Holly Bush addresses Bridge City councilmembers and Cliff Bates of The Park Companies and city councilmembers in front of a standing room only crowd at City Hall on Tuesday night. Dozens of residents attended to voice their displeasure with a potential new low-income housing project which has shown interest in Bridge City. Photo by Tommy Mann Jr.

By Tommy Mann Jr. – The Record

The meeting room at City Hall was filled to capacity on Tuesday night with dozens of residents in opposition to a company building a low-income housing neighborhood in Bridge City.

Councilmembers with the City of Bridge City held a special workshop session on Tuesday evening at City Hall to discuss the proposed low-income, single-family housing development known as Canal Place. The purpose of the workshop was to gather information so council could make an informed decision on whether to adopt a resolution approving the Park Companies pursuit of tax credits to construct the development. No action was taken by council on this item during the workshop, but could be placed on a future agenda.

Cliff Bates, one of the five owners of The Park Companies, attended the meeting on Tuesday to address concerns from the council and citizens.

According to Bates, the proposed project would consist of 55 houses built to accommodate low-income single-families. All houses would consist of three or four bedrooms which would be available as lease-to-own for potential renters.

Each house would cost approximately $150,000 to build and, pending fees and other items, would be valued as much as $200,000 each. Rent was expected to vary between $700 and $775 per month.

The proposed neighborhood would reportedly include a clubhouse, a business center with computers and fax machine, a fitness center, playground and more, along with an on-site superintendent and on-site maintenance personnel.

“The idea behind this project is to transition people from a life of renting to home-ownership,” Bates said.

According to its official website, The Park Companies was established in 1994 for the purpose of developing, constructing, owning and managing residential rental properties that qualify for Federal income tax credits through the Low Income Housing Tax Credit (“LIHTC”) program, or Section 42 of the Internal Revenue Code.

Park has helped make the provision of affordable housing a reality for thousands of individuals and families. Since 1994, over 10,000 affordable units have been developed in seven Southeastern states with aggregate project costs totaling over $800 million. It also claims to have provided more than 30,000 low-income families, elderly, veterans and disabled residents an affordable place to live.

“We see there is a strong economy here in Bridge City, and we felt there was a need for it,” Bates explained to council and the audience, which was eagerly waiting its turn to address council and the representative. “People just desire to live in a house, a home. Every place we have built these homes, there is a waiting list.”

Employment would be verified for each potential renter and there would be a floor and ceiling for minimum and maximum income levels to reside in this neighborhood.

The reason so many citizens attended Tuesday’s meeting was because of their collective concerns with the low-income requirements of the development and what the potential results might be for the community.

The Low Income Housing Tax Credit Program (LIHTC) is a federally authorized program for non-profit and for-profit developers to promote the construction and rehabilitation of affordable rental housing. These units are often within a larger mixed income development.

The project would consist of mixed-income rental housing, which means residents would have to pay a percentage of the actual cost of the house, and not the full value, such as 60 percent for example.

David Rutledge, Place 2 councilman, stated he had contacted two other properties built by Park Companies, including Fairfield Park in Meridian, Miss.

“The only problem I was told they had was during construction, and the developer remedied the situation,” Rutledge said. “I received a favorable response about the development and the developer, and the quality of people who live there.”

Mayor Kirk Roccaforte said he utilized resources such as Google Earth and Street View to inspect the developments and appearance of houses in some of Park Companies developments.

“From what I was able to see, they are really nice homes,” Roccaforte added. “I was very impressed from what I saw, but Street View was not available on all of the developments.”

Several citizens who attended Tuesday’s workshop spoke against the complex and the majority, if not all in attendance, were not in favor of the proposed development.

“I know you are trying to give people a sense of ownership, but where are all of these people going to go,” said Stephanie McNeil. “The schools are already jam-packed, but you are wanting to bring in more people. I moved here in 2011 because Bridge City is a small town. We need more grocery stores with better pricing, not housing.”

Holly Bush, an educator within the Bridge City Independent School District, had similar concerns.

“We have a high rate of impoverished children in the district and our brand new elementary school has no more room,” she said. “We don’t have the industry in Bridge City to support these people.”

Another resident stated she did not understand the need for the low-income housing since Bridge City has numerous houses for sale currently and a new apartment complex under construction.

Andrea Tupper once worked as a manager at a low-income complex in Beaumont and had her own experience with similar developments.

“You can’t control who lives there with the single-family, like the boyfriend or the baby-daddy,” she said. “And how are they going to pay $700 a month in rent? They sounds kind of like it would be out of their price range for someone who is low-income.”

Among concerns of overcrowding within the schools and more traffic, more than one citizen expressed concerns over the potential of an increase in crime, which is often associated with low-income residential areas.

Bates stated if The Park Companies could not obtain the tax credits needed to help fund the proposed $12 million development, then the project would not move forward.