Area homeowners’ months-long effort to block an affordable housing project in their neighborhood might fall short – by a margin of one block.
The several hundred Heights-area residents opposed to the Dian Street Villas, a 108-unit, mixed-income apartment complex planned for 1433 Dian St., thought they had successfully thwarted the project on June 23. That’s when the developer’s application for 9 percent federal housing tax credits was terminated by the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs (TDHCA), which awards the annual tax credits based on a competitive scoring system.
The TDHCA ruled at the time that the developer, Houston-based nonprofit Texas Inter-Faith Housing, should have notified the Shady Acres Civic Club of its plan as part of its application submitted earlier this year. The decision was based on information provided by the Shady Acres Civic Club, which told the TDHCA that the project site was within its boundaries.
But TDHCA executive director Bobby Wilkinson reinstated the application July 9 after an appeal by the developer, which provided documentation that the civic club’s southern boundary is 15th Street – just north of the project site – meaning the Shady Acres group did not need to be notified as required by the statute used to award the tax credits. In a letter outlining his decision, Wilkinson wrote that he sided with the developer because the map provided by the civic club was outdated and that the developer’s argument was corroborated by information on the civic club’s Facebook page and by records with the City of Houston Department of Neighborhoods.
So the Dian Street Villas project is back in the running for the tax credits heading into Thursday’s meeting of the TDHCA governing board, which is scheduled to select recipients during the meeting. Based on the latest application log on the TDHCA’s website, dated June 26, the project’s score has it in good position to be awarded the tax credits.
Nearby resident Kevin Strickland, who is part of the group opposed to the project, said he thinks it has a “50/50” chance of being awarded.
“It’s difficult to predict,” he said. “There’s so much politics in all of this.”
Russ Michaels, the executive director for Texas Inter-Faith Housing, did not respond to a text message seeking comment. He previously said the project, which calls for three stories atop a parking garage and 96 of the 108 units to be reserved for low-income renters, likely would not move forward without tax credits that are worth millions of dollars over a 10-year period.
The project has a favorable score going into Thursday’s selection meeting in large part because it received letters of support from the Houston City Council and State Rep. Anna Eastman. The office of city council member Abbie Kamin, who represents the area and voted to support the project, did not comment about its status when asked to provide one earlier this week.
“I hope the application is approved,” Eastman said in a Wednesday text message. “To lose the opportunity over a technicality in how neighborhood organization boundaries are registered with the state seems wrong to me. The folks who stand to benefit from a project like this do not have an organized voice to advocate for their creation.”
While the project has been fiercely opposed by a group of nearby residents – more than 700 signed an online petition called “Stop Dian Street Villas” – some who live in the area support the proposal. Kate Black said she represents a group of about 80 Shady Acres residents called “YIMBY Heights,” which supports affordable housing and the Dian Street Villas project.
“I would be ecstatic if it was awarded the 9 percent tax credit,” she said.
The neighborhood associations near the proposed apartment complex, while they include residents who support the Dian Street Villas, took a united stance against it last month. Greater Heights Super Neighborhood Council president Mark Williamson said the organization wrote a letter of opposition to the TDHCA on behalf of the Shady Acres Civic Club and nearby Clark Pines Civic Association, citing the project’s potential impact on traffic in the area.
“You can argue about whether they made a good-faith effort to fulfill the (notification) obligation under the state regulations,” Williamson said of the developer. “They seem to have missed the mark in some ways.”
Williamson called the TDHCA’s required engagement process “confused and confusing” and said it should be clarified in future years. The TDHCA only recognizes neighborhood organizations that are on record with a county or Texas’ Secretary of State. And in his explanation for granting the developer’s appeal, Wilkinson said the fact the Shady Acres Civic Club’s boundaries aren’t recorded with the state made it difficult to corroborate its claim that its jurisdiction extends to 14th Street – which would have put the Dian Street Villas project within its scope.
At the same time, Williamson said neighborhood organizations are not legally obligated to record their boundaries with the state.
“If the state law says you have to be registered with the county or Secretary of State, but neither the county nor the Secretary of State is willing to act as a repository for information about what areas these various people cover, I don’t know what the TDHCA is supposed to do,” Williamson said. “I don’t know what developers are supposed to do, and I don’t know what civic associations hope to do.”
TDHCA spokesperson Kristina Tirloni said the agency follows the state’s rules for awarding the housing tax credits, and that the process is evaluated and amended every year. She also said the TDHCA provides public comment opportunities so residents can voice their opinions about the process.
Strickland said he hopes the TDHCA’s four board members consider the neighborhood’s comments about the Dian Street Villas project when making their final determination about awarding the tax credits. He also said an award for Texas Inter-Faith Housing wouldn’t necessarily ensure that an apartment complex would be constructed near his home.
Another key funding source for the Dian Street Villas project is the city, which has conditionally pledged $11 million from the Community Development Block Grant it received after Hurricane Harvey. The city is in an ongoing lawsuit with the Texas General Land Office, which wants to take control of $1.2 billion in disaster relief that it says the city has not used in a timely and responsible manner.
Strickland said he also has been trying to facilitate a scenario in which the 2.05-acre property at the southwest corner of Dian and 15th streets is used for another form of affordable housing that is not an apartment complex.
In a letter to the TDHCA supporting Texas Inter-Faith Housing’s appeal, the current property owner, Dian Park, LP, wrote that it originally purchased the land for the development of a townhome complex. The property, which Texas Inter-Faith Housing has under contract, previously was used for commercial purposes.
“Whatever happens on Thursday may not be the end of the story,” Strickland said.