Fifth Ward Residents Fight to be Included in Development Negotiations

Fifth Ward residents, specifically the Circle Coalition formed by Our Afrikan Family, is trying be included in a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) already formed between the private developer, Midway, and the Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone 18 (TIRZ 18) regarding the East River Project. Midway’s chief operating officer sits on the TIRZ 18 board, so it’s Midway making a CBA with Midway and leaving residents out while the rest of the board is complacent.

Fifth Ward is also facing threats of displacement from the expansion of I-45. On top of the East River Project and the expansion of I-45, the residents of Fifth Ward are already facing conditions that enable their displacement: food deserts, increasing property taxes, the allocation of public school funds to charters, drainage issues, and the list goes on.

As developers continue their unrestrained projects in Houston, terms like “urban renewal,” “revitalization,” “renewal,” and “revival” create marketing hype and manufactured consent around the developments solidifying the city’s role as an epicenter in this capitalist system. Anyone would want to welcome “revitalization” to their neighborhoods, but these communities already know these “revival” projects come with a price — displacement and cultural erasure. These projects are purposefully meant to colonize and remove the culture that is rooted there.

RELATED: Mayor Turner Appoints White Guy to Lead Third Ward

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.

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

This project plays a role in manufacturing consent in displacing a community and their culture. Look at the project website, it looks and sounds awesome, but that’s the marketing designed to make a person feel excited for this project. No where does it mention the existing community and culture that would naturally be lost because they can’t afford it.

Midway is seeking $133 million public, tax payer dollars from Fifth Ward’s Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone 18 (TIRZ 18), but residents of Fifth Ward have largely been left out of the CBA forming between Midway and the TIRZ 18. I attended the first of two meetings between the Houston’s Fifth Ward Community Redevelopment Corporation (FWCRC) and the community on Saturday, October 10. Before info on the meeting, for further context FWCRC is described by Fifth Ward residents as being an offshoot of TIRZ 18 — they have overlapping leadership and neither have answered questions on the distinctions between the entities.

“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.

Image for post
Image for post
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.

Here are all the aspects of Fifth Ward that would be displaced or would have increased pollution from the expanded freeway.

Student Health

  • Bruce Elementary and Secondary DAEP are exposed to 4X the traffic pollution of the average HISD/ASID campus.
  • 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%.

Environmental Justice

  • Removal or relocation of families in public housing units — specifically Clayton Homes and Kelly Villages.
  • Poverty rate at Bruce is 92.6% and DAEP is 94% compared to 73.7% in Houston.

Community

  • 20% of Bruce students walk to school exposing them to the highest accident areas of Jensen Drive and under and next to the freeway.
  • 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.

Houston Housing Authority has said they would provide vouchers for residents to relocate to another HHA community. However, London with Our Afrikan Family pointed out to me that the voucher would only cover rent for a limited time and not cover any other increased cost of living expense. London also noted these vouchers would be limited and not cover the the whole community being displaced.

RELATED: History of Fifth Ward

What is a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA)?

Progressive reporting for Houston — Saturdays @ 1:30pm/CST on All Real Radio & facebook.com/samthemullet

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store