A coalition of community groups said it will continue to disrupt meetings and events until they are included in decision-making for the development of Houston’s “Ion” innovation district, over concerns that the city’s new district in the southern part of Midtown will lead to gentrification.
The Houston Coalition for Equitable Development Without Displacement has said it hoped to sign a community benefits agreement with the developer, Rice Management Co., but that the plan was crushed when Rice declined to include community groups and developed an agreement with the city of Houston instead.
But organizers say they’re not giving up. Last week, members disrupted a panel discussion that featured the developer’s manager of strategic initiatives, Sam Dike. And Uyiosa Elegon, co-organizer of the HCEDD, said they will be at more events.
“We will be wherever contradictions arise in this,” Elegon said. “Whether that be Rice Management Company, whether that be certain city council members, whether that be the mayor himself.”
Houston City Council has yet to vote on the agreement between Rice and the city. Mayor Sylvester Turner’s office said he is currently finalizing his review of the agreement draft and expects it to be presented to the council’s economic development committee within the next two weeks.
HCEDD wants council members to vote against the agreement, Elegon said, “if it does not include an amendment to force a community benefits agreement with this coalition of over 32 legacy and respected organizations in and around the Third Ward.”
Both the city and Rice call their agreement a Community Benefits Agreement, or CBA, but the HCEDD insists that by definition it cannot be one without the inclusion of a community group or coalition.
Instead, the group says it’s a developer agreement, and worries it will “promise very high and deliver very low,” Elegon said.
Rice Management Co., which declined to comment for this story, has pointed out that the agreement makes commitments regarding economic and housing opportunities, and inclusive hiring and contracting. It was developed over months by a working group consisting of community leaders, including from Houston’s Black and Hispanic chambers of commerce and community development corporations.
Once approved by the city council, it will be a binding contract, according to Rice.
Elegon is not convinced it will make a difference.
“The history of them, of the city,” he said, “putting things on paper with the developers saying that they’ll promise things to low-income, poor Black people is that those things have never materialized or they barely ever have.”