I feel that trust between Houston officials and the people living right here in our own area isn’t exactly at a high level (not shocking), and I can point to the Antoine Reconstruction Project story as a good indicator of that.
It’s a shame because, in a time when the city is facing so many enormous challenges, officials should be putting themselves in better positions to communicate the how’s and why’s of the project and its potential benefits to the area. Instead, I spoke with various individuals living in and around the project’s Southern Segment who are still angry and disappointed in the city and its method of reaching out to affected residents.
Trust is important here. We should be able to trust the city will do reasonable due diligence when it comes to sending letters and notifications to our neighbors when such a big project could be headed our way. We should be able to trust that, even though the particular segment in question is currently unfunded, voices will be heard and the concerns of the public will be addressed thoroughly and thoughtfully. Residents should be able to trust that their officials, elected or otherwise, will keep these concerns in mind and adjust projects when possible and when necessary.
It reminds me of a certain controversy we covered extensively last year – the sale of the former Pinemont Park & Ride site was something that was on the minds of many of our readers and it wasn’t too surprising to see the level of outrage that followed the announcement that the Houston Housing Authority was going to purchase the lot and turn it into housing.
Whether or not you support HHA’s mission and the idea of building housing complexes in areas with access to better schools and other facilities, many had the same knee-jerk reaction, with residents questioning their trust in organizations like METRO and HHA. To make matters worse, certain representatives within METRO asserted that they couldn’t quite understand the public’s outcry for transparency, saying they had done due diligence by simply updating meeting recaps online and posting notices to their own website.
Thankfully, officials within METRO heard these concerns and reacted with what they felt were the best interests of the surrounding communities. More meetings were hosted by neighborhood organizations and some of these were attended by city officials and ultimately METRO decided to pursue a sale with the county instead.
While I would imagine residents living in communities like Forest West aren’t entirely, 100 percent trusting of everything METRO and the county has said until this point, I would wager that a good portion are at least at ease with or potentially more trusting of METRO and its handling of the situation.
Of course, there’s the point that much of the issue could have been avoided had METRO and HHA reached out to neighborhood organizations in a more thorough fashion – and fortunately The Leader was here to cover the controversy from start to finish – but there’s something to be said about being able to effectively place trust in the hands of officials with the idea that things might actually turn out for the better.
Those living along Antoine in our area don’t exactly have such warm feelings about this reconstruction project just yet. Bearing in mind that the project still hasn’t received funding, city officials still have a long way to go when it comes to getting residents to trust they have their best interests in mind when moving forward with a project that has so many ready to voice their displeasure and their concerns. If the city is expecting to make in-roads with the public’s confidence, then there needs to be a better response than the one that was repeated by five residents I spoke to living along different parts of Antoine: “Oh you didn’t hear about the meeting? You didn’t get a letter?”
We as journalists have a duty to continue covering these major projects for the public good, but it is also the city’s duty to let homeowners know what might be in store for them in the coming years. Building this trust at a time when so many are unsure or unlikely to put their faith in city services (losing the glass recycling program did no favors) is going to take an enormous amount of work and patience with plenty of boots on the ground.
Given Houston’s current and future financial woes, I think it will be interesting to see how the city makes building trust an objective right alongside building roads.