Orange City Council approves building of public housing projects

Longtime Hillbrook resident Leroy Perkins spoke against the proposed Arthur Robinson II complex to be built on nearby Sikes Road Tuesday morning at the regular meeting of the Orange City Council. RECORD PHOTO: David Ball

The venue changed for a public hearing for the building of new public housing projects within the city, but public outcry against the project hasn’t changed.

A public hearing was held at the regular meeting of the Orange City Council on Tuesday morning to receive citizen comment on proposals to build on Velma Jeter Drive, Pine Grove and Sikes Road. All three resolutions were passed by the council, but the votes were not unanimous.

The prior two public hearing were conducted by the Orange Housing Authority.

Council members Mary McKenna, Bill Mello, Thomas Guillory and Mayor Jimmy Sims voted in favor of building the Sikes Road project while council members Theresa Beauchamp, Tommy Ferguson and Essie Bellfield voted against the proposal. Ferguson also voted against the Velma Jeter and Pine Grove resolutions.

Most residents who live in the Hillbrook addition spoke against the Arthur Robinson II complex to be built on Sikes Road while other residents spoke against the Pine Grove project.

Dee Dydik was concerned for children attending nearby Community Christian School and predators residing at Arthur Robinson II.

“Arthur Robinson (presently located on Burton Street) is the biggest drug infested are of the city. Nobody wants to walk through there because you can get killed, and now you want to put it across from a school where the parents pay for their kids to attend in a safe environment. It’s a religious environment,” Dydik said. “A chain link fence won’t stop predators from children.”

She added there’s nothing on Sikes Road for the Arthur Robinson II residents in the form of grocery stores, gasoline stations, etc.

Dydik further believes the council should not be allowed to vote on the resolution until the environmental study is published for the public.

Resident Ken Steppe lives on Hickory Trails and volunteers for Habitat for Humanity.

He said the OHA or ITEX Developers have answered any questions why they selected Sikes Road to build.

Steppe added the location does not provide better access, will be no benefit to the Arthur Robinson II residents and will not be good for the existing neighborhood- property-owning taxpayers.

“This is not in the best interests of anyone,” he said.

Leroy Perkins has lived in Hillbrook since 1957 and he said he has only seen four Orange Police cars four different times he has lived there and patrols would have to increase.

He then asked what the tax base would be for the apartments. City Manager Shawn Oubre replied it would be $8,000 annually.

Steppe said he owns a 1,500 square foot rent house and pays $1,200 a year for it alone in taxes.

“It’s not fair. The city won’t get ahead on taxes. We need single-family units there,” Perkins said. “A police captain told me they won’t patrol out there because they’re short-handed now.”

Jane Wilkes said she spoke with Developer Christ Akbari of ITEX at the last meeting about the environmental study.

She said she asked for a copy of the study but an OHA employee told her a study has not been done. Wilkes also said she was told the disaster recovery funds were initially to rebuild properties at their current locations, not to relocate the complexes.

Patricia Coppage lives on Allie Payne Road near the Velma Jeter complex.

She said when the building of Velma Jeter was being discussed, residents had the same concerns several years ago that “did not manifest.”

Coppage said the apartment staff is responsible for the residents’ safety. Background checks on residents are performed and residents also check up on other residents.

She added there is crime in her own neighborhood, but not at Velma Jeter.

“Property values have not decreased. It does not necessarily mean property values will decrease or kids will be unsafe,” Coppage said.

Councilwoman Bellfield asked if Coppage was on the OHA board of directors. Coppage answered she was on the board but she was speaking at the council meeting as a private citizen.

Some residents also spoked out on the proposed building of Pine Grove Apartments.

Sharon Kosboth lives adjacent to the complex and asked how many qualified residents are on the waiting list to live there because “nobody lived there before the hurricanes.”

She added she formerly resided in Georgia where the state issues rent subsidies rather than building public housing.

Kosboth also estimated the 66 units at a total cost of $8 million would equal $133,000 per unit.

