Houston

Houston City Council delays action on affordable housing complex in Midtown

“I understand that people that are homeless need housing. But if you see how these people are living, honestly they’re safer living on the street.”

Lucio Vasquez / Houston Public Media

The Houston City Council delayed a vote on a new supportive permanent affordable housing complex for individuals experiencing homelessness due to alleged prior mismanagement from the foundation that would operate the building.

On Wednesday, Mayor Sylvester Turner announced the city and the county were partnering to build the new complex in the vicinity of 3300 Caroline Street and it would be managed by NHP Foundation. NHP’s involvement generated criticism from some councilmembers.

"This is a very important item for our homeless population, okay. And this is for permanent supportive housing and primarily for people who are homeless. This provides them with housing and this is a city and county initiative," Turner said.

The NHP Foundation currently manages Cleme Manor in Fifth Ward and many council members spoke out about the management’s poor history of maintaining the complex.

"We have heard repeatedly over and over and over again from tenants in this city that have no type of support in terms of making sure that their living conditions are habitable," said Councilmember Letiticia Plummer.

Councilmember Plummer said tenants were living without air-conditioning, there were rodents in the tenants’ apartments and many tenants were having to sleep with their babies in cars because the apartments were in bad condition to sleep in.

The General Land Office has funded the city $18.6 million to move forward with the housing complex while the county has already voted to put in $10 million. Mayor Turner said if the city doesn’t move in a timely manner to accept the funds they will lose them.

"[If] we don’t move forward, we lose it. So you’re telling me that on a project that has yet to be started over the next year or so that we can’t put in safeguards to protect the tenants who will be moving in this project?" he said.

Plummer said the homeless are in better living conditions than the residents living in the properties managed by the NHP Foundation.

"I understand that people that are homeless need housing, I get it. But if you see how these people are living, honestly they’re safer living on the street," she said. “It’s unacceptable for us to continue to support these entities that do not have any respect for human people, for human beings, it’s unacceptable."

The new complex would be a four-story elevator-served building with 149 units and office spaces for supportive programs and staff. Residents would pay no more than 30 percent of their income due to an anticipated Housing Assistance Payment subsidy contract from the Houston Housing Authority.

Council Member Tiffany D. Thomas, who is the chair of housing, said she could not sit back and be quiet any longer.

"Mayor Pro Tem had asked me just to be quiet on this item. But I think it’s important," she said. "I cannot be on record in five years, when people line up to public sessions and show photos of rats and roaches, and MOU agreements that have not been honored in integrity. And then, I look on the record and it says ‘Thomas said yes'. I wouldn’t put my enemy in those units," she said.

Turner said Cleme Manor has adopted the county's Tenants Rights Agreement — which includes things such as frequent landlord inspections, timely repairs once a request has been put in and protecting tenants rights with rental agreements.

"This is not one that’s already built, this has to be built. And I think we have every opportunity to make sure that once it is built, that it has been handled correctly," he said.

Turner said he was not in support of council members choosing to vote down funding because of the developer instead of choosing housing for the homeless.

"To say that we are not going to provide housing, and construct housing for people who are currently homeless, who are the most marginalized, and need permanent supportive housing. It’s unacceptable to me," he said.

Eric Price, NHP Foundation President, said in a statement:

"We are very appreciative of Mayor Turner and several other council members for their support of the Magnificat supportive housing development. We are working hard to gain the trust of the other council members by providing them additional information and we will be meeting with several of them to answer any questions. As providers of quality affordable housing in Houston, we take the concerns of residents very seriously and will continue to do everything in our power to address all issues," he said.

The council is expected to vote at next week's meeting on support for the complex. If the measure is struck down, the city will lose the $18.6 million of available funding. The Housing and Community Development Department stated the development must be fully completed and leased to tenants by August 2024.

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