When Avenue CDC, a nonprofit organization that builds affordable housing in Houston, announced plans to buy Doyle’s Restaurant at 2136 W. 34th St. and replace it with a five-story apartment building, there were supporters of the plan as well as some vocal detractors. It was the opposition that Mary Lawler, the executive director of Avenue, was hoping to win over at Monday’s Oak Forest Homeowners Association meeting.
As a result of feedback from the community, Lawler detailed changes that have been made to the original plan for the development, named Avenue on 34th in marketing materials. She said Avenue still has the option to buy the property but has not yet closed on it.
The first amendment to the plan is the reduction in height from five to four stories, which would be made possible by the purchase of an additional lot behind Doyle’s. Lawler said the additional land also would improve traffic flow by providing access from a second street and adding to existing green space.
Avenue estimates that around 100 parking spaces are required, and it would have around 105 spaces for residents.
Another change is the addition of some units that would be unrestricted as to income. Of the 70 units, 56 would be restricted, and 14 would be offered at market rate.
Most of the residents would have incomes between $35,000-$55,000, with some higher and lower incomes. Lawler said typical residents at Avenue’s other developments include teachers, home healthcare workers, senior citizens, food servers, retail workers and city employees.
“Houston is going to be struggling to keep a workforce (if we don’t have enough affordable housing),” Lawler said. “We don’t want Houston to become like San Francisco or New York City where regular working people are pushed out. It’s important to Houston’s future and economy (to have an adequate affordable housing).”
A resident’s area median income (AMI), which is the midpoint of a region’s income distribution – in which half of families in a region earn more than the median and half earn less than the median – which would determine rental rates for Avenue on 34th.
Six units at Avenue on 34th would be reserved for those at 30 percent of the area’s median income with monthly rent running from $337-$452; 12 units are set aside for residents at 50 percent of AMI with units ranging from $619-$841; 23 units are for those earning 60 percent of AMI with rent rates from $843-$1,168; and 15 units are earmarked for those at 80 percent of AMI with rent ranging from $1,125-$1,558.
The unrestricted market rate rents would range from the mid-$1,200s to the high-$1,700s.
Questions and concerns
Many of the meeting attendees were interested in how Avenue vets its tenants. Lawler said Avenue checks credit to verify identity and rental history but does not require a specific credit score.
“We want to help people build credit,” she said.
Every applicant is required to provide income information, and Avenue does criminal background checks. Avenue said residents are required to have income, whether it is from work or social security.
If a residents’ income increases over time, they don’t have to leave their apartment, but Lawler said the next open apartment would be reserved for a lower-income resident.
There were a number of Avenue residents and neighbors at the meeting, including firefighter Rob Block, who resides in one of the single-family homes at Avenue Place in the Near Northside. He said many of his fellow firefighters have to live in Montgomery County due to housing costs and must commute to Houston, which proved problematic in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.
“I could ride my bike to the station,” Block said.
Edward Carranco is a Northside neighbor to Avenue Terrace, which is Avenue’s 192-unit multifamily complex along Irvington Avenue, and the adjacent Avenue Place community, which features 95 single-family homes.
“You won’t go wrong putting Avenue in your neighborhood,” he said.
Although Avenue declined to name the purchase price for the Doyle’s property, one attendee asked why Avenue had zeroed in on such expensive land for its development.
“Cheaper dirt makes more units affordable,” one attendee said.
Lawler answered that Avenue is constantly on the lookout for affordable land all around Houston and that a Realtor got in touch with the nonprofit about the Doyle’s site. Avenue felt the location was a good one due to its proximity to jobs, opportunities, healthcare, schools, public transportation, resources and other amenities.
“We felt it was a really great site,” said Lawler, who compared the project to Avenue’s Washington Courtyards development. “We bought land on Washington Avenue 19 years ago, and now (the Avenue apartments) are the only affordable apartments in the neighborhood.”
Several attendees at the meeting expressed apprehension about overcrowding at Oak Forest Elementary School, which according to Houston ISD statistics is already operating above capacity. They said they bought into the school zone and now worry that their preschool-aged children would not be able to attend with the influx of new residents, including those at Avenue on 34th.
Avenue reiterated that the land where it would build is now zoned to Oak Forest Elementary, Black Middle School and Waltrip High School. Lawler said at the Avenue Station development on North Main Street, there are about 20 elementary school kids out of 68 apartments.
Jorge Arredondo, HISD’s area superintendent for the northwest part of the district, told The Leader in early March that incoming families in Oak Forest’s attendance zone would still be able to go there but space was increasingly limited for transfers.
Concerns about increased traffic as a result of the development were again raised, but Lawler said the stagger effect would blunt the impact.
“Everybody doesn’t arrive at the same time or leave at same time,” she said.
Lawler also said Avenue has “heard from people who want us to come to this neighborhood,” but many do not.
An online petition at change.org called “STOP Low Income Housing Development in Oak Forest” had more than 1,850 signatures as of press time. A thread on the Garden Oaks Facebook page about Avenue on 34th had more than 200 comments by Tuesday evening.
One commenter wrote, “(There are) 221 comments here and I bet I can sum it up with NIMBY (not in my backyard).”