After the back-to-back challenges of Hurricane Harvey, the COVID pandemic, and Texas’s February 2021 winter storms, Fifth Ward Community Redevelopment Corporation is looking to the future. They aim to build nearly 30 affordable homes for families in the next two years.
“Our demand for single-family affordable housing is certainly growing,” said Fifth Ward CRC President and CEO Kathy Flanagan Payton. “Between the hurricanes, COVID-19 pandemic, and economic challenges, demand is peaking. We’re working aggressively to replace housing. Despite the pandemic, we’re seeing demand increase because people still need affordable homes, both for-sale and rental.”
In Houston’s Fifth Ward neighborhood the impact of gentrification has increased land and home prices and challenged budgets. There was a 25.6% increase in the number of home sales from 2019 to 2020, with an 11.1% sales price increase. The significant increases in material costs during the COVID-19 pandemic have also driven up the cost of new homes. To help meet market demand, Fifth Ward CRC will build new homes for families making less than $66,000 (120% AMI for a family of four.) They’re focused on increasing affordable housing through housing density, in some cases building smaller homes on smaller lots.
Since 2017, Fifth Ward CRC has built and sold just five homes per year, because they were focused on repairing more than 500 units to pre-Harvey and better conditions. They’re currently helping to restore 150 homes damaged by last winter’s storms. Now, they’re ready to return to their pre-Harvey production levels.
NeighborWorks Capital will support Fifth Ward CRC’s renewed focus with a $1.4 million single family construction line of credit. Fifth Ward will work with down payment assistance providers like the City of Houston and Harris County as well as local Land Trusts to further reduce the housing cost burden on buyers. To ensure long-term affordability, the new construction homes will be developed in partnership with the Houston Land Bank and Houston Land Trust.
“It is critically important that intermediaries, lenders, and more invest in development organizations that serve the underserved. There’s not a magic wand that we can wave and make affordable housing happen without support from investors in the community,” Flanagan Payton said.
Collaborating for Housing Equity
Fifth Ward has seen first-hand how pressures from the pandemic and severe weather increase housing inequality. That’s why they’re taking a holistic approach to affordable housing, with an eye toward such barriers as low access to mental and physical healthcare, to accommodate the social needs of low- and moderate-income families.
“Our program is specifically designed to serve those who are traditionally left behind. We focus on financial literacy, credit issues, financial issues; all so they may access affordable housing opportunities,” Flanagan Payton said.
Fifth Ward CRC is a founding member of the Center for Urban Transformation (CUT), a collaboration of Houston community organizations and institutions. They help create opportunities for Fifth Ward neighborhood families to overcome the adverse effects of racism, poverty, and other inequities by implementing programs that encourage growing prospects for survival and success.
These programs focus on safe, affordable housing and other factors affecting members of the community. CUT’s Juvenile Justice Diversion Program serves youth who are deemed at-risk or are arrested on a Fifth Ward school campus. Instead of going through the juvenile justice system and potentially receiving a criminal record that could create more barriers to future opportunity, youth are diverted to CUT for case management, mentorship, and restorative justice services based in the community.
Conversations around racial equity just accelerate Fifth Ward’s plans for serving the traditionally underserved, Flanagan Payton said.
“It’s critical everyone accepts responsibility for improving quality of life in underserved neighborhoods. We’re coming together in partnership with our stakeholders to ensure affordable housing opportunities are available to all interested in pursuing them,” Flanagan Payton said.