Bobby Speer knows he’s fighting an uphill battle. He also knows that no matter what he says or does, he might be forced to live across the street from a three-story apartment complex within the next couple years.
The Heights-area resident is no less determined to thwart the Dian Street Villas, an affordable housing project on a 2.05-acre property at the southwest corner of Dian Street and 15th Street, using just about any means necessary.
“It doesn’t bother me to go down swinging,” Speer said. “I’m not going to roll over.”
Speer is not alone in his fight against the Dian Street Villas, a proposed mixed-income development by Houston-based nonprofit Texas Inter-Faith Housing. It is under contract to purchase the property at 1433 Dian St. and plans to construct a 108-unit complex, with 96 of those units designated for low-income renters, and is seeking federal funding to help pay for the project.
Several nearby residents oppose the plan and have placed signs in their front yards that indicate as much. Speer has helped to organize the effort, having creating the website stopdianstreetvillas.com and started an online petition that had more than 200 signatures as of Wednesday morning.
At this point, however, the effort might be futile. The project is in good position to receive a 9 percent federal housing tax credit allocated by the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs (TDHCA), having already received letters of support from the Houston City Council and Texas Rep. Anna Eastman.
The city council voted in February to support a total of 20 affordable housing projects within Houston, including a 180-unit complex called The Ella that is proposed for 1718 W. 26th St. There is a competitive scoring process that will determine how many of those projects will receive the tax credits, with the TDHCA planning to make those allocations in July. Last year, the TDHCA awarded the annual tax credits, worth about $1.5 million per year over a 10-year period, to nine projects within the Houston region.
Eastman, a Heights resident who was elected to the District 148 seat of the Texas House of Representatives in late January, said she wrote letters of support for both local projects in late February. Based on the TDHCA’s scoring process, her support is critical to the developers seeking the tax credits.
“Affordable housing is a really big issue,” Eastman said. “District 148 is going through rapid and fairly aggressive gentrification, both resulting in people having to sell their homes because they can’t afford their taxes and making it impossible for teachers or artists or other people that have solid middle-class jobs. It makes it impossible for them to move in to the neighborhood.”
Speer and another nearby resident who opposes the Dian Street Villas, Kevin Strickland, both said they are not opposed to affordable housing. They said their problem with the plan is that it would increase traffic and the risk of flooding in the area and put a strain on infrastructure in an already dense neighborhood.
Even more problematic, they say, is that they received no notification about the project and have not been asked for their input by either the developer, Eastman or District C council member Abbie Kamin, who was elected in December and voted to support the projects in February.
Kamin said in an emailed statement that she is facilitating communication between the developer and the neighborhood associations for nearby Clark Pines and Shady Acres. Russ Michaels, the executive director for Texas Inter-Faith Housing, has recently been in contact with Clark Pines Civic Association President David Charvoz and said they’re in the process of scheduling virtual community meetings that will be held within the next two weeks.
“That’s fine, but they’re a day late and a dollar short,” Strickland said. “They’ve already voted, the city council voted to approve it, and Eastman provided her letter of support.”
Michaels and Jervon Harris, who is working with the developer, said they had planned to engage nearby residents sooner, saying the recent turnover among elected officials as well as the COVID-19 pandemic contributed to a delay. Harris also said they are open to hearing neighborhood concerns and possibly incorporating them into the project.
Harris said the developer is working on flood mitigation and traffic control plans and intends to make the Dian Street Villas a gated community.
“Closing and construction on the project are not imminent,” Harris said. “It’s always been our intention to engage the community as we go through the design and development process.”
Michaels said the project, which also is seeking federal money as part of Houston’s Hurricane Harvey disaster recovery fund, likely will not move forward without being awarded the tax credits through the TDHCA. A spokesperson for the state agency said members of the public have until June 19 to submit comments, either in support or in opposition to the projects, on the TDHCA website (www.tdhca.state.tx.us).
Public comments could have an impact on the outcome of the tax credit competition, so Speer is encouraging his like-minded neighbors to chime in. He said he also is enlisting legal professionals and public works experts to study the plan for Dian Street Villas and see what else can be done to undermine it.
While Eastman and Kamin support the project, they also said the developer should seek and consider community feedback as it moves forward. Michaels and Tori Williams, a board member for the Clark Pines Civic Association, said there are several community members who support the plan.
Charvoz said the more he speaks with the developer and learns about the project, the more agreeable it seems. Eastman cautioned that if nearby residents successfully thwart the project, they could end up with something they dislike even more. The property previously was used for commercial purposes.
“I don’t understand why our neighbors are so adamant and opposed to something that is good for people,” Williams said. “The loudest people right now are the ones who don’t want it. The ones who do want it are feeling a little overwhelmed by the ones who don’t want it.”