Fourth Ward or Bust

Houston Renaissance still hasn't secured private financing to redevelop the Fourth Ward, and its time may be running out

Lucinda Campbell, a matronly black woman of about 70, stayed until the end of the session at Antioch, and never once heard David Lee mention that possibility. Nor was she informed of it Sunday evening, when she returned to the church to see a few of Lee's preliminary designs.

One never knows, but Campbell might live long enough to see completion of the "new Fourth Ward." If so, she might like what David Lee comes up with for her neighborhood, or she might not. But it will be impossible for Campbell to see the project as a success if it destroys her sense of place. At Antioch Baptist, Campbell offered a sobering appraisal of "inner-city redevelopment" under the Lanier administration: "It's no longer convenient for people to live in the suburbs," Campbell acknowledged, "but maybe those people don't want to live next door to me."

The prices of some new homes in the Fourth Ward could be as high as $150,000, and even the 250 to be set aside as HUD-subsidized "affordable housing" will be out of reach of the ward's current residents, if not beyond the means of families elsewhere who would never think to describe themselves as "low-income."

The HUD homes were agreed upon two years ago by residents and city housing officials as suitable replacement for an equal amount of public housing units demolished at Allen Parkway Village. But the two-, three- and four-bedroom houses and townhomes will average $103,000. Buyers could receive up to $20,000 in subsidies, but even then, the target market is people making about $40,000 a year.

"It's just the direction HUD is going in these days," explained Joy Fitzgerald, the executive director of the Houston Housing Authority. "There's just not enough money to build and maintain housing for people who would only pay $2 a month in rent."

Two people, in particular, are in a position to offer some solution to that dilemma: Lanier and Stevens. But their only priority, it seems, is to bring home the mother of all Neighborhoods to Standard projects, and then settle back and enjoy a mayoral legacy that includes the rebirth of the Fourth Ward.

And why shouldn't they? If Houston Renaissance suffers some ruinous financial calamity along the way, such as foreclosure on a $7.2 million loan, it will be Lanier's successor who will have to clean up the mess and take the heat. As for Stevens, he'll be safely back in the private sector, and the uncertain reality that faced 350 Fourth Ward residents this summer will be a distant memory.

As one participant in the community meeting at Antioch Baptist put it: "Gentrification takes no prisoners.

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