State Rep. Penny Morales Shaw said she recognizes a need for more affordable housing options in the Garden Oaks area, such as the proposed apartment complex on Fisher Street. She said multiple residents in the community, including one who lives close to the site, told her they were being priced out of the neighborhood because of rising property values and tax bills.
But Shaw said she also is receptive to the concerns of some other nearby residents who are worried about how a 60-unit complex on a 1-acre property could impact traffic on a residential street and flooding in an area that already is susceptible. The developer of the proposed complex is planning only one vehicular access point to the property – on Fisher instead of Alba Road, which is more of a neighborhood artery – and Tropical Storm Imelda in 2019 caused structural flooding in nearby homes and businesses.
“There was lots of voicing from both sides,” Shaw said. “In the end, I couldn’t support the project and also couldn’t oppose it.”
Shaw said she submitted a letter of neutrality to the Texas Department and Housing and Community Affairs (TDHCA), which is considering the Fisher Street Apartments and several other low-income housing developments for 9 percent federal housing tax credits. Developers all across the state compete for a finite number of awards in each region, which can be worth millions of dollars in funding over a 10-year period.
Proposed projects accumulate points as part of an extensive scoring process, with a range of point totals awarded for variables such as tenant incomes and rent levels, size and quality of units, proximity to jobs and other opportunities, public engagement and support from community members, local governments and state representatives. A letter of support from Shaw would have been worth eight points, a letter of opposition would have subtracted eight points from the Fisher project’s total, and the letter of neutrality comes with no points.
Such support, or lack thereof, can be critical to a developer’s chances of receiving the tax credits. In the case of the Fisher Street Apartments, planned for 909 Fisher St., Shaw’s neutral stance may or may not impact the outcome.
Lauren Avioli, the real estate development manager for SBP, the New Orleans-based nonprofit behind the project, indicated in an email Tuesday that it will continue seeking an award from the TDHCA. According to the March 12 application log on the TDHCA website, the project had a self-score of 137, which had it tied for sixth among 17 remaining projects in the Houston region and in position to receive its requested housing tax credits worth more than $1.02 million annually.
“We believe in the need for our proposed development and what it can bring to the community and look forward to hearing how we rank among the other Houston-area applications,” Avioli wrote.
The TDHCA plans to allocate the housing tax credits on July 22, and it is accepting public comments through its website, tdhca.state.tx.us, through June 18. A virtual public hearing about the projects in the Houston area is scheduled for May 20.
Shaw said there were three other housing projects she considered in District 148, which includes the Heights, parts of Garden Oaks and Oak Forest as well as the Northside area. For varying reasons, she said she wrote letters of support for the Maury Street Lofts at 2918 Elysian St., the Harvard Street Lofts at 15 Harvard St. and the William Booth Apartments for seniors at 808 Frawley St. But the former two projects withdrew their applications despite Shaw’s support.
John and Heather Collins, who live on Fisher Street and are among the nearly 800 people who have signed an online petition opposing the apartment complex planned for Garden Oaks, said they would have liked for Shaw to write a letter of opposition but are “pleased” with her neutral stance. They said they support more affordable housing options in the area but do not think their street is a suitable location for a 60-unit project.
The couple said they appreciated Shaw for soliciting input from community members and organizing a virtual information session about the Fisher Street project on March 4. The meeting was hosted by Super Neighborhood Council 12 and the Garden Oaks Civic Club and included Avioli as well as representatives from the TDHCA, Houston’s Housing and Community Development Department, the office of Houston City Council member Abbie Kamin and The Kinder Institute for Urban Research at Rice University.
John Collins said the Zoom session did not alleviate the concerns he had about the project, and he and his wife plan to continue staying engaged with the process and provide feedback to the TDHCA.
“We’re very much in a wait and see,” Heather Collins said.