Mayor Turner makes an announcement about a new program for revitalizing some core neighborhoods.
Mayor Sylvester Turner plans to focus Houston’s community development efforts on five low-income neighborhoods as part of his Complete Communities initiative announced Monday.
The program comes without a price tag or implementation timeline, and the mayor has committed no additional money for housing and community development.
Instead, Turner said the city will redirect 60 percent of its local and federal housing dollars to the five pilot neighborhoods: Acres Homes, Gulfton, Second Ward, Northside Village and Third Ward.
That amounts to roughly $34 million annually, if federal funding remains steady, on top of $28 million in available local housing funds.
“We recognize that this effort will not transform neighborhoods immediately, nor will it be a panacea that eliminates challenges neighborhoods face,” Turner said. “But they will see an intense, concentrated effort by many partners to enhance their quality of life and improve their living conditions.”
The city intends to finalize development plans for each of the five neighborhoods in January, after several months of community engagement. Turner said programs could include additional heavy trash pickup, weed abatement, sidewalk construction or single family home repair – things the city already does in neighborhoods across Houston.
“These short-term projects will generate enthusiasm and serve as a catalyst for support from outside organizations and the local community,” the mayor said.
Asked how he would respond to other disadvantaged neighborhoods eager for investment, Turner said, “We see you and hear you, but when you look at what we will do in these respective pilot communities, I think communities will be willing to wait for the transformation that will take place.”
Turner cited a slew of private entities involved in the effort including the Greater Houston Builders Association, Commonwealth Funding, Wulfe & Co. and Midway Companies. He didn’t elaborate on the exact nature of those partnerships.
Though the city’s investment period was open-ended, the mayor said his administration will focus on short-term projects, like heavy trash sweeps, park and community center repairs, enhanced weed abatement and improved sidewalks and street lighting, as well as home repairs and public art to highlight the transformations underway.
Turner also promised longer-term gains like improved educational outcomes, access to quality grocery stores, better drainage and the creation and preservation of affordable housing.
“I’m not placing any limit on it,” said Turner. “We stay until we reach that benchmark.” Specific benchmarks for each neighborhoods have not yet been identified.
The city will finalize its plans for each neighborhood by January 2018, after a community engagement process, according to the city. “This not a one-size fits all approach,” the mayor said.
Monday’s announcement came after Turner faced criticism earlier this year for city decisions that effectively barred low-income housing from wealthy Houston neighborhoods, according to a federal investigation. Citing his decision to table the low-income housing tax credit project proposed at 2640 Fountain View in a census tract that was almost 90 percent white, the federal housing department said that decision and others were based, in part, on racially-motivated opposition from community groups. But instead of crafting a corrective plan, the city has vehemently denied the findings, and Turner has asked the agency to rescind it.
Simultaneously, Turner has moved forward on his Complete Communities initiative, arguing that low-income Houstonians should not have to move from largely low-income communities to reap the benefits often associated with wealthier neighborhoods, often labeled as “high opportunity” communities.
“I vowed that we cannot allow Houston to be two cities in one, a city of haves and have-nots,” Turner said.
There are still a lot of details to work out, and a number of similar neighborhoods that would presumably be next on the list after these five. The goal here is to upgrade the infrastructure in these neighborhoods, making them better for existing residents, who haven’t seen a lot of investment from the city, while also making them more attractive to the kind of businesses that thriving neighborhoods need, all while (hopefully) not causing appraisals to soar or the kind of developers who would raze everything in order to build luxury condos to swoop in. Easier said than done, but the goal is a good one. All parts of the city need maintenance and new investments, and there’s a lot of room for infill development to ensure the city remains a vibrant alternative to outward sprawl. I look forward to seeing how this goes.