Houston’s Third Ward, a Tale of Then and Now

Sit down for a cup of coffee and conversation with Algenita Scott Davis and you will learn a lot about the rich history of Houston’s Third Ward. You will also hear her strong confidence about the neighborhood’s future.  

Davis is the housing program manager for the Center for Civic and Public Policy Improvement, a nonprofit organization that is partnering with the Midtown Redevelopment Authority (MRA) to increase affordable housing in Third Ward. She grew up in the Third Ward and remembers when Emancipation Avenue, the spine of the neighborhood, was lined with hundreds of nightclubs and businesses, like Club Supreme where she once enjoyed a fancy night out with her mother.

“There was a photo of us taken for the newspaper,” she vividly remembers. “It was a big deal being able to go out to dinner at a restaurant that used tablecloths. Too often the stories about Emancipation Avenue are not told.”

The Third Ward fell into decline in the 1950s when the neighborhood’s predominately African American population began buying housing elsewhere in Houston. As families moved out in droves over the next two decades, the area’s once-thriving blues scene, the successful business community, good schools, and social activism gave way to crime, vacant lots, and deteriorating housing stock and infrastructure. 

With this history in mind, it is interesting that housing, specifically affordable housing, is at the heart of the Third Ward’s revitalization. 

The latest project is One Emancipation Center at the corner of Elgin and Emancipation Avenue, right across the street from Emancipation Park. It is a one-stop-shop for all the groups engaged in affordable housing construction, advocacy, administration, and support services.

Davis says it is the first project in Houston to satisfy all the objectives of Mayor Sylvester Turner’s Complete Communities initiative.

“It’s easy to throw up some skinny houses and then walk away without providing any of the services the surrounding neighborhood needs and deserves,” said Davis. “This is a long-term public/private approach aimed at promoting walkable communities and replacing commercial activity in a neglected corridor. There isn’t anything else like it in Houston.”

One Emancipation Center will be the home for architects, nonprofits, engineers, planners, builders, healthcare, and other wrap-around services. The project also includes 20 apartments for residents who can meet fairly generous affordable housing income requirements.

Check back here for our next post on how residents are taking notice of what is happening in their neighborhood.