The opportunity blueprint: Our plan for a united, diverse Houston

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Houston is at a crossroads. The city is growing and the economy is booming – but only for some. Despite high statistical diversity, neighborhoods remain largely segregated by race and ethnicity, and public service provision, school quality, public health, environmental hazards and crime are still unequally distributed.

Now is the time for a proactive strategy to promote inclusion and opportunity for all, to reverse the trends of inequality and ensure that Houston becomes the world-class city it can and should be. A consensus is building that the City of Houston must play a more active role in this process. We need a dedicated municipal policy that embraces our diversity and expands opportunity for all of our citizens to enjoy quality homes in healthy, safe, diverse and vibrant neighborhoods.

The City can achieve this goal by extending four Fair Housing and Neighborhood Rights guarantees to all residents. It is essential that the program is comprehensive, and incorporates a range of actions to address systemic inequality.

We submit the following plan as our recommendation for policymakers, based on our many years of research into issues of inequality in Houston and in support of the “Houston for All” campaign from our community partners at the Texas Organizing Project (TOP). Our plan includes specific guarantees that the City must make in order to achieve each goal, as well as their financial cost and anticipated impact on the plan’s success. In total, we estimate that the total cost of our recommended housing initiatives is $357.3 million over eight years, or $44.67 million per year, and that the additional cost of related public works improvements is $200 million over the same time frame, or $25 million per year.

If Houston’s leaders want to get serious about building a fair, united, modern city, this blueprint offers the way forward:

GOAL 1: THE RIGHT TO CHOOSE
All people have a right to live in a decent home in quality neighborhoods of choice.
Total cost over eight years: $130.65 million

Actions

1. Enact a fair housing ordinance that at least provides “substantially equivalent” protections for groups protected under the existing federal law to permit local enforcement as most other Texas cities have.
Cost to City: None
Impact: Low

2. Analyze and carry out steps to overcome impediments to fair housing through a comprehensive revision of Houston’s Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing by 2018.
Cost to City: $100,000
Impact: Moderate

3. Carry out housing discrimination testing and enforcement to reduce discrimination to less than 10 percent of all rental inquiries by 2020.
Cost to City: $500,000
Impact: High

4. Convene a mayor’s conference on fair housing, inclusive neighborhoods and equal housing opportunity every two years.
Cost to City: $50,000
Impact: Low

5. Ensure that housing opportunities for lower income renters are provided in high-quality neighborhoods across the region by requiring that future low income housing developments are not disproportionately concentrated in historic low income neighborhoods.
Cost to City: None (existing funds)
Impact: Moderate

6. Expand the opportunity for the Houston Housing Authority’s Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher holders to use their vouchers throughout the city and reduce segregation in high poverty neighborhoods.
Cost to City: None (existing funds)
Impact: High

7. Improve the quality of life for the Houston Housing Authority’s public housing tenants by revitalizing the existing public housing stock for very low income families while rebuilding obsolete developments as integrated, mixed-income developments.
Cost to City: $40 million
Impact: High

8. Address the substandard conditions in some multifamily housing developments through a coordinated plan of code enforcement, selective demolition and support for new mixed-income housing opportunities in higher opportunity areas.
Cost to City: $50 million
Impact: High

7. Establish a comprehensive program providing a pathway for affordable homeownership in neighborhoods all across the city through a homebuyer education, counseling and a revolving downpayment assistance initiative.
Cost to City: $40 million
Impact: Moderate

8. In cooperation with area universities, direct the City planning and housing departments to cooperate to develop and publish an ongoing estimate of the City’s affordable housing needs, and to propose options to create incentives to the private sector to provide both owner-occupied and rental housing affordable to the full income range of needs all across the city.
Cost to City: $50,000
Impact: Low

GOAL2: THE RIGHT TO STAY
Gentrifying neighborhoods are revitalized for the benefit of existing residents without displacement.
Total cost over eight years: $26.4 million

Actions

1. Honor and expand Mayor Parker’s existing commitment to create three economically, racially and ethnically integrated neighborhoods in the Community Reinvestment Areas while preventing involuntary displacement.
Cost to City: $10 million
Impact: Moderate

2. Establish Homestead Preservation Districts to stabilize and improve housing quality and prevent the displacement of homeowners.
Cost to City: $50,000
Impact: Moderate

3. Establish a homeowner stabilization project coordinating and targeting public, private and voluntary assistance to elderly and disabled homeowners to permit them to live in decent, safe and sanitary homes.
Cost to City: $10 million
Impact: High

4. Undertake a research and public education campaign to ensure homes in low income neighborhoods are not overvalued for property tax purposes, and that homeowners understand how to secure all appropriate property tax exemptions.
Cost to City: $5 million
Impact: High

5. Designate and instruct City departments to support and coordinate with three world-class community development corporations to work with private foundations and federal agencies to revitalize public infrastructure, secure private capital investments and revitalize substandard housing in targeted neighborhoods.
Cost to City: None (existing funds)
Impact: Moderate

6. Sponsor a national conference bringing together community development corporations to showcase best practices for turning around distressed neighborhoods. This would be in conjunction with an initiative to support effective CDCs in Houston.
Cost to City: Less than $50,000
Impact: Low

7. Convene a summit on community change, gentrification and economic diversity strategies for achieving healthy neighborhoods through residential diversity.
Cost to City: Less than $50,000
Impact: Low

8. Develop and adopt a plan to promote the resiliency of low income neighborhoods to survive and recover from flooding and other disasters.
Cost to City: Less than $250,000
Impact: Moderate

9. Endorse and expand Mayor Parker’s three racial, ethnic and integrated neighborhoods commitment by increasing the number to five by adding the Third Ward and Independence Heights.
Cost to City: $1 million
Impact: Moderate

