On February 25, the editorial board of the Houston Chronicle defended a proposed affordable housing development which has become the target of organized opposition in an affluent, predominantly white neighborhood – and, as we have argued, represents a first step in the desegregation of the Houston Housing Authority’s properties.
The piece, “Galleria-area residents needn’t fear a subsidized housing project – it’s a new day,” makes the persuasive argument that the Fountain View Apartments, a 233-unit mixed-income development that would include subsidized, market-rate and public housing, are not the school-crowding, crime-causing, home value-deflating menace that some locals and elected officials from the Briargrove area in west Houston have claimed.
Whether this property is used for a subsidized housing complex or a standard housing complex, the school capacity question will remain about the same. In addition, by the time the Fountain View project is completed, Mark White Elementary will be open to handle overflow from surrounding schools, including Briargrove…Others are worried about the market value of their homes. Yet Fountainview already is home to several large and dense apartment complexes. It’s hard to see how one 233-unit apartment project would have an outsized impact on either area home prices or traffic. After all, the complex will replace the aging office building on the site now.
On the contrary, the Chronicle editors note, the Fountain View Apartments could be hugely beneficial to the small number of low income families that could move into the neighborhood, an area with much better schools, crime rates, access to jobs and transit and other opportunities than nearly any of the neighborhoods where Houston’s subsidized housing is currently located.
Housing provides more than comfort and security. Living in a great neighborhood such as Briargrove can be life-changing for the children of working families. Studies have shown that lower-income children living in high opportunity ZIP codes have the greatest potential for upward mobility and realizing the American dream.
Instead of “fanning fears,” the editors argue, Houstonians should be encouraged that working families will have the chance to move into a high opportunity area, the kind from which they have been excluded for far too long. We’ll conclude where the Chronicle did:
Let the construction begin.
It is clear to me that the HHA, this agency (in Austin and unaffected by this intrusive project) and the Chronicle either don’t understand or don’t care that Briargrove turns away 100 kids every year and that Mark White Elementary is already at capacity. Briargrove cannot be expanded on its current lot and adding to class sizes will greatly diminish the quality of the school. That is not the solution. When marketing this housing project to potential residents, I’m sure the HHA will tell the residents their children are zoned to BG. The overcrowding fact is not a phantom argument. It is an inconvenient fact the HHA and this agency are choosing to deliberately disregard. What is the HHA going to do when that child doesn’t have a spot on the first day of school? What is the HHA going to tell an existing resident when their child does not get a spot because a public housing project took their spot? What is the HHA going to tell the homeowner who just constructed a new home a few blocks from the school that their child does not have a spot? HHA did not consider all the consequences. Or, they just don’t care and expect HISD to just deal with it under impossible circumstances. The way some families will deal with it is to send their children to private school because they will have no confidence the school two blocks from their house has a spot for their child. This will result in the neighborhood school no longer being the neighborhood school. Bad result.
I find it very curious that the only people (the very very few people) that are for this project are the people who will not have to live with the results.
You have used the Houston Chronicle’s endorsement of the Houston Housing Authority’s proposed Fountainview project as a positive gesture. Please keep in mind the Chronicle endorsed Ted Cruz in 2012. Their opinions are not shared by man, many Houstonians. However, I would like you to ask the Chronicle to answer a bigger question in regard to HHA projects: why has the Paper limited their coverage to the Fountainview project, when HHA has used the same underhanded measures in the Independence Heights? No one in Briargrove or Independence Heights was ever told HHA planned to build high-density housing projects in their respective neighborhoods.
In contrast to Briargrove, Independence Heights is a low-opportunity neighborhood, with struggling schools, crumbling infrastructure and high crime rate. Our community has a minority population, and many live on a fixed income. HHA plans to build a high-density project where another high-density housing project was built in 1963. That project had to eventually be torn down because it was not maintained properly. It is worth noting that the same site is located next to an old County-operated fuel depot that had large leaking storage tanks. The site is also one block away from an existing dump site the City of Houston built. In short, the community has had its share of bad public policy and practice of environmental racism and housing segregation.
I haven’t heard of any housing consultants cry out about those issues in our neighborhood. In fact, after the Hurricane devastated the community and housing consultants came to the community, many improvements were promised but very little was delivered. Disaster Recovery in the form of affordable single family homes and some of part of the $37 million in DR2 infrastructure money would have been more than welcome.
We now are threatened with a project that will overwhelm what little functioning infrastructure we have. Like the Chronicle, the Texas Housers has not bothered to follow up with me or any of our residents to verify what has happened here. We are waiting.
Everybody knows housing segregation is a problem in Houston. Actually it’s a problem throughout Texas. With the possible exception of San Antonio, every city in the Lone Star State (including Texas Housers hometown of Austin) has the majority of its subsidized housing clumped together in low opportunity neighborhoods.
As an architect and a former Houston Super Neighborhood President, and as someone who himself moved to a “higher opportunity” neighborhood in the suburbs, it seems to me there are two approaches to this. One, which (despite neighborhood pushback) could be termed “the easy way,” is to force low income housing into high opportunity neighborhoods. Let someone else do the heavy lifting of turning around the schools, improving public safety, and all of that. The other, which is far more extensive in the amount of work it requires, is to improve poor neighborhoods to the point that middle class (white) people will move back. This requires improvements to the housing stock but also efforts at improving schools, public safety, sometimes environmental clean ups and rebranding too.
What’s frustrating to me is that the forceful voices of Texas Housers and other advocacy groups aren’t really doing much to help these poorer neighborhoods reintegrate. Sure they write about it – see below – but where were they when those guys tried to put a concrete crusher in Sunnyside? I didn’t see the same kind of vitriol and accusations then. In my neighborhood we had an awful, horrible condo complex two doors down from a high school. 190 code violations. Google the place and you’d see YouTube videos from a street gang that worked there. The biggest, most attended meeting of the Super Neighborhood during my Presidency was when we discussed what could be done about that complex. We got absolutely no help from anyone at Texas Housers or any other affordable housing advocacy group.
I got married. Had a kid. And wound up giving up on this whole mess. I’m just being honest here and I hate myself for doing it. I wish I hadn’t had to go it alone in my old neighborhood. The commute was soo much better….
Thank you for your comment. We couldn’t agree more that the improvement of neglected and disinvested neighborhoods, in Houston and around the state, goes hand-in-hand with providing fair housing opportunity to more families. That’s why we are engaged in a Fair Housing and Neighborhood Rights campaign in Houston with our friends at the Texas Organizing Project (https://texashousers.net/2015/04/16/fhnr/). That campaign has produced a concrete set of policy recommendations intended to address both the issues of fair housing and neighborhood equity that you mentioned (https://texashousers.net/2016/02/26/the-opportunity-blueprint-our-plan-for-a-united-diverse-houston/). We are also supporting a community-led planning effort in Sunnyside, examining the many ways in which that neighborhood has been ignored, mistreated and discriminated against, how that created many of the unequal conditions present today and what can now be done to bring quality services, good schools, adequate infrastructure, private investment, safety patrols and much more to the area (https://texashousers.net/2015/08/21/video-introducing-sunnyside-pride-a-new-kind-of-community-plan-for-houston/). If you’d like to learn more about joining in the process, you can check out Sunnyside Pride on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/SunnysidePride). And don’t hesitate to reach out if you’d like to learn more about our fair housing and neighborhood rights work in Houston or other parts of the state.
Comments are closed.