Lake Houston-area residents spar with Harris County officials over proposed housing development

J.K Washington was among the roughly 20 Lake Houston-area residents who spoke out against the Harris County Housing Authority's proposed The View at Lake Houston development at a March 23 public meeting. (Wesley Gardner/Community Impact Newspaper)
J.K Washington was among the roughly 20 Lake Houston-area residents who spoke out against the Harris County Housing Authority's proposed The View at Lake Houston development at a March 23 public meeting. (Wesley Gardner/Community Impact Newspaper)

J.K Washington was among the roughly 20 Lake Houston-area residents who spoke out against the Harris County Housing Authority's proposed The View at Lake Houston development at a March 23 public meeting. (Wesley Gardner/Community Impact Newspaper)

Image description
Subject to change, this overview of the Harris County Housing Authority's The View at Lake Houston provides a general layout of the proposed development. (Courtesy Harris County Housing Authority)
Editor's note: this article has been updated to note J.K. Washington is currently employed with the Montgomery County Precinct 3 Constable's Office, and he has worked in law enforcement for 20 years.

More than 150 Lake Houston-area residents were in attendance at a March 23 public meeting to voice their concerns about Harris County Housing Authority’s proposed housing development planned for a 90.5-acre tract of land located off West Lake Houston Parkway.

The property in question, located in the 77044 ZIP code near Lake Houston, was initially acquired by HCHA in February 2009. The housing authority first held a public meeting last November on the project, dubbed The View at Lake Houston—a mixed-use, mixed-income, master-planned community planned for the property.

At a second public meeting March 23,
HCHA CEO Horace Allison, stressed the development is not considered public housing and that it will be funded through the Texas General Land Office, private debt and HCHA tax credits.

“I want people to understand this is not ... the Fifth Ward,” Allison said. “This is not Kelly Village. These are new, modern, well-designed facilities building on the errors of our past so that we provide people with a better place to live.”

Allison said the development would consist of single-family housing for purchase and rent, multi-family rentals, senior housing and commercial development. The housing would be available to residents meeting the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s definition of low-to-moderate income, which falls between $26,500-$63,350 a year for a family of four.

“That means entry-level school teachers ... people that work at Wal-Mart, people that work at Home Depot, people that work at a local restaurant,” Allison said.

According to Allison, the development would include several amenities for residents, including an amphitheater, boardwalk, boat dock and a lakefront trail bordering Lake Houston. Additionally, HCHA officials noted the development would include roughly 12 acres of undisturbed wetlands, as well as green space corridors and flood control easements that would provide space for wildlife habitat relocation, according a HCHA FAQ document released after the November meeting.

Humble ISD interest

At the March 23 public meeting, many of the roughly 20 residents who spoke out in opposition of the development—including Humble ISD trustees Robert Sitton and Robert Scarfo—said the property would be better suited for the future site of HISD’s eleventh middle school.

While the district currently owns roughly 150 acres of property across the street from the 90.5 acres in question, HISD Superintendent Elizabeth Fagen said the additional property was necessary because the area is rapidly expanding.

“This is the fastest growing area in our district,” Fagen said during a March 8 HISD board meeting. “These are the campuses that are most congested, so we would really benefit from some relief in this area with additional space for district facilities, as well as not creating additional overcrowding in our current campuses, where we are feeling that pressure of growth so quickly.”

At the March 23 meeting, Sitton said the district sent a letter of intent in January to purchase the property from HCHA.

“The offer was prudent, and it met everything they were asking for at that time,” Sitton said, noting the offer was rejected without the district being presented a counter offer. “Why even entertain an offer?”

In HCHA's response to the letter of intent, Sitton said housing authority officials questioned the need for the 90.5-acre tract when the district already owned 150 acres of nearby property. Sitton noted the 150-acre tract was needed for a future high school.

Sitton said the offer was never taken to the HCHA board for approval and even suggested the rejected offer could have been connected to the fact that HISD Board President Martina Dixon was running for Harris County judge.

Jim Brissee, Harris County assistant county attorney, said the offer was handled appropriately.

