Hillbrook Estates residents discuss housing complex with Orange Housing Authority
The location of one proposed public housing project drew a crowd Tuesday afternoon at the regular meeting of the board of commissioners of the Orange Housing Authority.
The first public hearing was held on the proposed development of the Arthur Robinson II unit on Sikes Road off of North MLK Drive. Residents from nearby Hillbrook Estates gave their comments on the project at the public hearing.
There were also public hearings on the issuance of tax-exempt bonds and other available funds for affordable rental family rental housing in the development of Pine Grove and Velma Jeter.
Most of the comments made were not in support of Arthur Robinson II being built in the neighborhood.
One resident believes the project takes from the rich and gives to the poor and he wanted to know why the project could not be built on Simmons Drive or expand the Pine Grove project on Park Street.
He was concerned, too, there would be an increase in drug trafficking from residents at the complex.
Commissioner Patricia Coppage replied there are requirements for living in the affordable housing units and drugs are grounds for eviction.
Commission president Michael Combs also answered the resident and said funds from the Department of Housing and Urban Development set rules where the money may be spent. He added the OHA would lose out on millions of dollars for affordable housing if it was turned down.
Coppage said a federal lawsuit determined low income housing cannot be built only in prior low income areas. The OHA originally wanted to build on Burton Road, but HUD directed them to build on Sikes Road.
“This (Hillbrook Estates residents’) comments are close to NIMBY which means Not In My Back Yard and that is illegal,” Coppage said.
Another resident voiced the opinion the Arthur Robinson residents are “too lazy to help themselves” and they never had the initiative to help themselves. He also believed some residents received rent-free housing.
He thought funding would be better spent on education and job training.
Combs replied he wouldn’t let comments at the public hearing be insulting and the majority of the Arthur Robinson residents are employed who receive a lower rent, but not free rent.
The resident completed his comments to Combs by saying the city should focus on rebuilding properties still damaged by Hurricanes Rita and Ike, possibly through a bond election.
“Who gave y’all the authority to make those decisions? I’ll die here in Orange. I’m not just passing through,” he said.
Another Hillbrook Estates resident was concerned the new housing complex would degrade property values in the subdivision. One asked why the board wasn’t focused on filling the 12 percent of housing currently unoccupied in the city. She was concerned about the effects on property taxes the development may bring.
Combs said OHA is replacing housing rather than rebuilding housing.
Some were concerned if there would be enough police and fire coverage in that area. Combs said that would be a decision for the city to make and each public housing complex has security.
The Arthur Robinson I complex on Burton Street will also be demolished and made into a green zone. Combs said the property was damaged by the hurricanes and is not adequate to reside in. The Texas General Land Office gave storm damaged funding for that project.
One resident asked what other properties were looked at before the current Arthur Robinson II location was chosen. Coppage said 18th Street, 34 1/2 Street and Velma Jeter were also considered.
The resident then asked why not sell some of those properties the OHA owns to raise funds and build Arthur Robinson II someplace else.
“Y’all (the OHA board) have already made up your minds,” she said. “The first of the year I’m selling my home. People will move out of the city and it will be only low-rent housing.”
Coppage said the board hasn’t made up its mind, but it has made up its plans.
Arthur Robinson II is a proposed 70 unit affordable rental housing family facility. All units will be financed with low-income tax credits for persons with incomes up to 60 percent of area median income.
Pine Grove and Velma Jeter, likewise, will both be 46 units for persons with incomes up to 60 percent of area median income.
One resident in support of the project said she lived in public housing for many years and the OHA was helpful to people who needed the help. She said she worked her way up the career ladder with their assistance by taking educational and job-seeking courses at OHA.
She currently resides on 37th Street in Anderson Villa. She said residents in that area said the same thing about the affordable housing project and property values have doubled since the complex was built.
“Nobody wants to live in a desolate area. They don’t plan on staying in one place and not move up,” she said.
A Hillbrook Estates resident replied some Arthur Robinson II residents may be an exception, but why should the neighborhood take a risk.
“Why should this be shoved down our throats?” he asked.
He also gave as an example of several governors rejecting Obamacare and the OHA should do the same thing and not accept HUD’s money.
A resident thought some comments made were “demoralizing,” but she doesn’t see the OHA board taking the residents’ concerns at heart. She also inquired if any in-depth studies were made in building the complex on Sikes Road.
Combs said there was no study made but he believes Arthur Robinson II will benefit the Sikes Road area by bringing in a new facility there.
“It’s a first-class complex that will be well taken care of. The people living there will be happy and they must meet our requirements to live there,” Combs said.
Coppage said some advocates with HUD suggested the complex be built in locations the Hillbrook Estates residents would like much less because it would be closer to their homes.
The last Hillbrook Estates residents asked the board to consider other options instead of Sikes Road and to arrange a meeting with the housing advocates and the residents.
Another favored pursuing a lawsuit against OHA.
The other two public hearings are scheduled for later in the month.