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Garden Oaks

Getting rid of racist deed restrictions

Let’s get this done.

Sen. John Whitmire

A bill was proposed in the Texas Legislature two years ago that sought to make it easier for homeowners to remove unconstitutional, unenforceable and discriminatory provisions from real property records.

State Sen. John Whitmire said he did not catch wind of the proposed legislation until late during the biennial session, which ended without it coming to pass.

This year, though, the longest-tenured legislator at the state capitol in Austin is determined to help the bill become Texas law, which would be welcomed by many of his constituents in his hometown of Houston.

“It’s my priority among my priorities,” Whitmire said.

Whitmire has filed Senate Bill 214, which is identical to House Bill 485 authored by State Rep. Gene Wu of Houston, in the legislative session that began last month. If the bill makes it through both chambers and is adopted by state legislators, it would become Texas law on Sept. 1.

The legislation, first introduced two years ago by Wu, would allow homeowners in neighborhoods such as Garden Oaks and Oak Forest to more easily remove the racist provision in their longstanding deed restrictions that say only members of the “Caucasian race” are allowed to own homes in the communities or even live there. The restriction has been unenforceable for decades under state and federal law, but it remains in Harris County property records and continues to be an eyesore and embarrassment for residents of both neighborhoods.

“I would love it,” Oak Forest resident Ashley Cavazos said. “If this bill comes to pass, hopefully it provides a pathway for the entire neighborhood.”

Cavazos is the leader of a volunteer neighborhood initiative called Oak Forest Deed for Change, which aims to remove the racist language from the deed restrictions by amending and restating them through procedures outlined by the Texas Property Code. But the process has proven exhaustive, because updating the deed restrictions in the seven Oak Forest sections that contain the offensive language requires the approval of at least 75 percent of property owners in each section.

Cavazos and her fellow volunteers have started with Section 4. Eight months into the effort – which has included regular Zoom calls, pro bono work by attorneys in the neighborhood and a signature party – she said signatures have been obtained from only about 25 percent of the section’s property owners.

Here are SB214 and HB485. The updated language would allow a single homeowner to remove the unconstitutional language from the deed restrictions for their neighborhood with a single filing. This is one of those things that should have happened a long time ago, but it wasn’t. This would be a good time to call your own State Rep and State Senator and tell them that you support these bills, because the biggest enemy to them is time and the attention that other bills will demand. The more visibility that a good bill that isn’t going to have any real opposition can get, the better.

How are those new Chapter 42 regs working?

A little too soon to tell.

Planning and Development Director Patrick Walsh said the changes were designed to make the city competitive with its suburbs by creating more housing options, holding down prices and spurring redevelopment outside the Loop.

“It’s going to be hard to quantify the degree to which these rules are supporting the objective of affordability, but I do think we’re starting to see these rules used to accomplish the goal of reinvestment,” Walsh said. “In even just a couple of months after the rules are in place, we’re seeing some applications for these shared-driveway type developments with some smaller lots. That is a sign of some degree of modest success, and we’re hoping for more.”

[…]

Civic club leaders, concerned about waves of tightly packed two- or three-story patio homes invading established neighborhoods, negotiated for the rules to be phased in over two years. The first phase took effect in late May, with tracts larger than an acre and smaller tracts that are not residential and are not adjacent to residential areas becoming available for development under the new density rules. The rules will apply citywide starting next May.

The Planning Commission has considered or soon will consider three applications that would not have been possible previously.

In east Spring Branch, at Silber and Purswell, Soleil Livin’ Homes plans to build 27 units on a 1.2-acre vacant industrial site. In southwest Houston’s Willowbend neighborhood, a developer seeks to build six lots on half an acre.

And at the northwest edge of the Loop in Garden Oaks, homebuilder Miguel Facundo is building 14 units on the half-acre site of a former roofing business at Alba and Judiway.

Facundo said he plans to build at least 50 more townhomes in the area. He said he has heard chatter about industrial and commercial sites nearby selling to other developers for more such projects. In pushing for the rule changes last year, representatives of Spring Branch-based David Weekley Homes discussed numerous projects they would be able to build in their area once the higher density was allowed.

Facundo acknowledged that the prices he will offer, while perhaps $100,000 cheaper than the homes built under the old rules, will be aimed far above middle-income buyers, in the high $500,000s. Examples from Weekley representatives’ rarely listed price points below $300,000.

“My product’s a little bit different than most of the patio and townhome builders,” Facundo said. “I’m trying to do more of an upscale, a quality build. Then the neighborhood continues to go in the right direction.”

See here for the last update. It’s good that projects like these are being built, though there’s clearly still some work to be done on affordability. Another recent story adds to the anecdotal evidence with the news that over the last 12 months, residential permits within Beltway 8 were up 22.8 percent over the same period last year, which is more than twice the rate as the rest of the city. Beyond that, who knows? I liked the changes made, and I definitely agree with the idea behind them that it’s important to attract development inside city lines – it matters politically and economically. There’s plenty of empty and underused land that’s begging to be put to better use. I hope these new rules will facilitate that, but we need to carefully watch the effects and be prepared to make further changes if needed.

Interview with Lane Lewis

Lane LewisMoving on to the first district Council race of this interview cycle, today’s subject is Lane Lewis, who is running for the District A seat currently held by Toni Lawrence. Lewis has worked as a social worker and has been on advisory boards for the last three Mayors, and is currently a teacher. He is a resident of Oak Forest.

Download the MP3 file.

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Karen Derr, At Large #1
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Stephen Costello, At Large #1