“Let me make this very clear,” Brissee said. “The [offer] was provided to the board of commissioners of the Harris County Housing Authority. ... It was given all due consideration and the board voted against it because it does not fit the housing authority’s objectives. It does not advance the goal of providing safe and affordable housing for the residents of Harris County.”

Brissee said if the district had offered an amount of money that was “substantially more” than what was presented, a deal could have been possible.

Sitton acknowledged that his assertion claiming the offer was not considered by HCHA board members was incorrect, but he continued to push HCHA officials on the notion that the offer was not financially viable.

“If it’s money that we’re talking about, the initial letter of intent had the dollar amount that we were told is what they needed,” Sitton said. “Now, we’re being told they need more.”

Sitton said a second offer has since been submitted by the district that is 10% higher that the initial proposal, though he noted the district has not yet received a response. District officials said they could not confirm the amount of the offer due to ongoing negotiations.

“By developing the property, the Harris County Housing Authority will be adding additional students into an already stressed student capacity, which does not support this community or Humble ISD,” Sitton said. “This is a win-win for the housing authority. You would be able to recoup some of your investment, please the residents in the surrounding communities and help accommodate for the continuous growth expected in the foreseeable future.”

HCHA Board Chairman Gerald Womack said the housing authority would consider Humble ISD’s offer but did not provide a timeline of when a decision would be made.

“It has to be the right number,” Womack said. “We are willing to negotiate if you brought it to the table."

Community response

More than 20 area residents spoke at the March 23 meeting with concerns about the potential impacts of the proposed development.

J.K. Washington, a local homeowner who has taken the lead in the community response to the proposal, listed several concerns held by nearby homeowners, including the question of who would pay for police and emergency services in the development.

Because the HCHA is a tax-exempt entity, the only properties in the development that would generate property tax revenue would be the single-family homes available for purchase.

“You’re moving businesses and private entities and residents here, and they’re not paying into the infrastructure,” Washington said. “That means that the residents who live in the general area who are being taxed are responsible for that.”

Washington, who currently works in law enforcement at the Montgomery County Precinct 3 Constable's Office, also questioned whether the new development would result in increased crime in the area.

"In my 20 years on the job, it's not the people who live in these low-rent houses [that contribute to more crime]," Washington said. "It's the people who are coming and hanging out who are causing the problems, because they have no vested interest in the property."

Allison said that there has been no indication of increased crime rates related to other HCHA housing. Additionally, Allison said prospective tenants and homeowners are screened to ensure they have not committed a felony within the last three years.

“We go through screening criteria not to discriminate, but to try to ensure that you’re getting people who are responsible, giving them a chance to better their lives,” Allison said.

John Hopkins, a resident in the Summerwood subdivision, said he believed the property tax issue would exacerbate overcrowding at HISD schools without generating revenue for the district.

“If you put in housing authority apartments and you pay no taxes on them, then all the children that live there will go to school in Humble ISD and somebody is going to have to pick up the cost,” Hopkins said. “You’re not going to pay the taxes that support the school.”

Several residents who spoke at the meeting questioned whether the new development would affect adjacent property values. According to, the median home value in the 77044 zip code is currently $310,000.

Allison noted the housing authority is cognizant of surrounding properties and that was taken into account when proposing The View at Lake Houston.

"We're sensitive to the surrounding community and the architecture of the surrounding community," Allison said. "Yes, there will be some multi-family and townhomes, but ... they're well designed and compatible with this area."

Jennifer Hoemberg, a resident in the Lakeshore community, said she and her husband worked hard to purchase their home and asked why others should not be held to the same standards.

“Why is an entry-level Starbucks employee, as the example was given, deserving of the same level of home my husband and I have after completing higher education and 15 years of work to afford?” Hoemberg said.

According to Womack, there is no reason to think the individuals who would move into to development would be any less hardworking.

“There are people all over Harris County that are first-time home buyers that get public assistance,” Womack said. “They’re proud to pay their mortgage, their maintenance fees, and they are required to go through all the standards of a homeowner’s association. ... It’s not a handout. It’s not a handout for a mother who might have four children or a father who’s the single head of a household who maybe applied for some assistance.”

Moving forward, Womack said the housing authority would consider HISD's offer before any final decisions are made on the development.