Sugar Land residents oppose proposed low-income housing project

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					Sugar Land residents oppose proposed low-income housing project
By JOSHUA WINATA CHRONICLE CORRESPONDENT
April 22, 2009, 2:38PM Several Fort Bend County neighborhoods have organized in protest against a proposed lowincome housing development at 16827 Old Richmond Road near Sugar Land. Goldshire Development has proposed to build a multifamily rental project that will consist of 150 townhouses and has submitted an application to the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs for a $2 million allocation in low-income tax credits designated especially for Hurricane Ike and Midwestern disaster areas. However, the development is competing with more than 60 other projects for $29.8 million in funding. The state is scheduled to announce the allocations in July or August. At an April 13 public hearing hosted by the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs at Houston City Hall Annex, 900 Bagby, nearly 100 residents from the Fort Bend area attended the standing-room only meeting and spoke out against the project. The Village of Oak Lake subdivision chartered a bus to bring 58 residents, and others attended from Summerfield, Stratford Park Village, Pheasant Creek, Orchard Lake Estates and Chelsea Harbour. The project would be located on a tract that is sandwiched in the middle of the Village of Oak Lake subdivision where the narrow two-lane Old Richmond Road dissects the neighborhood in two. Residents blasted the proposed project from all angles. Parents worried about crowded schools. Real estate agents warned of declining property values. Representatives from area homeowners’ associations and the Fort Bend County Municipal Utility districts 25 and 41 cautioned against the strain on community resources. Others brought up concerns about traffic congestion and increased crime. For resident Annise Clarke, a single mother with one child, the project hit especially close to home. For the last 10 years, Clarke has rented land from the current owners and lives on the property being proposed for development. She operates an equine boarding facility and horseback-riding classes. “Not only would I not have a home, but neither would 39 horses, 25 families that board there (and) my 30 students who come there on a weekly basis,” Clarke said. “It would uproot me and also uproot my business.” Goldshire developer Sally Gaskin defended the townhouse project as a public benefit that would provide affordable housing for working families, retired seniors, the disabled and those with fixed incomes. “I see the good that it does, and I see the really positive, incredible housing that’s being built through this program,” she said. “I see the families that are very positively impacted.” According to federal definition, low-income households are defined as those making less than 60 percent of the area’s median annual income. In the Houston area, that amounts to $26,820 for a single-person household or $30,600 for a two-person household. The proposed monthly rent of the Goldshire Townhomes would range from $500 to $720. Residents acknowledge the importance of low-income housing but disagreed with its placement, contending the location would be also potentially be unsafe and inconvenient for renters. One resident compared the location to a “doughnut hole” surrounded on all sides by established single-family subdivisions. Gaskin said the location was selected primarily based on economic viability.

“I know they’re being very protective of their community,” Gaskin said. “Everyone, I believe, agrees there is a need for good quality, affordable housing. Where the disagreement is that they know it’s needed, but they just don’t want it close to them.” Gaskin thinks most of the opposition is an emotional response that reflects a lack of understanding of the project. During a meeting with residents on April 7, Gaskin and Fort Bend County Commissioner James Patterson met with area residents at Oak Lake Baptist Church, 15555 West Airport Blvd., near Sugar Land, to address questions and concerns. The church borders the property where the project would be located. Gaskin attempted to dispel misconceptions of the project as public housing and promised the development would be “well-built and well-managed” with “great amenities.” Preliminary plans include a swimming pool, fitness center and community center that would host free after-school programs. But to the residents, such promises ring hollow, especially when compared to their experiences. During the public hearing, several residents quoted horror stories of crime and poor management found on ApartmentRatings.com for Reading Park Apartments, a similar rental development built in 2000 in Rosenberg. On the online apartment rating Web site, the complex received an overall rating of 3.3 out of 5. As another local example, Village of Oak Lake resident Mike Manley, a state-certified residential real estate appraiser, and several other residents pointed to Alief as a cautionary tale about detrimental effects of low-income housing projects. In the early 1980s, city planning commissions approved many government-assisted townhouses and apartments in the area in response to tough economic conditions. “I saw that area just totally decimated,” said Manley, who grew up in Alief before moving to Village of Oak Lake. “I can tell you firsthand. I witnessed it. I’m not giving you facts and figures. I’m giving you my true experiences in Alief.” Others shared anecdotal evidence of community deterioration following the construction of lowincome rental units. “Everything people have talked about, I’ve seen,” said Village of Oak Lake resident Eric Brees, who grew up near a low-income housing development. “I remember these apartments turning into crack houses, going to bed with gunshots. It was a scary experience for me as a kid, and I don’t want my family to go through that.” Gaskin said she is unsure if the project, which bears a estimated price tag of $20 million, would proceed if it’s unsuccessful in securing federal assistance. “That’s a bridge we haven’t crossed yet,” Gaskin said. For residents, denial of the federal housing tax credits would be the first step in blocking the construction of the unwanted housing project. “If the developer wants to build this, they need to use their own money,” said real estate agent Vicki Warren, who lives in Telfair and owned property in Stratford Park Village. “They will need to provide their own water and sewer, their own fire, police and EMS services, and they need to expand the road and develop the surrounding areas because we, the residents and hard-working taxpayers, will not donate our utilities and services so they can make a buck.” Project opponents ask that letters, e-mails and phone calls be directed before 5 p.m. June 15 to the Texas Department of Houston and Community Affairs to: TDHCA Multifamily Finance division, P.O. Box 13941, Austin, Texas, 78711-3941; sharon.gamble


				
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