Taking a stand on subsidized housing?
Spring Branch trustees look at substandard apartments effect on district
By RUSTY GRAHAMSpring Branch trustees will consider a resolution that puts the board on record as opposing the renewal or creation of government-assisted housing inside the district.
Trustee Mike Falick broached the issue Monday after learning of three projects — two seeking renewal of government assistance and one new construction of public-assisted housing — inside the district.
After several board members expressed some concern at taking a stronger stand — including board president David Converse — Falick said that it was time for the board to back up what he’s heard it say informally for years: that public housing has a negative impact on both the community and the district.
“There’s a need for low-income housing,” said Falick, “not government-assisted housing. We need to let market forces take care of these places,” referring to the apartment complexes, many with absentee landlords and substandard living conditions.
Falick will write a draft ordinance to be considered at the Feb. 22 regular meeting.
At specific issue are two rehabilitation projects — the Gentry House at 9001 Kempwood and Waterford Place, 3125 Crestdale — and proposed new construction in the 3300 block of Campbell.
Trustee Susan Kellner said that schools h ave to deal daily with a variety of issues due to students living in substandard conditions, but wondered what impact a board resolution would have.
“I don’t like what those apartments are doing to families,” she said, “But what are we trying to accomplish here?”
Trustee Mary Grace Landrum said that while she understood “the burden (public housing) places on society and the school system,” the role of the district is to “educate all who come to us.”
She suggested the board craft a resolution that would accompany the impact letter the district sends back for each application.
Landrum and Kellner worried if the board takes a position on this issue, whether it would have to become an advocate for other positions, too.
Falick, the board’s legislative liaison, said one of the district’s legislative priorities is a cap on the number of public-assisted housing units. The district’s position is that because government-assisted housing is not full, then no more is needed.
By law, the district is notified when renewals or applications for public-assisted housing are submitted. As a matter of course, Superintendent Duncan Klussmann said, a letter is sent back stating that the district opposes the project and that the project will have a negative impact on the district.
But Falick said he felt like the board should stand behind its commitment and not push that responsibilty off on administrators.
Board members noted state Rep. Dwayne Bohac’s bill from the last legislative session that requires the city of Houston to inspect apartments. But they also realized that’s a slow, ongoing process, with more than 18,000 apartment units in Spring Branch alone, according to the Houston Apartment Association.
Kellner said that a resolution condemning public housing lets the community know that the board hears it, but wouldn’t solve the larger problem.
“It will not change anything,” she said. “Until the city does inspections, until the state passes tighter legislation, and until the federal government closes (tax) loopholes, nothing will change.”
But Falick said he’s willing to give the free market a shot at shutting down government-assisted housing.
“We’ll never transform those neighborhoods when 50 percent or more of the housing is government-assisted,” he said. “Most (units) aren’t fully occupied and would go out of business if market forces prevailed.
“And because they impact our schools, maybe it’s time we take a stand.”
Falick said he understood the district’s central role is education, but that the board has a responsibility to the community to hear its needs.
“As elected officials we have the obligation to do something,” he said.
Heard from Bay Architects about preliminary design schema for new science facilities at Memorial High School. The design fits into a campus master plan and will result in a new dance studio and CAD lab. Work should start early this summer and be complete by the 2011 school year.
Heard from SKH Architects about change orders for work being done at Tully Stadium and Don Coleman Coliseum. Most involved additional work for contingencies discovered during ongoing construction. Trustees will consider approving more than $900,000 — $400,000 of that for anticipated problems — in change orders at its Feb. 22 meeting.
Heard updated enrollment and staffing projections for the 2011 budget. Klussmann said he expects an increase of 116 students next year, and revenue around $250 million. He said he and district staff are looking at ways to bump revenue and cut some $8.5 million from expenditures to balance the budget, which has dipped into reserves the last two years.