Residents and community leaders from Pleasantville, Studewood and Sagemont joined Mayor Sylvester Turner and others at a press conference to draw attention to what they describe as a gross injustice that could devastate for decades Houston area communities heavily populated by people of color and seniors.
At issue is the Texas General Land Office’s (GLO) documented practice of funding the rebuilding of Hurricane Harvey-damaged homes in predominantly white, deed-restricted neighborhoods to specifications that meet or exceed the square footage and bedroom number pre-Harvey, while doing the exact opposite in Black and Brown and heavily senior Houston communities.
“Pleasantville is one of the first, historically Black neighborhoods in the country protected by deed restrictions, but over the past several months, many residents have raised concerns with the GLO about the rebuilding process, concerned about their desire to be treated with basic respect and fairness,” said Turner. “And unfortunately, those concerns have been ignored by the GLO.”
Turner said if at the time of Harvey, homeowners had a three-bedroom home that was seriously damaged or destroyed, “they’re simply asking for that same three-bedroom home after the fact,” adding that prior to the GLO’s 2020 take-over of the city’s $428 million effort to repair and rebuild single-family homes damaged by Harvey, the city was doing just that.
“Your home is the most valuable thing that most people own, and especially for people of color or people of moderate means,” said Judson Robinson III, head of the Houston Are Urban League and grandson of Judson Robinson Sr. considered Pleasantville’s founding father and one of the main reasons why the 1948-founded neighborhood became a beacon of Black excellence in the city and country.
“[Home ownership] is the vehicle that allows [people] to pass on wealth to the next generation. If you take away the tenets of what it takes to have a successful neighborhood, you diminish the property, you create an environment that does not encourage families to move into it again, you’re doing a disservice to the community, and tax dollars should not be used in a manner that creates disservice.”
However, these same tax dollars have allowed residents of predominantly white neighborhoods to receive red carpet treatment by the GLO, the unspoken elephant in the room during the press conference. However, when asked about it, Turner would only say, “I can’t speak to that. It doesn’t make any logical sense. These people are not asking for more than what they had do, they simply want their homes rebuilt. I can’t get into [GLO leadership] heads to determine why they are doing it.”
Turner, Robinson and other press conference speakers agreed that the GLO’s practice of only agreeing to rebuild a homeowner’s three-bedroom home, for example, with a two-bedroom, or to refuse to build a garage on a home that had one prior to Harvey or replace homes built on slabs with less valuable homes built on peers and beams, the end result is not only a loss of hoe value and equity for the individual homeowner, but a loss of value for the entire community.
“You’re reducing their investments, recognize that the home for most people represents their largest asset. The storm already hit them once. Government shouldn’t have to hit them twice,” added Turner.
Mary Fontenot, president of the Pleasantville Historical Society, and the driving force behind bringing attention to this issue, added that the impact of the current GLO practice regarding these Black, Brown and senior-dominated neighborhoods goes beyond mere dollars and cents.
“Read a few articles on the underground communities that were prominent, flourishing Black communities, that entities came in and they just wiped them out. Well, we don’t want to be wiped out and we shouldn’t have to be,” said Fontenot. “Our history is America’s history and it’s important. And it must be preserved whether it’s in Pleasantville or Independence Heights or South Park or wherever it might be. It must be preserved and respected.”