Year after Supreme Court ruling, officials struggle to meet affordable housing demands

Houston Chronicle, June 13, 2016                                  
One year after ruling, officials still wrestle over locations and local objectives. 

The U.S. Supreme Court ratcheted up the pressure on housing officials across the country to do what has rarely been done in Houston: build affordable homes in well-off neighborhoods.

That is proving to be easier said than done.

The court warned that concentrating public housing in low-income, high-minority neighborhoods could violate the Fair Housing Act. Its guidance was essentially at odds with the goals of the Houston Housing Authority, which argued, controversially, that such a ruling would hamper its ability to provide new affordable housing.

A decade since the city housing authority last brought new affordable units to Houston, the agency is now embroiled in a seemingly endless tug-of-war with activists, developers and politicians over how to develop in areas with good schools and low poverty, while at the same time fulfilling its mission to revive distressed neighborhoods. . .

. . . Facing potential legal action from fair housing advocates, the city agreed four years ago to target investment in a handful of neighborhoods poised to gentrify - the Near Northside, Old Spanish Trail/South Union and the Greater Fifth Ward - with the aim of spurring development while at the same time ensuring housing affordability.

Mary Lawler of Avenue CDC has followed a similar strategy to preserve affordable housing along the Washington Avenue corridor and in the Near Northside.

"What we really want to see is a balanced approach," she said. "These other neighborhoods should not be abandoned, especially neighborhoods that are really poised to become the places that we want to get these developments into 10 years from now. . . "

. . . "No matter what you think about an individual project, this is something that all of Houston has to deal with," said Kyle Shelton, a researcher at Rice University's Kinder Institute for Urban Research. "The Supreme Court made this decision for a reason: Where people live matters. It's so easy to demonize either side. Affordable housing asks of all of us the fundamental question about providing equal opportunity to people."

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