Houston City Council supports 15 affordable housing developments, leaving one project undecided

Council members were split on whether or not they should support the Felicity Oaks development because of the lack of community engagement.

Houston City Council Meeting in Session
Lucio Vasquez / Houston Public Media

Houston City Council is supporting 15 proposed affordable housing developments after delaying a vote last week on two projects facing opposition. Council voted on Wednesday to support The Upland near Memorial City, but didn’t vote on Felicity Oaks in Upper Kirby. Instead, Council will let the state decide on its future.

Developers were given another week to engage with community members in those areas, but for Felicity Oaks in Upper Kirby, the developer did not meet that requirement. Residents in Upper Kirby were concerned about flood issues in the area, but Mayor Sylvester Turner said he will work with the developer to ensure residents of that complex would not be impacted by flooding.

Council members were split on whether or not they should support the Felicity Oaks development because of the lack of community engagement, but affordable housing is a challenge throughout the city. Mayor Sylvester Turner suggested the "resolution of no objection" which council members ultimately voted on for the Felicity Oaks property located at 4041 Richmond Avenue.

Turner said the "no objection" was the safest way for council to go without voting no.

"To vote no to this development, I think is this the wrong way to go," he said. "My preference would be to vote yes, but I certainly know we should not be voting no to this development." Turner mentioned that the "no objection" is not council saying no to the development, but leaving it in the hands of the state. "The letter says to the state representative, we are not opposed to this project so the state representative can still move forward."

Last week, council voted to support 14 out of the 16 affordable housing developments recommended by the city's Housing and Community Development Department. Developers use tax credits to build affordable housing in areas across the city by offsetting a portion of their tax liability to charge rent at a lower price. The State of Texas ultimately decides which developers will get the 9% tax credit, but getting the city's support plays a major role.

During several meetings, residents voiced opposition towards the Felicity Oaks development citing issues with traffic, the area being a food desert, lack of walkability to the closest park and overcrowded schools as reasons why the development should not be in their neighborhood.

Council Members were all in agreement that some of the residents’ responses in public session on Tuesday towards affordable housing were disturbing, and the responses were more prejudiced and judgmental because of the type of people they feel would live in a complex.

"Yes, we have to agree and talk about what’s coming into their communities, but we can’t be prejudiced about it," said Council Member Letitia Plummer. "What we’ve heard yesterday was basically saying that, if affordable housing is here, the children at the daycare could be potentially harmed – that is unacceptable."

District G Council Member Mary Nan Huffman said the developer was given more than enough time to speak with residents in her district, and her constituents deserve community engagement just like every other neighborhood.

"Even after we told this developer time and time again, to engage the community he didn’t, even after council member Kubosh tagged for an additional week – he didn’t do it, because he doesn’t care," she said. "We heard developers come up here and say, we walked neighborhoods, we had community meetings, we visited schools, we visited churches, he couldn’t say any of those things."

Council Members did agree they were disappointed with the developer, VERSA Development for not reaching out to residents even after being given an extra week. Daniel Hendren, representing the developer, admitted during Tuesday's public session that he did not reach out to other members of that community – only to the residents who spoke out at public meetings.

Turner did reiterate throughout the discussion that although the developer not reaching out to neighbors, it should not be a reason that council says no to the development. District K Council Member Martha Castex Tatum also reminded council that, saying no to the development would violate their agreement with the U.S. Housing and Urban Development – which was previously considered discriminatory.

"I don’t want to put the city in an area or a position to be violating that VCA, we signed that agreement so that we wouldn’t get funds taken away from us for continuing to violate the VCA," she said. "The letter of no objection is, in my opinion, our best option to support the local position of, you need to involve the council members, you need to support the community members, you need to talk to the council member, you need to talk to the community."

Developers must submit their applications to the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs by March 1. Award proposals will be announced in July 2023.