For almost a month, The Leader has reported (and I’ve offered commentary) on a proposal for the Houston Housing Authority to buy Metro’s Pinemont Park & Ride and build workforce housing for families that need some form of government help. Here are the facts, for those who aren’t up on the details:
Metro needs to sell its surplus land after closing the Pinemont Park & Ride.
The Houston Housing Authority needs land to build 300 new apartments/garden-style homes.
Residents in Forest West, Pinemont Park and Forest Pines desperately need retail development. What they don’t need is another apartment complex in the area because there are eight complexes (some in ragged condition) already in the neighborhoods, and building one more would literally surround them with subsidized housing.
It’s fairly obvious why emotions have seeped into this important conversation. Lance Gilliam, chair of the HHA, has a job to do. He is charged with finding places where his organization can build new housing. My guess is Gilliam can only handle so much vitriol before he pops off an op-ed for the Houston Chronicle (which hasn’t even covered this issue). When folks write him nasty emails and leave irreverent voice mails, he’s going to respond with vigor.
And then there are the fine residents of neighborhoods in the area – Pinemont Park, Forest West and Forest Pines – who have invested their life savings (and most are in debt to mortgage companies) to live in a neighborhood that has a real chance at being something special. My guess is these people have been so excited about the chance at retail development, jobs, shopping and maybe a grocery store, that their only response to another subsidized apartment complex has been filled with that same vitriol Gilliam has encountered.
Here’s what needs to stop: The argument from residents of Pinemont Park, Forest West and Forest Pines needs to have absolutely nothing to do with the potential inhabitants of subsidized housing. Those who choose to fight this issue because they don’t like the “kind of people” living in apartments are classless and uneducated. The workforce housing HHA will consider for this property would be full of teachers, civil servants and nurses, to name a few.
The issue for the residents of these neighborhoods needs to be concerted and scripted. You are against this development because you don’t need more multi-family homes in the area. You are against this because you desperately need retail. You are against this because HHA doesn’t have the best track record of keeping up properties they already own, no matter what promises they make about this new one.
And then there’s the Houston Housing Authority, Gilliam being the chairman. Mr. Gilliam needs to stop running off to his friends at the Chronicle and writing an op-ed that is full of clichés and generalities that undermine his organization.
If you missed his column, here are a few of the nuggets he offered:
“Many of the same families who were welcomed here when they arrived jobless… are now wanting to pull up the welcome mat they crossed and close the door behind him,” Gilliam wrote. Talk about hyperbole. There are black, white and brown families in these neighborhoods, and none of them would be classified – even remotely – as some form of elitists. It is irresponsible to write such a generality about a neighborhood full of people who chose to live in an area of town full of welcome mats.
Here’s another: “Should the opportunity to live affordably in all of our neighborhoods not remain open, economic segregation, the ‘gap,’ will widen,” Gilliam wrote.
Mr. Gilliam, you should know better than to write such nonsense. The economic gap so often discussed usually doesn’t center around middle-class neighborhoods, especially ones where there are at least eight subsidized complexes already. The top of this “gap” you mention usually refers to neighborhoods like River Oaks or Memorial or West University Place. Should we map out the number of subsidized housing complexes there?
And last, Gilliam took on the residents of these middle-class neighborhoods with this zinger: “Other opposition to the construction of new apartment homes by our authority is veiled under the guise of concerns about the impact of ‘dense’ development…,” he said.
I have no idea why Mr. Gilliam believes he knows best for all these residents, but to say their concerns about creating too “dense” of a population is just a guise is plain arrogant. The anxiety of adding more homes, more cars and more traffic to a highly populated area is anything but the façade you make it out to be.
Obviously, I’m only one person and it’s probably not fair to offer such opinions when I don’t even live in the neighborhood. That’s why I called State Rep. Sylvester Turner, who represents this area and may very well be the next mayor of Houston. (By the way, the mayor appoints the board of the Houston Housing Authority.)
I asked Turner what he thinks of this entire issue, and while I don’t have room to publish it all, here’s what stuck:
“I don’t care who the developers are,” Turner said. “If you can’t convince the homeowner associations and the civic clubs and the management district that this is right for the community, then I will not support it.”
Turner continued by saying he has serious concerns about HHA building another multi-family residence in the area.
“The north side is trying to revitalize. We’re trying to clean it up, uplift that entire section of the city…,” he said. “This doesn’t mean anybody is racist. Nobody is saying, ‘Not in my back yard.’ But what are we trying to achieve? This isn’t revitalizing the area. This isn’t attracting retail development. There has to be a balance in this area.”
The reality is HHA’s project will start construction under a new mayor. And if that mayor happens to be Turner, who has announced he is running for the position, how would he direct the board?
“At this particular time, I would say this would be ill-advised,” Turner said. “[HHA] should not move forward if they can’t convince the residents of this area that this is a good thing.”
And from the tenuous tones, especially from HHA, I’d say they have a long way to go.