Penny Morales-Shaw said she supports affordable housing. But she does not agree with the way State Rep. Anna Eastman supported a mixed-income apartment complex proposed in the Heights area.
In February, about a month after being elected to the District 148 seat in the Texas House of Representatives, Eastman wrote a letter of support for the Dian Street Villas project, which had applied for federal housing tax credits allocated through the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs (TDHCA). Eastman received some subsequent criticism from nearby homeowners who opposed the 108-unit development, claiming that she, the developer and the Houston City Council members who also backed the project did not first solicit their input about how it might impact the nearby Shady Acres and Clark Pines neighborhoods.
Some of those residents reached out to Morales-Shaw, an attorney who is opposing Eastman in a runoff from the Democratic primary in March. Morales-Shaw said she subsequently wrote a letter to the developer, Texas Inter-Faith Housing, requesting that it engage the community about the plan and be receptive to its concerns.
“She failed to do what was her due diligence,” Morales-Shaw said of Eastman. “… I would never sign off on a letter of support that indicated that constituents have already been consulted and engaged. I would never actually sign that without actually having meetings between the developer and residents to talk about flooding, talk about infrastructure and also to present facts about the amazing benefits of having affordable housing in your community.”
Their involvement with the Dian Street Villas project has become a point of contention between Eastman and Morales-Shaw and could have an impact on the outcome of their runoff. The project had its application terminated last week by the TDHCA, pending an appeal, because the TDHCA said it discovered the developer did not meet the “statutory notification requirement” because it failed to inform the Shady Acres Civic Club of its plan before submitting the application.
Early voting started Monday and lasts through July 10, with Election Day scheduled for July 14.
Eastman cited the quick turnaround between her January election and the February deadline to weigh in on the project as a reason why she did not first engage her constituents about the project. She said she could have taken the politically expedient route and not taken a stance either way, but championing more affordable housing options in the community was part of Eastman’s campaign and she said she wanted to remain consistent with that philosophy and support the project.
After writing a letter of support for the Dian Street Villas, Eastman said she helped facilitate subsequent virtual meetings between the developer and impacted residents. She also acknowledged that in the future years, she would make it a point to engage constituents before deciding to support such projects.
“I can do better and work through the process differently as I continue to serve,” Eastman said. “But I also believe the people that stand to benefit from those developments deserve a voice in the process, even though they don’t have a (civic) club with which they connect.
“I may still come down on the side that not everyone is happy about,” Eastman added.
Even after being engaged by the developer through multiple meetings this spring, the Shady Acres Civic Club, Clark Pines Civic Association and Greater Heights Super Neighborhood Council wrote a joint letter to the TDHCA in opposition of the project.
When asked if she would have sided with the residents or supported the project in spite of their wishes, Morales-Shaw said she didn’t know. She also said she would have done whatever she could to convince the neighborhoods to support such a development.
“As a state rep, you have to make tough decisions,” Morales-Shaw said.
Morales-Shaw placed sixth among 15 candidates in the November special election to succeed longtime District 148 representative Jessica Farrar, who resigned at the end of September. Eastman was the leading vote-getter in that race and then beat Republican Lui La Rotta in a January runoff.
After picking up an endorsement from Farrar, Morales-Shaw placed second behind Eastman in the March 3 primary, receiving 22.1 percent of the 14,799 votes cast. Eastman received 41.6 percent of the vote.
Morales-Shaw, who said she is half-Anglo and half-Latina, also said District 148 was originally created to serve a majority-Hispanic part of Houston and promote diversity in the Texas Legislature.
But Eastman, a white woman who lives in the Heights, said the district has consistently favored her in recent elections. She said much of the district overlaps with the geographic area she served while on the Houston ISD Board of Education for eight years.
Morales-Shaw acknowledged she is the “underdog” in the runoff.
“In three elections that have happened in the last year, I have cumulatively garnered more votes with each election,” Eastman said. “I believe that I have the support of voters in the district.”