Houston City Councilmembers voted Wednesday to recommend 21 proposed affordable housing projects to compete for $150 million in state housing tax credits, including one project critics say may lead to health risks.
The developments, including six “priority” projects, are vying for 9% housing tax credits awarded annually by the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs. In the 2020 cycle, 10 projects could be selected from the Houston area to receive a total of $150 million over a 10-year period.
The process is more competitive than ever in Houston, city housing director Tom McCasland said at a Feb. 3 council housing committee meeting, because projects can also qualify for $350 million in federal Harvey recovery funding.
But one of the six proposed priority projects drew heated debate from several councilmembers because of potential environmental risk to residents.
Lockwood South Apartments, an affordable housing development that’s part of the Buffalo Bayou Partnership’s master plan to redevelop parts of east Houston, would be located across the street from a Southern Concrete Crushing facility, which led to concern from At-Large 4 Councilmember Letitia Plummer.
“We’re making a conscious decision to put that there,” Plummer said, “and I just believe that it isn’t safe for the particular community to live in that particular area.”
Plummer was not alone in her concerns. District B Councilmember Jerry Davis also expressed reservations, while Tiffany Thomas, who represents District F and chairs the council’s housing committee, said the city needs to include environmental risk in its criteria next year.
The city chooses which projects to recommend using a wide range of criteria, like neighborhood school rankings and access to transportation. It also prioritizes projects in low-poverty areas and in council districts that have fewer affordable units than the citywide average.
Corey Williams, research and policy director with clean-air advocates Air Alliance Houston, said the nearby facility could present a significant health risk to potential residents.
“There’s a Texas Health and Safety statute that prohibits concrete crushers from being located within 440 yards of a residence,” Williams said. “So if this was the other way around, and the concrete crusher wanted to be located near an affordable housing complex, they wouldn’t be allowed to, under state law. So the fact that we have housing coming to an air quality issue is really troubling and just seems intuitively irresponsible.”
But the Buffalo Bayou Partnership has pushed back on those fears, saying the housing project meets state standards.
“Lockwood South Apartments is compliant with Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs (TDHCA) requirements for proximity to any undesirable site features,” read a statement from Buffalo Bayou Partnership president Anne Olson. “The development is consistent with current and past precedent for TDHCA-approved projects and will comply with all local, state and federal requirements.”
The housing development has also seen local support from those in the neighborhood who want access to more affordable housing, according to District H Councilmember Karla Cisneros, who represents the area.
“This is one of the communities that is gentrifying rapidly. The people already live there. They don’t want to leave,” Cisneros said at Wednesday’s council meeting. “They don’t want to have good places to live in some other community.”