The Dian Street Villas, a proposed affordable housing development that has become a point of contention in the Heights area, has taken a significant step toward coming to fruition.
The developer of the project, Houston-based nonprofit Texas Inter-Faith Housing, was awarded a 9 percent federal housing tax credit on Thursday by the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs (TDHCA). The tax credit is worth $1.5 million annually over a 10-year period and will help finance the project, which calls for a three-story, 108-unit apartment complex at 1433 Dian St., with 96 of those units designated for low-income renters.
“I’m glad to hear the tax credit application was awarded by the TDHCA,” said State Rep. Anna Eastman, who lives in the Heights, represents the area and wrote a letter in support of the project as part of the developer’s application. “My hope is that those who are opposed will continue to engage with the developer through the design and build process and ultimately welcome our new neighbors.”
On a statewide level, the TDHCA awarded $81.6 million in tax credits to a total of 71 affordable housing developments, including 10 in Houston. Another proposed project in the area that submitted an application to the TDHCA – a 180-unit complex called The Ella planned for 1718 W. 26th St. – was not awarded a tax credit.
The Dian Street Villas, proposed for a 2.05-acre site that previously was used for commercial purposes, has been met with opposition from hundreds of nearby residents and on June 23 had its application temporarily terminated by the TDHCA. The state agency ruled that the developer did not notify the Shady Acres Civic Club about the project as required by statute, but later reinstated the application on an appeal by the developer, which provided documentation that showed the civic club is just outside the boundaries of the project site and therefore did not need to be notified.
Another funding source for the Dian Street Villas is the City of Houston, which has conditionally pledged $11 million from the Community Development Block Grant it received after Hurricane Harvey in 2017. 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.
“We’ve done everything according to the rules,” Russ Michaels, the executive director of Texas Inter-Faith Housing, said during the public comments portion of Thursday’s TDHCA board meeting. “… You can’t get these types of developments into the Heights without a little bit of blowback.”
The Greater Heights Super Neighborhood Council, on behalf of the Shady Acres Civic Club and Clark Pines Civic Association, wrote a letter of opposition to the project, citing concerns about increased traffic in the residential area.
More than 700 nearby residents also signed an online petition called “STOP Dian Street Villas.” In the 250-plus comments associated with the petition, community members also said they fear the development will put a strain on infrastructure and increase flooding risks in the area, reduce property values and lead to more crime.
“I don’t oppose affordable housing. That has nothing to do with it,” Clark Pines resident Rebecca Bass told the TDHCA board during Thursday’s meeting. “My neighbors are great, and we just want to conserve what’s here for the neighborhood. It’s not a good place for this. There’s a million other places in Houston that would be a good fit.”
Kevin Strickland, another nearby resident opposed to the project, said he took issue with the developer’s lack of engagement with the community before its application was submitted in February. The developer has since held multiple community engagement meetings.
Strickland also said Eastman and Abbie Kamin, who represents the area on the Houston City Council, should have solicited community members’ input before supporting the project. The city council voted in February to support several affordable housing projects in Houston, including the Dian Street Villas, with Kamin providing one of the affirmative votes.
A request for comment submitted to Kamin’s office was not immediately fulfilled.
“It’s really disappointing that on paper, there’s a lot of requirements for community engagement and notification,” Strickland said. “So in theory, democracy should work. In practice, it’s all lip service.”
Moving forward, Strickland said his goal is to hold the developer accountable to the promises it has made to the neighborhood in terms of being receptive to its concerns and amending the project plans accordingly. He also said he wants to hold local elected officials accountable for supporting the project while ensuring they help to “bridge the gap” between the developer and the neighborhood.
David Charvoz, president of the Clark Pines Civic Association, said he supports the Dian Street Villas project but expressed a similar sentiment. He said Texas Inter-Faith Housing has pledged to work with a neighborhood oversight committee during the construction phase of the project, which is targeted to be completed by 2022, and that it has agreed to work with the city on traffic-calming measures near the development.
“I really hope the developer keeps their promises that they made to us,” Charvoz said.
Michaels said in a text message that Texas Inter-Faith Housing is “looking forward to working with the City of Houston and collectively creating long-term possibilities with our surrounding neighborhood, incorporating a continued open and positive communication effort with them.”
Shady Acres resident Kate Black said she’s been “really impressed” with the developer and its plan. She also said Texas Inter-Faith Housing seems to be receptive to the neighborhood’s concerns.
Black said she represents about 80 nearby residents who are part of a group called “YIMBY Heights,” which is in favor of the Dian Street Villas and other affordable housing projects.
“There’s a large contingent of neighbors who really believe in affordable housing in this area and do think the Dian Street Villas is a good fit for our neighborhood,” she said.