Mayor Turner Shoots Down Houston's Controversial Plans for Affordable Housing Near Briargrove [UPDATED]

Mayor Sylvester Turner announced Monday evening that the Houston Housing Authority's controversial proposed mixed-income housing project near Briargrove Elementary wouldn't even be considered by City Council, a move that denies the housing authority millions in tax-credit funds.

Thousands of residents in the Briargrove area near the Galleria had been loudly protesting the 233-unit apartment building plan for 2640 Fountainview Drive for months, even creating a website called STOP Fountainview Project. They claimed Briargrove Elementary, home to roughly 850 kids, was already overcrowded, and even though HHA estimated only 42 to 60 children would occupy the building, residents and Houston Independent School District Trustee Harvin Moore argued the school couldn't handle any more students.

Among other things, residents argued the apartments would create unbearable traffic and depress their property values, and added that with a roughly $60 million price tag, the project was too costly and a waste of taxpayer dollars. 

On Monday, it looked like Mayor Turner agreed.

“After careful review of the costs and other concerns, I am asking HHA to look for an alternative location for this project that is still in City Council District G in what we refer to as a high opportunity area with access to good public services, quality schools and thriving businesses,” Turner said in a statement.

The HHA chose this location last year — conveniently on the same street as its headquarters — as part of a nationwide push against segregation through building affordable housing only in impoverished, minority neighborhoods, where access to education, recreational amenities and even big grocery stores is lacking. Last year, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development mandated that local housing authorities start looking for "high-opportunity areas" — like Briargrove — for their next housing projects. Otherwise, if housing authorities failed to provide more diverse affordable housing options, they could lose federal grant money. 

The HHA had consistently clarified that this specific apartment building in Briargrove was not "public housing" or "low-income housing." Only 10 percent of units would go to families that rake in less than $25,000 a year on average;  the rest of the units were for working-class people or those who could afford market-rate housing. About 20 percent of the project would be funded by taxpayers.

Still, opponents claimed the project was "irresponsible" — the word HISD's Harvin Moore used — for the housing authority to pick a location near a school already flooded with too many kids.

“To be clear,” an earlier rendition of the opponents' website said, “the Stop Fountainview Project recognizes the need for low-income housing in Houston and does not oppose the project because it is low-income. HHA should have done their homework, not arrogantly deciding this location was best without seeking input from the community. Shame on them.”

Without the City Council's support, HHA Board Chairman Lance Gilliam said the city denied the housing authority about $14 million in tax credits. He said it still had the funds to go forward if officials really wanted, but they have decided not to. 

"We are going to respect what the mayor has asked us to do," he said. "I'm not aware of any other sites in District G for now, but that's what the mayor asked, and I think it's a very legitimate request." 

Next week, Gilliam said, he'll be taking suggestions from the community about any locations up for sale that may be suitable for affordable housing.

Update, August 2, 5:40 p.m.: Gilliam called to clarify that just because they are honoring the mayor's request to look for a different site doesn't mean they have given up entirely on this one. If they don't find a better location, Gilliam says they might still decide to go forward anyway.

KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Meagan Flynn is a staff writer at the Houston Press who, despite covering criminal justice and other political squabbles in Harris County, drinks only one small cup of coffee per day.
Contact: Meagan Flynn