could not establish a new cemetery before this law was enacted.

The TCCA further explained this new law allows new cemeteries to be established in counties with a population of more than 750,000 or a county adjacent to one with a population of more than 750,000.

This law is so new, the TCCA said, that governing bodies may not have yet set up procedures for this type of application. The TCCA also explained that a sufficient supply of grave sites will depend on the Houston City Council or the Harris County Commissioners Court allowing new cemeteries to be established under the new law.

Searching further, I see the code of ordinances gives City Council the right to regulate burial grounds, crematories and cemeteries, and deny expanded or new cemeteries in certain situations. I noticed there are some rules about the protection of the purity of bayous and water wells. There is no mention of a review process for an application or a responsible department to handle the process. I did not see anything specific to expanding and developing new cemeteries on the Houston Permitting Center's webpage.

I was curious about what an independently owned cemetery’s outlook was when it came to inventory meeting demand. A well-established cemetery in Pearland came to mind.

The owner of Houston Memorial Gardens, Janice Howard, told me the cemetery was chartered by the state of Texas in 1954, and since then, the cemetery has seen over 70,000 burials. Based on these numbers, Howard said, it gives a clue to how the next 50 years will look.

At this time, the cemetery currently has 20,000 spaces and down the road will probably have another 60,000 or so, Howard said.

“We are not concerned about space. We are prepared for full burials for the next 40 to 50 years,” she said.

One of the reasons space is plentiful, Howard said, is because more and more spaces that were designed for adult-size services are used for cremation memorials now.

“No one would have thought that people would be cremated at the rate they are now,” she said.

Howard emphasizes the importance of thinking ahead. She encourages people to reserve a good price on a space if possible and to remember it’s never too soon, no matter how old you are. She points to a customer who purchased a space at a very early age for $75 decades before passing away. We all want to live to be 80 or 90 years old, but keep in mind everything will cost more 20 years from now, Howard said.

“Many of our families have purchased before there was need,” she says.

Of course, this conversation made me wonder about cremation growth in the area.

Cremation growth in Texas on the rise

The latest Annual Statistics Report that the Cremation Association of North America published earlier this year shows Texas ranked in the top 10 states with the highest number of cremations in 2021.

During the past 10 years, cremation has significantly increased. Although Texas lags behind the national trend, CANA projects that Texas will reach 80 percent cremation in 2065 compared to the U.S. rate reaching 80 percent projected in 2045.

Johnson said Service Corporation International is investing heavily in new cremation inventory across their Houston network. He said the company offers premium cremation estates, glass-niche private buildings, natural cremation gardens and low-cost ossuaries for purchase. 

“We also offer a complementary placement option for families that are looking for a permanent resting place, but do not have the funds to purchase a private placement option,” he said.

For now, I’m trying to get my will in place, and I’m also imagining what a natural cremation garden is. Honestly, I don’t really want to think about these end-of-life details and final-chapter to-dos, but this unsexy topic is an important one for everyone. It is unavoidable and goes hand in hand with all the joys we feel during our life with our loved ones.

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Isobella Jade is an essayist and writer living in Houston, find her on Twitter @IsobellaJade or email her at [email protected]