Third Ward residents express concern about gentrification, believe it could result in loss of culture and history

Some residents say their neighborhood is changing.

THIRD WARD – Residents who live in the historic Third Ward neighborhood said it’s changing.

A quick drive through the neighborhood will reveal new developments in the form of luxury townhomes and vacant land. According to third-generation resident Assata Richards, it’s the demolishing of affordable housing for those that live in the neighborhood.

Richards said without affordable housing, long-term residents are being displaced, which she worries will result in the loss of the predominately African American neighborhoods’ rich history and cultural legacy.

“My parents met on this block, on this street (Emancipations Street) and when I see those institutions gone, it breaks my heart,” said Richards.

Richards said her family moved to the neighborhood in the 1950′s and she’s called it home ever since.

The changes in the neighborhood prompted her to become a founding board member of the Emancipation Economic Development Council.

She said the organization focuses on addressing and preventing gentrification.

“Specifically, the displacement of African American residents and the history and culture of the neighborhood,” said Richards.

Dr. D.Z. Cofield, the Senior Pastor at the Good Hope Missionary Baptist Church in Third Ward, leads a congregation of more than 2,500.

He tells KPRC he’s seen the effects of gentrification firsthand.

“Some of our older members have chosen to sell, and in some ways, I understand. If you paid $100,000 for a house 50 years ago and somebody offers you 900,000, and you’re already struggling with the taxes or whatever, it’s like -- I may be older but I’m not stupid. I’m going to sell,” said Dr. Cofield.

One of the most noticeable aspects of gentrification, according to residents, is the development.

Because of that, community organizations formed the Emancipation Community Development partnership or ECDP to cut down on displacement.

A report from the ECDP strategic implementation framework shows investors owned 37% of vacant land in Third Ward.

Bill Fulton, director of the Kinder Institute for Urban Research at Rice University, led a separate study identifying neighborhoods at risk for gentrification.

According to the study, gentrification often eliminates affordable housing options, deep-rooted social networks, and longstanding amenities.

Land prices will also climb just as they are in Third Ward.

“So If you want to develop a new building in the Third Ward, what happens is they basically have to be high-end townhomes in order for the developer to make his money. So what we see in advance of actual gentrification is often land speculation and the price of land going way up,” said Fulton.

Fulton said development increases property taxes and longtime property owners struggle to pay their bills or maintain their homes, but he believes there may be a solution.

“Create a property tax system where long-term owners in places like that pay lower taxes,” he said. “There are exemptions and lower property taxes for all kinds of things, right? There’s definitely a way to do that for longtime residents in gentrifying neighborhoods.”

Affordable housing for renters is also necessary.

According to a report from the ECDP, 27% of households in Third Ward were paying more than half of their income in rent in 2017, which is comparable to 25% for the city of Houston, but is likely due to the community’s high percentage of households receiving a rent subsidy of 25%.

The report also pointed out that the median household income in Third Ward was $23,325, which was less than half of that of the city of Houston, which is at $47,493.

Libby Viera-Bland, the neighborhood development project manager at Project Row Houses, said organizations that provide affordable housing or vital to keeping residents in the communities.

“We have been building out affordable housing over the last decade in a half,” said Viera-Bland.

She said so far, the organization has built 80 units of affordable housing and is in the process of building an additional 12 units this year.

Richards believes providing affordable housing will help the community residents stay in their beloved neighborhood, but also preserve the history of the neighborhood, which is why she said she continues fighting for Third Ward.

“This community made it possible for me to get a Ph.D. as a single mother. It made it possible for me to reach all of my aspirations as a first-generation college student, and so I know what this community is made of,” Richards said.

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