Residents of Fifth Ward and Kashmere Gardens who want to move away from a neighborhood they believe is contaminated will have to wait another week to see if the city approves $5 million to help them.
At-Large Council Member Letitia Plummer delayed the item on Wednesday that would have created the Fifth Ward Voluntary Relocation Fund. She said there wasn't enough outreach done in the community.
"I am tagging this item primarily because of the requests of the community," said Plummer "A lot of them just don’t understand and they want to understand what is going on."
The City of Houston announced earlier this summer it would start making plans to relocate residents living near a Union Pacific Rail Yard in Fifth Ward. Residents have been fighting for years to get the site cleaned up and that it has caused cancer in the community although the company disputes that. Fifth Ward and Kashmere Gardens was deemed a cancer cluster in 2019 after the state found higher-than-normal cancer rates in the area.
Mayor Sylvester Turner said he did not agree with Plummer's tag and both communities have endured enough pain.
"What are we waiting for," said Turner. “For somebody else to die, for some other child to be diagnosed – I’m really, really outdone by a motion to even tag this item. It is your right but people have waited long enough."
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said in April of this year that testing would begin in June for toxic chemicals that residents say they could still be exposed to. An agreement was made between the EPA and Union Pacific – requiring the company to do further testing and pay for testing in the community and on the site.
Turner said there's no waiting when people are being diagnosed with cancer and dying. He even spoke on his cancer diagnosis that he shared during his 2022 State of the City address.
"I know every day matters," said Turner. "Had I waited a few more weeks, a few more months, my situation would have been significantly worse."
While some council members were in support, there were still questions about what the overall process would look like: Questions of what would happen to community members’ homes, what if new people moved into the contaminated areas, and how many people would the city be able to move.
District J Council Member Edward Pollard suggested approving the fund and informing residents along the way. Plummer said she's not against the funding, she just doesn't want residents to be blindsided during the process.
"I want them to move. I want them to be safe, but I also want them to understand what they’re dealing with and we carry them through the entire process," she said.
Kathy Blueford Daniels, a life-long Fifth Ward resident said more community engagement is needed.
"I think we should give more time to discuss all of that (relocating process) to the community and the residents who will be impacted," she said at Tuesday’s public session. "There's just many factors that I believe need to be discussed with the residents – so they thoroughly understand what the situation is."
Mayor Turner said it would cost about $30 million to move everyone in the area that chooses to relocate, but the city doesn't have the funds. He said Union Pacific hasn't made an effort to help the residents, which is why the city is stepping up.