Fifth Ward Residents Fight to be Included in Development Negotiations

East River Project

The developer of the East River Project, Midway, describes this project in their brochure as a place “where culture and commerce thrive together.” However, they leave out the part about how the culture that’s already existing there will inevitably be displaced and a new gentrified culture put in its place.

Screenshot from: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1iaiV_ZaUG0MWv3U_z3IQ1weOVUpCPjeq/view?fbclid=IwAR2OBbK8bNJ1s_8z7y7W9YO0I9P0Fx16h2riIEKvN9RM_PS7cXyWb6RUwY8

“Two meetings is absolutely unacceptable when people don’t even know what a TIRZ is,” Joetta Stevenson, president of Greater Fifth Ward Super Neighborhood, said. “We want to know if we want a gun pointed to our heads or a bouquet of roses. If you are going to hide it, it’s probably a gun. The community needs input.”

Questions Left Unanswered During Community Meeting

During this meeting, I learned a CBA had formed between Midway and TIRZ 18/FWCRC last year and the pandemic had “delayed” getting information to the public. Kendra London, from Our Afrikan Family, told me they had only learned about the CBA in May and tried to get the community a seat at the table.

“We have been doing block walks to inform people about the TIRZ and the CBA,” London said. “New residents, people who have been in the neighborhood five years or less, seem to know about the CBA, but the existing residents did not know about the CBA.”

Residents from Fifth Ward kept asking for transparency into the CBA during this first community meeting. If they have already started the process of the CBA, what are the negotiations looking like? During the meeting, residents received no information. In fact, the representatives from FWCRC said Midway has not provided TIRZ 18 with the full scope of the project because it is in five phases and it looks like Midway is in phase one of planning. The problem with this reasoning is that Midway’s chief operating officer, Stephen “Jamie” J. Bryant, is on the TIRZ board. This not only is a huge conflict of interest as Midway is using the TIRZ to gentrify, it is also inexcusable that residents aren’t being included in the phase planning and being given more transparency.

“At one point, we didn’t want to see the [CBA] negotiating papers, we wanted to see the upcoming developments for the coming year the TIRZ had planned with tax-payer money,” London said. “Their lawyers told them it wouldn’t be a good idea to show the public.”

Our Afrikan Family is forming the Circle Coalition comprised of Fifth Ward residents, orgs, and small businesses to put pressure on having a seat at the CBA negotiating table.

Screenshot from: https://ourafrikanfamily.org/circle-coalition

More Displacement With the I-45 Expansion

On top of this whole issue with the East River Project, Fifth Ward residents are facing another form of displacement: expansion of the I-45 freeway. Stop TXDOT I-45 is a grassroots organization fighting to stop the displacement of residents and environmental impacts expanding I-45 will create. Listed on their website are all the areas, people, schools, and businesses that would be harmed by the freeway expansion.

  • Expansion will be at the property line of both campuses.
  • Increased pollution are linked to poorer student and community health.
  • Asthma rates at Bruce (7.2%) and Secondary DAEP (5%) already exceed the HISD/ASID average of 3.5%.
  • Poverty rate at Bruce is 92.6% and DAEP is 94% compared to 73.7% in Houston.
  • NHHIP design will move the freeway closer to both schools increasing safety concerns for pedestrians and cyclists.
  • Three bus stops adjacent to I-10 around Kelly Village will be temporarily impacted during construction.

What is a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA)?

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