It was on July 14 during the Brays Bayou Association’s monthly meeting that its president, Charles Goforth, presented to the neighborhood group an option for revitalizing the Meyerland area’s aging infrastructure: a tax increment reinvestment zone.

“I’ve been thinking about it for a while,” Goforth said in an interview with Community Impact Newspaper. “Being somebody that is born and raised here in the community ... I keep looking at the state of the infrastructure, especially in the older parts of Meyerland.”

For example, one of the oldest sections in Meyerland lies around the current Meyerland Plaza, which opened in 1957, closed in 1987, and was reopened as a big-box center in 1995. Yet the infrastructure around that area has remained, Goforth said.

Goforth’s vision for a TIRZ comes mainly because projects through both a Harris County Flood Control District bond program and those under the ongoing $480 million Project Brays flood damage reduction initiative have not been enough, Goforth said.

Tapping into neighborhood tax bases along the Brays Bayou watershed, like Meyerland, is key to making significant headway on those projects, he said.

“If we can somehow recoup some of that revenue, and spend it on our infrastructure improvements, like improving our drainage, improving the streets, sidewalks, and all the things that go along with those types of endeavors, then it would unquestionably ease the perception of the greater Meyerland area being an area that floods,” Goforth said.

Moving forward

A TIRZ serves as a political subdivision that implements tax increment financing by diverting future property tax revenue increases from a defined area toward an economic development project in the community, according to information from the city of Houston.

Goforth, a realtor in the Meyerland area, estimates that the more than 2,300 homes in Meyerland constitute a tax base of more than $1 billion.

“We have a great opportunity to tap into possibly hundreds of millions of dollars a year,” he said. “That will go a long way towards alleviating the burden on the county, the city, the state, and the feds in coming in and doing these projects or coming in and telling us they’re gonna do these projects, and have them delayed for decades.”

To be eligible to be designated as a reinvestment zone, an area must “substantially arrest or impair the sound growth of the municipality or county creating the zone,” according to the city of Houston’s website. One of several conditions must be met to be eligible, and the area must show a substantial number of substandard, slum, deteriorated, or deteriorating structures, defective or inadequate sidewalk or street layout, or conditions that endanger life or property.

The Meyerland area meets several of those criteria, Goforth said.

However, moving forward, Goforth made certain to emphasize in his presentation that the TIRZ would not be a management district, with associated fees, nor would it increase taxes for residents.

To make the idea a reality, Goforth has been in conversations with residents, has pitched the idea to neighborhood groups like the Greater Meyerland Super Neighborhood, and has had conversations with Houston Vice Mayor Pro Tem Martha Castex-Tatum, who serves as chairwoman of the city’s Economic Development Committee.

For the city of Houston, there are two options currently being considered: annexing the designated Meyerland area into an existing TIRZ or creating a disaster recovery zone, according to Castex-Tatum.

The council member is currently awaiting geographic information as part of a system mapping process that will overlay current TIRZs and flood maps and will allow the city to more fully explore the pros and cons of each option. That mapping will be completed in approximately two weeks, Castex-Tatum said.

Currently, the two nearest TIRZs to the Meyerland area are being considered in an annexation process—TIRZ 16, also called the Uptown Houston TIRZ, and TIRZ 25, also known as the Hiram Clarke/Fort Bend TIRZ.

A disaster recovery zone, meanwhile, would identify a specific area where between 30%-40% of the structures were impacted by disasters. The zone would be used to improve selected parameters and infrastructure based on the tax increment, Castex-Tatum said.

"I think that annexing to a current TIRZ would get us moving faster because if we create a totally different independent disaster recovery zone, we need to go through the state legislature—the next legislative session is in two years—and navigate through that process," Castex-Tatum said.

However, the timeframe is just one consideration. State statute requires that no more than 25% of a municipality's taxable value can be encumbered by a TIRZ. Currently, the city of Houston is using 18.9% of that value, Castex-Tatum said.

A disaster recovery zone would not encroach on that capacity, she said.

Preparation and process

Getting a TIRZ fully set up, vetted, and with a board ready to vote on projects, typically takes between a year to a year and a half, said Russell Yeager, director of civil engineering with design and professional services firm WGI.

And while grassroots efforts and community support are very important to the success of any TIRZ, at some point, a team of specialists will be needed for proper economic planning, Yeager said.

“You’ll likely need a good attorney who understands how to put things together and keep the wheels moving, you’re likely going to need an economic manager that’s going to be able to tell you what areas are the most important or where the economics of the neighborhood are going, and somebody like me who can identify the cost and the value associated with the project that you want to do,” he said.

With a team on hand, and a plan in place with a geographical area selected and a list of projects, taxing entities for the Meyerland area like Harris County and the Houston ISD could choose to pay into the TIRZ any of its tax increment, though they would not be required to do so, according to Texas tax law.

After the reinvestment zone is greenlit, a board would then be created that is responsible to the community by shepherding those funds, Yeager said. Typical board members include taxing entities that opted to pay into the TIRZ, as well as community members.

“So those are the next steps,” Yeager said. “There’s a lot of legal work that goes into identifying the area, the amount of money that’s going to be held, and how to ensure that the board is accountable to the neighborhoods in that community.”