Why Midtown’s affordable housing program isn’t in Midtown

The Midtown Redevelopment Authority’s (MRA) purpose is to foster economic development and revitalization within Midtown Houston, the formerly blighted area between downtown Houston and the Texas Medical Center. So why is MRA’s Southeast Houston Affordable Housing Initiative (SEHAHI) not in Midtown? The answer lies in a careful consideration of policy strategy, economics, and a broader vision for community development.

The policy strategy

State law obligates MRA to allocate one-third of its funds to affordable housing initiatives. However, the law does not require spending those dollars exclusively within the authority’s boundaries. In fact, most redevelopment authorities allocate those funds where they will have the most impact. A case in point is the Uptown District’s recent allocation of some of its affordable housing dollars for a downpayment assistance program that will aid buyers in MRA’s program.

MRA’s decision to invest its affordable housing dollars in three southeast Houston neighborhoods is rooted, in part, in a pragmatic evaluation of the real estate market. Over the years, surging land prices in Midtown have presented a substantial obstacle to building cost-effective affordable housing projects. Acknowledging this challenge, MRA and its partner, The Center for Public Policy Improvement, have chosen the more fiscally responsible approach of investing in nearby neighborhoods where land prices are more conducive to affordable housing development.

The economics

When MRA was authorized, the Greater Third Ward, OST/South Union, and MacGregor neighborhoods offered an abundance of vacant lots for as little as $5,000 each. By strategically selecting a location with favorable land prices, MRA maximized the impact of the allocated funds, creating more opportunities for affordable housing to meet the community’s needs.

The vision

The economic and strategic reasoning aligns with a broader vision of fostering inclusive and diverse neighborhoods. The neighborhoods in the SEHAHI carry historical significance and cultural vibrancy at risk of being lost. MRA’s investment addresses the urgent need for affordable housing and contributes to preserving the community’s unique character. This approach allows long-time residents to remain in or return to their neighborhood of origin, promoting generational wealth and emphasizing the importance of maintaining social equity in an urban environment.

MRA’s choice to invest in affordable housing in the targeted neighborhoods highlights a nuanced understanding of economic realities, particularly land prices, coupled with a commitment to fulfilling the regulatory responsibilities that apply to all redevelopment authorities. This strategic approach ensures that the community benefits from sustainable and inclusive development, setting a precedent for responsible urban redevelopment practices.

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