Residents still against housing project being built in neighborhood
Round two of a public hearing on the proposed building of a public housing complex on Sikes Road was held in a larger venue this time and as a result drew a larger crowd in attendance.
The public hearing was held Tuesday afternoon at The Palms on the corner of Interstate 10 and MLK Drive. More than 50 residents were in attendance to either voice their opinion or hear what their neighbors had to say about the proposed Arthur Robinson II project. As at the first meeting, most did not support building the complex on Sikes Road.
Chris Akbari, a developer for ITEX Developers of Port Arthur, began the meeting. He said his company has been working with the Orange Housing Authority since 2009 and the aftermath of Hurricane Ike.
Akbari said ITEX originally planned to rebuild damaged properties at their existing locations until the Texas General Land Office and the South East Texas Regional Planning Commission directed them to do otherwise.
Akbari said because of fair housing standards, Arthur Robinson I on Burton Street was a poverty impacted area and the residents could no longer live there. The Department of Housing and Urban Development denied most plans OHA submitted to build at other locations and they were at the “liberty” of the fair housing advocates to use Hurricane Ike Disaster Funds.
The OHA owned the 14 acre property on Sikes Road since 1998 and the fair housing advocates directed them to build there.
Akbari explained Arthur Robinson II will be a 70-unit mixed income housing complex with a 2,200 square foot community building that will also provide residential services such as in education.
The complex will be built 250 feet from MLK Drive, be elevated to prevent being flooded and will look similar to the complex at Highway 87 and Highway 105 with similar amenities.
The public was then allowed to speak at the hearing.
OHA board president Michael Combs announced per local government code, individuals who own or lease property within one-quarter of a mile of the proposed site at 4030 Sikes Road could comment on the project. Those who spoked two weeks ago at the first public hearing has to wait until the first group finished speaking. Everyone was allowed two minutes to speak.
Resident Bill Wallace wanted to know more about a study Akbari referred to in his presentation. He also wanted to know what the OHA would do with the current Arthur Robinson property.
Wallace added his opposition to the project had nothing to do with race because his current neighbor is Vietnamese and another neighbor is African-American.
Akbari answered it was an environmental study and evaluation completed by the South East Texas Regional Planning Commission. The study revealed the Arthur Robinson II complex was high enough in elevation not to flood.
He added several residents at ITEX properties have successfully moved out of poverty. Many ITEX residents had to have a job or looking for a job to live in the apartments.
David Bellie said he lives in a low area in the Hillbrook addition he has already built up his property to prevent flooding. He fears building up the Arthur Robinson II property will spread floodwaters.
Bellie was also curious if the residents would be drug tested.
Akbari said the OHA would not have the ability to drug test residents at every complex.
Captain Joe James said the community’s opposition to Arthur Robinson II is about race.
Leroy Perkins believes another rental property in Orange is not needed.
“The government is broke. Why spend money we don’t have. There’s no big jobs coming here for the people to have,” Perkins said.
Akbari responded the complex will pay $8,000 a month in property taxes to the city.
Resident Michelle Bennett wanted to yield the time she had to speak to another resident, but she wasn’t allowed.
Robert Lowery said the move won’t benefit the Arthur Robinson residents because they will be farther away from stores and it will cost them more time and effort to shop.
One resident asked if her neighborhood would remain the same because the police report calls to Arthur Robinson aren’t the same as calls to her neighborhood.
David Wagner is affiliated with nearby Community Church and School.
He said the church is there to minister to the residents, but he was curious how the residents were screened and what kind of precautions would be taken.
Wagner was particularly concerned if there were any pedophiles living at Arthur Robinson II who would be so close to the school. He believes it would be better to build housing for the elderly there.
Akbari said there is a misunderstanding how incoming residents are screened.
The OHA complexes are governed by four to five different agencies, overseen by HUD. Residents must meet certain requirements and are screened for criminal history and credit rating. Sex offenders are screened through the State of Texas, but with 4,000 residents, sometimes they slip through the cracks.
Local police will also patrol the grounds.
Sandra Bellam said the entire community of Orange is a low socio-economic area and the complex could be built anywhere else.
One resident believes his property value will go down in the area and the city will have to increase rates to offset the difference. Furthermore, residents won’t get fair market value if they want to sell their homes and move elsewhere.
He added police patrols will need to increase. Even now, there are criminal incidents occurring on Sikes Road.
Billy Miller, likewise, said four of his bicycles have been stolen off the front porch of his home near Sikes.
The OHA will also be rebuilding the Pine Grove complex on Park Street. He favors Arthur Robinson II being built there.
Dr. Samir Ebeade told the OHA board of commissioners they were shoving the Arthur Robinson II complex down the residents’ throats.
He said the OHA has a vested interest to build on Sikes Road and drug activity will increase in the neighborhood.
“You (the OHA) have other options. Why raise their standards while lowering ours?” Ebeade asked. “People will lose their shirts selling a property.”
He further believes the OHA accepted the $6 million in disaster funds instead of looking out for the citizens’ best interests.
Linda Ash said she did an internet search on areas that went through the same thing. Many said the residents at the projects don’t have a sense of ownership because they rent. There’s no management at the complexes and the property is not maintained.
Ash said the same thing happened in the city of Beaumont and residents were wasting their time attending the OHA public hearings.
Shelly Broussard is a manager at neighboring Pine Hollow Apartments. She was concerned if there would be some kind of buffer zone between the properties. Akbari said there will be a tree line between the two.
She was also concerned about Arthur Robinson II residents using the Pine Hollow swimming pool.
Bobbie Parson thought building the complex on Sikes Road was a “bunch of bull.”
She said residents are currently living at Arthur Robinson I and they don’t need to build a new complex.
“This is typical government. We can’t afford it and we don’t need it. No one wants to put their children in West Orange-Cove School District. No company will every come here. The same thing happened in Roselawn (Addition),” Parson said.
Jane Wilkes requested to see a copy of the environmental study. Akbari said he couldn’t provide it to the public. Wilkes said she planned to contact HUD.
Dave Johnson asked the OHA board why don’t they send the Arthur Robinson children to Little Cypress-Mauriceville or Deweyville schools rather than WO-CCISD schools they are already attending.
Johnson added he lived in projects before, and they’re good and bad people living there. He had an inner motivation to better himself and move away from there.
Tanya Wilson is a former executive director of the OHA.
She said Arthur Robinson II was not planned to be built on Sikes Road when she left the OHA.
“We were told we could build one for one. The problem is when you add to it,” Wilson said. “I thought more home would be built like in Beaumont and Port Arthur (rather than more projects).”
Some in the audience became more vocal and restive. Combs threatened to clear the room.
Valerie Lafleur asked why none of the commissioners were answering any questions.
Akbari said the commissioners were only allowed to hear plans and to adjust said plans. He added the Arthur Robinson II complex was not a done deal.
Lafleur added she originally though her neighborhood was a good place to live, but now she fears for her daughters if they are left home by themselves.
This 14 acres property on Sikes Road is the proposed site for a 70-unit mixed income housing complex. Many residents in nearby neighborhoods are against building the complex.
RECORD PHOTO:David Ball