Third Ward homeowners fight historic district designation

Third Ward homeowners are in the midst of a fight they neither wanted nor expected—a battle to get the city to squash the move to name it a historic district.

To many, the idea of a neighborhood being designated a historic district sounds like an “honor” residents would welcome. However, several longstanding homeowners of Riverside Terrace in Third Ward denounced the proposed Riverside Terrace Historic District, and have taken actions towards that end, including 1) a community meeting with 200-plus attendees to voice their objection, 2) a vote on the issue where the majority of residents rejected the idea, and 3) a visit to city hall where residents called on Mayor Sylvester Turner and the Houston City Council to squash the designation.

Phyllis Moss, a Riverside Civic Association board member, some homeowners’ concerns.

“You’ll have to go to the city, through a special permitting process, to make changes to your own home; to change your windows, paint or change the kind of roof you have,” said Moss, echoing a consistent homeowner refrain that many residents won’t be able to afford the cost of the very specific changes allowed for homeowners in historic districts.

“It’s a financial burden on people that’s just not necessary,” she added.

Moss and other Riverside Terrace residents also take issue with being blindsided by the potential designation.

“So, I get home one day in December and me and my husband, the homeowners, got a letter in the mail and it says your home has been placed in a proposed historic district. I’m like, ‘What?’ No meeting. Nothing. I am totally blindsided. I don’t know anything. I am not expecting this. You’re asking us to have our homes in a historical district, but you didn’t have a meeting first to ask us how we felt about it. You didn’t have a meeting to educate us on the pros and the cons.”

Residents have additional concerns regarding the impact of the historic district designation.

“Our taxes went up this year, tremendously. For some people, their property value went up over $100K, meaning their property taxes went up a huge amount also. So, if we’re here next to what they’re calling a historic district, is that going to make our property taxes go up, as well,” asked Moss.

Partial list of reasons homeowners oppose the proposed historic district: 

  • Of the 35 tracts, only 13 voted for the proposal, yet the Planning Department redrew the map boundaries multiple times to meet the percentage needed, thus forcing neighbors to be a part of something they didn’t vote for.
  • There was no public meeting with the community, or civic association as required by ordinance, prior to homes being placed in a proposed district.
  • This proposed historic district will be an enormous financial burden on homeowners who cannot meet the historic specifications for repairs and upkeep and will force families who have been in the area for generations to live in homes they cannot afford to repair or sell.
  • The federal and state tax breaks for homes in a historic district are more favorable for investors than longstanding primary residents.

Tomaro Bell, president of the Super Neighborhood Association, hopes Houston residents beyond Third Ward lift their voices in support of efforts to block the historic district designation.

“Call your city councilmember and tell them not to approve this,” said Bell. “Not only were procedures not followed, this designation is placing an unwanted financial strain on longtime community members.”