“These people will not be paying taxes and the city is not getting anything back,” she said.

Richard Harrington said his inquiries to OHA and ITEX went unanswered.

Harrington was also curious what kind of fencing would go in between the complex and his property and city drainage needed to be mowed.

He added a bocce ball court was to be built at Pine Grove. He rhetorically asked how many in Orange, Texas play bocce ball.

Next to speak was Kevin Hamby and have a background on fair housing practices.

Hamby has a background as counsel for the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs, director of Hurricane Ike Round I disaster recovery funds and in fair housing.

Mayor Sims asked first how has federal housing policy changed. Hamby said it has become more aggressive under the Obama Administration and is seen as a civil right.

Sims then asked to explain the conciliation agreement.

Hamby said a complaint was filed in 2008 for fair housing. As a result, Orange received $10 million in disaster recovery funds but the money depended on how the city spent it according Ike Round 2.2 standards.

Sims’ last question how this would affect the city of Orange. Hamby answered the South East Texas Regional Planning Commission, as the administrator of funds, required a needs assessment with a concentration on areas with high poverty, minority or flooding issues. The current Arthur Robinson complex met all three criteria and why it could not be rebuilt but had to be relocated in an area that was not high poverty, minority or had flooding issues.

Hamby warned if the city does not follow guidelines, they could possibly lose the $10 million. He gave the city of Galveston as an example.

Galveston would lose $500 million in funding.

Councilwoman Beauchamp asked Hamby if they could squeeze blood out of a turnip? Hamby said Orange would lose the $10 million, probably raise taxes and maybe have to pay back Hurricane Rita funds.

Beauchamp then asked about Pine Grove.

She said when the council originally voted on the measure, they were told only 10 families with children would live there and the remainder of the residents would be older without families. Since then, the General Land Office of Texas denied the resolution and said all 66 units had to be family dwellings.

The old Pine Grove complex is scheduled to be demolished on February 1, 2014. Abatement work for lead and asbestos will be done in closed conditions for safety reasons.

Beauchamp said Sikes Road falls within her district and she regrets her first voted for the project.

“I represent Orange, not the federal government. There’s blight all over this town and Pine Grove is a huge blight and it’s on the way to one of our biggest attractions, Shangri La. Velma Jeter is not livable,” she said.

Beauchamp added there are many houses for rent such as in Roselawn, so why build more housing and why build it all in Orange, Texas. Stores will be farther away for Arthur Robinson II residents and the gasoline for school buses will cost more because their school will not be as close as they once were.

As an educator, Beauchamp said she has heard stories from children living in Arthur Robinson and Navy Park. Many said they can’t call the police or they will face retribution from an angered party.

“I’ve flip-flopped, felt pressured about my vote and I couldn’t live with myself. I’m in Orange, Texas, not Washington, D.C. The housing authority in the past hasn’t been unblemished either,” Beauchamp said.

Councilman Ferguson challenged the OHA and ITEX to tell the truth.

“A man’s word is all they have. Why haven’t you gotten back with them (Sikes Road residents)? You’ve lied Look them in the eyes and tell the truth,” he said.

He added both parties lied four different times about the complexes being only for mixed income residents when it’s actually for low income residents. He wants future public hearings to be held after 5 p.m. so people who work may attend.

Bellfield said residents currently have places to live and there’s no need to build.

“Don’t build, period. How are these people going to get around. We have no public transportation. We’re the public housing city. I’m not going to vote for it,” she said.

Councilman Mello said this issue has torn him up.

“I’m conflicted, but this will cost the city of Orange in the future. They (the federal government) has a gun to our heads like they do with Galveston. They’ll ask for the money back from us,” Mello said.

Longtime Hillbrook resident Leroy Perkins spoke against the proposed Arthur Robinson II complex to be built on nearby Sikes Road Tuesday morning at the regular meeting of the Orange City Council. RECORD PHOTO: David Ball