Mayor Sylvester Turner has pulled his support from a controversial housing project at the center of a city-run selection process that the former housing director called a “charade” to steer millions in federal dollars to a favored developer.
The mayor’s office announced on Monday it would recommend Harvey recovery funding for two projects with a total of 360 affordable units in districts H and J for city council review. New Hope Housing at Berry is a supportive housing development providing 240 affordable units in the Northside and Northline areas, while Fairways at Westwood is a multifamily development what would provide 120 affordable apartment homes for low-income families in the Alief-Westwood area, according to the mayor’s office.
A third project, the Huntington at Bay Area, would have created 88 affordable housing units at $15 million.
“The Huntington at Bay Area development, will not be recommended for funding,” read a statement from Turner. “While it would have created affordable housing for seniors in District E, where there has been no affordable multifamily housing constructed since 2016, and never in the Clear Lake area, the project has become too much of a distraction for the administration’s agenda and for this city.”
Former city housing director Tom McCasland was fired last month after accusing Turner of rejecting four stronger projects that were selected by housing officials, in favor of a particular developer at four times the cost per affordable unit. Those four projects would have created 362 affordable units at $16.2 million, according to records released by McCasland. State records also show the mayor’s former law partner, Barry Barnes, as a co-developer on the project.
In his testimony to city council on Sept. 21, McCasland accused Turner of “bankrolling a certain developer to the detriment of working families who need affordable homes.”
Turner has denied any wrongdoing, and has noted that no money has yet been allocated.
In response to McCasland’s allegations, Turner announced he would launch an internal investigation into the process. City Attorney Arturo G. Michel, who is appointed by the mayor and was directed to lead the investigation, has since recommended outside firm Butler Snow to handle the probe. The council will vote to approve a $275,000 contract with the firm on Wednesday.
The Harris County District Attorney’s Office has opened its own investigation into the process, according to the Houston Chronicle. The Texas General Land Office, which is in charge of distributing federal Harvey recovery funds, has also said it would coordinate with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to review all previous funding requests from the city.
The council called a special meeting last week in response to McCasland’s claims but avoided questions about the mayor’s role in the Huntington deal, focusing instead on the former housing director’s handling of the city’s Housing and Community Development Department. That meeting revealed the housing department overspent on administrative costs related to the Community Development Block Grant program to the tune of about $7 million in fiscal year 2021.