The list of those who support Magnolia Glen, a project that would provide permanent rooms for 220 homeless, is daunting: Houston Mayor Bill White, all five members of Harris County Commissioners Court, area mental health advocates, top city housing officials.
Commissioners Court in March awarded $1.67 million in federal grant money for the project, expecting the city to approve its share, $4 million, a short time later. But the project is teetering and may not happen because one official has said the project’s bevy of influential supporters are wrong.
“I understand the facility, and I understand what it does. If it were going in another district, I could support it. But I will not support it in District I,” Councilman James Rodriguez. “My district already has enough (such housing for the homeless) and soup kitchens. I feel we need to spread new facilities around.”
White has taken the position that he will not force the district councilman to accept a facility that he opposes.
But White said he hasn’t given up on the project. He urged Rodriguez and the Eastwood Civic Association to meet with Magnolia Glen’s developer, the nonprofit Housing Corporation of Greater Houston, and supporters of the project to try to reach common ground.
The 220 units of housing would be the biggest project undertaken since the commission in 2006 launched a 10-year effort to find homes for the estimated 10,000 homeless in Harris County. The group concluded that 7,000 rooms and apartments are needed. About 200 such units have been created since 2006.
“The city was looking for a dramatic way to move towards meeting its 10-year homeless plan,” said Tom Lord, president of the nonprofit that has proposed buying Magnolia Glen for $5.85 million and then turning it into permanent housing for the homeless.
Case managers, including supervisors of the mentally ill and those with substance abuse problems, would be on duty at all times. Residents would pay about $425 a month in rent for a single room that includes a small refrigerator and a microwave.
The federal government awards grants for such housing because it has proven to help get the homeless off the street and help prevent them from cycling through jails and emergency psychiatric wards, where they often land when they stop taking prescribed psychotropic medications.
White said he supports Magnolia Glen in part because it would be a bargain. Building similar new rooms for the homeless would cost about $75,000 a unit. The cost will be $26,000 a unit at Magnolia Glen, White said.
White said he understands that most facilities for the homeless should not be located in the same areas.
Former Councilman Gordon Quan, a member of the blue-ribbon commission, said he keeps that policy in mind, but money helps determine where sites can be found.
“People say, ‘Why don’t you put this in River Oaks or Memorial?’ We couldn’t afford the land in River Oaks. But we are cognizant that these need to be spread around,” he said.
I have a lot of sympathy for CM Rodriguez’s position. As a commenter on that story notes, Eastwood is already the home of several such facilities. They do need to be distributed around the city more. On the other hand, given the low cost of the Magnolia and the fact that the neighborhood is not uniformly opposed to it, perhaps there’s some kind of accommodation that can be reached. It would be a shame to lose out on this kind of opportunity, given the great need for more of these homes.