The historic Cuney Homes was awarded a $450,000 Choice Neighborhood Initiative Planning grant, but some residents have questions about what it means for the future of the site.
The grant, given by the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the City of Houston, would help replace distressed housing with mixed-income housing. It would also provide residents with quality-of-life support related to areas such as health, education, and employment.
Nearly 600 people live in the historic public housing community in the Third Ward and some of them wonder if the money could cause problems for them. Verdell Ingram found herself filing for low-income housing nine years ago.
“Nobody has owned, not one resident has owned. It’s not pushed for you to own,” Ingram said. “There’s a lot of gentrification here.”
Ingram adds more training is needed to understand the redevelopment process.
“At the end of the year you say we are planning, or you turn around, but people don’t know,” said Ingram. “Then they sign away their rights and not know it.”
Members of Can I Live, a national public housing tenants association, were on hand to equip residents with the information needed during this process.
“Development deals and initial planning grants often show families as a focal point for all engagement; however, the truth is, resident needs are rarely addressed,” Racquel W. Jones, CEO and president of Can I Live said. “In most cases, families are ignorant, illiterate and too unlearned regarding the development process and its terminology, timelines and overall value to the local community. While the perception may look ill-will, it may be a simple case of staff and consultants being ill-informed.”
Jones added what’s worse is that HUD allows the Public Housing Authority to waive the rights of residents if the property will remain “affordable housing.”
“This is where it gets tricky. No deal requiring private investment can remain 100% affordable using 100% HUD subsidies. For this reason they mix the development deals with private rents,” Jones explained. “It’s the private rents that change the dynamics of the deal in its entirety.”
Jones added that private investments through HUD programs like Rental Assistance Demonstration should trigger residents’ ownership stake in the deal.
“HUD should not allow agencies the right to waive residents’ rights for the places they live, work and play,” Jones said.
Meanwhile Ingram is asking leaders to not rush and to listen to residents.
“We have 560 people…and we have extensive questions. That’s not enough time. Give us enough time to be trained and not be handpicked.”