The Houston Housing Authority aims to build two mixed-income multifamily apartment communities in Houston’s rapidly changing East End neighborhood. The area has historically provided relatively affordable housing for what has long been where many of the city’s minority residents reside. The neighborhood has recently experienced a redevelopment boom. Developers are buying up “bargain-priced” tracts of land with plans to develop 150 acres of high-end, mixed use development. A third of households in the East-End area make less than $25,000 a year, according to Census estimates. Midway, the developer who recently purchased the land, is planning to convert industrial sites and small wooden bungalows into townhomes, restaurants, bike trails and high-end apartments.
The Houston Housing Authority has proposed two large-scale, mixed-income housing developments, which will include units for some families earning less than 30 percent of the median income of the Houston area. The proposals have angered developers and some area residents. While these residents and developers oppose the Housing Authority’s proposed housing developments, both the Housing Authority and area residents assert they are worried about the impact of the changes in the neighborhood. The primary concern is the fear that new development will lead to higher taxes and gentrification that could weaken the area’s strong culture, which celebrates Latino traditions and treats neighbors as family.
Concerns that low-income units might negatively affect a neighborhood could be overblown, said Kyle Shelton, deputy director of Rice University’s Kinder Institute for Urban Research. “Pretty much across the board, affordable housing research tends to show there aren’t really negative impacts, on everything from property values to schools,” Shelton said. “Because in the grand scheme of things, it’s usually a couple of hundred to a couple of thousand people, which is a small slice of a neighborhood.” On the contrary, he argued, what research really shows is the dangers of displacing low-income families from their longtime neighborhoods. “In a neighborhood like East End, that can happen very quickly,” he said. “So we can lose a lot of people.”
The apartments planned by the Housing Authority are, in part, meant to replace Clayton Homes, a 1950s-era public housing complex at 1919 Runnels just east of downtown next to U.S. 69. The 296-unit property, badly damaged by Hurricane Harvey and only partially occupied, is slated for demolition to make way for a massive highway reconstruction project. The authority has a contract to sell the roughly 19-acre site to the Texas Department of Transportation for $90 million, or approximately $109 per square foot.