10. Host a national conference on neighborhood diversity and gentrification in conjunction with Houston universities and TOP to showcase the city’s commitment to build on its reputation as America’s most diverse metropolitan area.
Cost to City: Less than $50,000
Impact: Moderate

11. Work with the Texas Legislature to establish property tax policies to lessen the burden on low income homeowners and end the strong trend of tax delinquencies occurring in predominately African-American neighborhoods in Houston.
Cost to City: Less than $50,000
Impact: High

GOAL 3: THE RIGHT TO EQUAL TREATMENT
End discrimination, disinvestment and policies harming low income neighborhoods of color.
Total cost over eight years: $386.25 million (including $200 million for public works, non-housing)

Actions

1. Reform ReBuild Houston to improve accountability and equity in infrastructure spending.
Cost to City: None (existing funds)
Impact: High

2. Direct City departments (especially the planning, housing, and neighborhoods departments) to establish a process permitting citizens to engage in dialogue with developers, at the time developers seek City funds for projects within their neighborhoods, to negotiate appropriate Community Benefit Agreements.
Cost to City: None
Impact: Moderate

3. Reduce substandard housing in target areas to less than twice the citywide rate by 2030 through an effective housing repair, code enforcement and dangerous building demolition program.
Cost to City: $10 million
Impact: High

4. Increase minority homeownership rates to at least 45 percent in each target neighborhood by 2030.
Cost to City: $50 million
Impact: High

5. Inventory, license and monitor hazardous incompatible land uses in neighborhoods by the end of 2016.
Cost to City: $2 million
Impact: Moderate

6. Enact a neighborhood environmental protection ordinance.
Cost to City: None
Impact: High

7. Equalize the provision and quality of public infrastructure across all neighborhoods in the city.
Cost to City: $200 million
Impact: High

8. Correct substandard living environments in existing private subsidized housing developments by 2025.
Cost to City: $100 million
Impact: High

9. Reform the City’s Section 3 jobs program so that it produce real jobs for people with lower incomes.
Cost to City: $250,000
Impact: Low

10. Conduct a comprehensive survey of historical sites and buildings of significance to communities of color and work to secure their protection and recognition.
Cost to City: $1 million
Impact: Low

11. Create a Safe Neighborhoods Laboratory in Sunnyside, where community residents, the police department and universities work together to develop alternative, effective practices for community policing, crime prevention and post-incarceration community reintegration.
Cost to City: $5 million
Impact: Moderate

GOAL 4: THE RIGHT TO HAVE A SAY
Citizens have a voice in decisions affecting their neighborhoods.
Total cost over eight years: $14 million

Actions

1. Establish a Houston Fair Housing & Neighborhood Rights Commission to oversee the housing and public works departments and to monitor the implementation of these initiatives.
Cost to City: $1 million
Impact: High

2. Support citizen-directed neighborhood planning processes (like Sunnyside’s), provide a process for their review and approval by the City and direct City departments to develop implementation plans based on approved neighborhood-led planning processes.
Cost to City: $1 million
Impact: Moderate

3. Ensure that boards and commissions include representatives of low income and minority neighborhoods proportionate to the number of such neighborhoods in the city.
Cost to City: None
Impact: Moderate

4. Place full inventories and condition assessments of all public infrastructure (drainage, streets, sidewalks, streetlights, community facilities and more) on a citizen-friendly online GIS server, as the City’s current system is incomplete and full of errors.
Cost to City: $3 million
Impact: High

5. Establish an online neighborhood toxic hazard inventory to identify potential environmental risks.
Cost to City: $3 million
Impact: Moderate

6. Enact a “Right To Know” ordinance to expedite citizen and media requests for information from the City.
Cost to City: None
Impact: High

7. Enact a “Right To Have A Say” ordinance setting out standards for citizen participation by all City departments.
Cost to City: $2 million
Impact: High

8. Establish a government transparency initiative that would provide advanced postings of all relevant documents on a publicly accessible website related to City Council actions at least seven days before council action.
Cost to City: $3 million
Impact: Moderate

9. Carry out performance reviews of all Tax Increment Reinvestment Zones (TIRZ) to determine if they should be permitted to continue to operate. Provide better accountability and oversight over the use of affordable housing funds generated by TIRZ. Assess the type and quality of infrastructure and public improvements provided by TIRZ to ensure that the level of public services and infrastructure available is proportionate across all neighborhoods in the city.
Cost to City: $1 million
Impact: High

10. Require developers seeking an economic development incentive to clearly describe the benefits to the community that justify granting them the incentive.
Cost to City: None
Impact: High

2 thoughts on “The opportunity blueprint: Our plan for a united, diverse Houston

  1. All goals and actions set forth in the article were interesting. But there is one basic assumption that was not addressed. Most of these goals and actions are contingent upon a City government that can carry them out. That is not the case in Houston. The Houston Housing and Community Development ability to manage and successfully enact part of the disaster recovery programs was summed up by the OIG as “ The City of Houston Could Have Better Used Its Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery Downpayment Assistance Funds.” Their job performance was abominable, and the same people are still employed there. The Houston Department of Neighborhoods, whose job is to monitor neighborhood groups and promote outreach, does not. So much for your plan execution. Finally, in reference to “Goal 3…EQUAL TREATMENT”, if that commitment was true, we should not have a planned high-density housing project planned in Independence Heights in the same spot that a housing project existed fifty years ago. That “Deja-vu all over again” repeated pattern of racial segregation was a decision made by HCDD and opposed by the residents of Independence Heights. Please begin with our neighborhood and help us fight this project.

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