Houston, TX – In every large city in America, a small amount of housing is reserved for the poor, but it’s usually located in poor neighborhoods: with poor access to transportation, groceries, and jobs. Luckily, conditions improve when neighborhoods gentrify, except long-term residents don’t usually benefit from the improvements. Rising rents usually force out them, thereby continuing a cycle of inequality. Lone Star Legal Aid’s Fair Housing Team works with low-income tenants to prevent displacement. We submitted formal comments on behalf of our clients in support of two affordable housing projects this year, and we’re happy to report that both were recently approved!

Clayton Homes and I-45

When TxDOT expands I-45, they’ll tear down Clayton Homes, a 296-unit public housing complex in Houston’s second ward. The area used to be affordable, but in the last 10 years or so, it’s gotten pricey. The median rent has gone up $330 in the last 6 years. Ever since TxDOT announced its plans, residents and housing advocates alike, have been voicing concerns: What about the residents of Clayton Homes? Where will they go? They have lives here: a community, churches, schools, networks of friends, and neighbors. Will they scatter? How will they afford the expensive rent to stay? Our clients wanted to stay in their neighborhood. And now, according to the city’s recent announcement, they will. The Houston Housing Authority is building a new complex less than a mile away, at 800 Middle Street.

When initially announcing its plan, the city asked for comments from the public. Understanding the importance of 400 affordable units in the rapidly gentrifying neighborhood, Lone Star Legal Aid’s Fair Housing Team — in collaboration with our Environmental Justice Team — submitted a detailed report on behalf of its clients for the project. The City Council approved the project on April 14, 2021.

Houston Heights: The Dian Street Villas

LSLA’s Fair Housing Team also submitted lengthy comments on behalf of its clients in support of an embattled project in the Houston Heights area. Six years ago, the median rent in the Dian Street neighborhood was $1,197. Now it’s $1,446. Rent has gone up $250 in the last six years. It was unaffordable six years ago — for people earning ordinary wages — it’s even less affordable now.

The federal government gives developers millions of dollars to build affordable housing. But when they try to build in high-opportunity areas, they face resistance from homeowners. Consequently, developers build in low-opportunity areas where they face no opposition. 

“We work so hard to get people out of dangerous living conditions in low-opportunity areas,” says Kim Brown-Myles, the managing attorney of the Fair Housing Team, “Sadly, one of the patterns we see is: they just move into a similar building down the street. The conditions are nearly identical: high crime, poor public transportation, low-rated schools, and no real access to groceries or other necessities. Our clients find it difficult to give their children the opportunities they need to succeed in life. We feel like we’re really helping when we can get people into better living conditions, not just better buildings but better neighborhoods.”

With the help of local residents in favor of the project, state officials, and advocates like Texas Housers and Lone Star Legal Aid, the project was finally approved. The Dian Street Villas will provide 96 units of affordable housing in another of Houston’s rapidly gentrifying areas. Importantly, because the project is funded by a Low Income Tax Credit, the owners are prohibited from discriminating against housing-choice-voucher holders (commonly called section-8 vouchers). 

To view a map of these areas and the changing affordable housing landscape, please see the maps below.

Lone Star Legal Aid is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit law firm focused on advocacy on behalf of low-income and underserved populations. Lone Star Legal Aid serves millions of people at 125% of federal poverty guidelines that reside in 72 counties in the eastern and Gulf Coast regions of Texas, and 4 counties of southwest Arkansas. Lone Star Legal Aid focuses its resources on maintaining, enhancing, and protecting income and economic stability; preserving housing; improving outcomes for children; establishing and sustaining family safety and stability, health and well‐being; and assisting populations with special vulnerabilities, like those who have disabilities, or who are elderly, homeless, or have limited English language skills. To learn more about Lone Star Legal Aid, visit our website at http://www.lonestarlegal.org.

Media contact: Clarissa Ayala, cayala@lonestarlegal.org