Chrishelle Palay, co-director of the Houston office of the Texas Low Income Housing Information Service (TxLIHIS), an NLIHC state partner, spoke to a crowd of residents of Houston’s affluent Briargrove neighborhood on March 9, urging them to support the Houston Housing Authority’s (HHA) Fountain View Apartments, a mixed-income project proposed for development in their neighborhood. Ms. Palay urged the many opponents of the project to consider its value, not simply to prospective residents but for the community as a whole.
Historically, public housing in Houston has served to racially and economically segregate the city, with the housing authority restricting low income housing to areas outside of predominately white and upper income neighborhoods. The majority of HHA residents, 75% of whom are African American and 15% are Hispanic, live in racially concentrated neighborhoods that lack opportunity, transportation, strong schools, and access to jobs. Following the 2015 Supreme Court ruling in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. The Inclusive Communities Project, which focused on the state of Texas’s use of the Low Income Housing Tax Credit program, subsidized housing proposals must consider the disparate impact that future housing developments may have in maintaining or exacerbating racial segregation.
Given the need to create quality homes affordable to extremely low income (ELI) and low income renters in high opportunity neighborhoods, the HHA proposed the construction of the 233-unit Fountain View development in an affluent Houston neighborhood. Seventy percent of the units would be reserved for families earning up to 60% of the city’s median area income ($41,580 per year for a family of four), 20% would be market rate, and 10% would be available and affordable for ELI renters. Residents would be able to enroll their children in the area’s strong neighborhood schools and would have access to jobs and resources unavailable to the majority of the city’s public housing residents.
Following the release of HHA’s Fountain View development proposal, opposition from neighborhood residents was immediate. Concerns ranged from traffic congestion and government overreach to the overcrowding of the neighborhood elementary school. An organized opposition campaign garnered the support of U.S. Representative John Culberson (R-TX), City Council Member Greg Travis, and other officials. On March 9, these opponents of the development gathered at Briargrove Elementary School to voice their protests.
Amid opponents’ shouts that “They’re going to bring our property value down!” and accusations that “those people” who might move into the development would loiter and steal, Ms. Palay spoke in support of the development. Ms. Palay reminded the audience that the prospective Fountain View residents were fellow Houstonians and already members of the local community. “Many of ‘those people’ that are deemed undesirable as residents in Fountain View Apartments are already in this community on a daily basis,” Ms. Palay told the crowd. “Those people are greeting you at Starbucks and Whole Foods Market as you go about your daily routine. Those people are handling your banking needs at Chase Bank. Those people are serving you and your colleagues at [local restaurants] as you close that business deal. Those people are helping to sustain your current quality of life. However, many have made it clear that it’s not okay for them to live within your zip code.” TxLIHIS continues to advocate for the Fountain View development. "Many Houstonians are proud that our city is one of the most diverse in the country,” Ms. Palay said. “But its reality of longstanding segregation is seldom acknowledged. This development offers a small step in reversing the historical trend of segregation by providing real housing choice. It’s time for Houston public officials to do the right thing and by making sure priority is placed on affirmatively furthering fair housing."
For more information on TxLIHS’s efforts, email Chrishelle Palay at firstname.lastname@example.org.