Residents of Hillbrook Estates addressed the Orange Housing Authority (OHA) at a public hearing Tuesday, Oct. 15, to voice concerns over a proposed affordable housing unit that is planned at Sikes Road in the Hillbrook addition in Orange. According to the neighborhood residents, their primary concerns were the potential for increased crime rates and devaluation of property. OHA says it has little choice in the location since their inital plan to build on a site already filled with affordable housing was objected to by fair housing advocates.
Several people from the Hillbrook addition argued against the proposed location of a 70-unit affordable housing facility, 4020 Sikes Road , that OHA said was one of only a few locations approved by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) if the city wants to keep millions of dollars in funds designated to replace units lost in Hurricane Ike.
The issuance of tax-exempt bonds to add to the hurricane funding contolled by fair housing was on the agenda for discussion at the public hearing, and the Orange City Council previously heard resolutions regarding construction of the units and their locations proposed by OHA, initially denying construction at the Sikes Road location. Two of the proposed units are to be built on property already in use for affordable housing, but the Arthur Robinson complex will be rebuilt as Arthur Robinson II on Sikes Road in the Hillbrook Estates addition. In correspondence to Orange city manager Shawn Oubre, attorneys for fair housing advocates from the Texas Low Income Housing Information Service (TxLIHIS) and Texas Appleseed threatened litigation when the council denied the Sikes Road location Aug. 27 stating that the city is obligated to “affirmatively further fair housing” and rejecting the location as “contrary to that obligation” because it is a “much higher opportunity area” than the low-income neighborhood in which the complex is currently.
“Why don’t you replace them in the same areas?” Dr. Samir Ebeade, a resident of Hillbrook Estates, asked OHA board members.
OHA board member Patricia Coppage answered by saying that was not an option.
“In order to meet the requirements to get the money that’s available, they have some requirements on how to spend it,” board president Michael Combs added.
Ebeade went on to say that by moving the Arthur Robinson complex from its current location to Sikes Road would “devalue” the property already there, including his home and those of his neighbors.
“That is fair?” Ebeade asked the board. “What you are saying is the general concept take from the rich and give it to the poor. Lower the standard of those who are living in decent houses to raise up some who are less fortunate. … Why don’t you expand the project on Park Avenue, which you are going to develop? Why do you have to go over there (Sikes Road) and ruin the value of the housing there? Talk about people who are less fortunate; talk about these people, do you know how many of them potentially – and I am not trying to downgrade them – that are drug dealers? Next to a school?”
“None, sir,” Combs responded.
“You’re joking,” Ebeade said. “That’s a joke. Don’t tell me that.”
“Don’t ask the question then, sir,” Combs retorted.
Coppage said the Pine Hollow Apartments “have never had a problem there” over the course of the 14 years it has been in operation.
Ebeade’s neighbor Putnam Richardson stood up and interjected that the area around Pine Hollow had a higher crime rate than other areas in Orange.
Combs stood and said, “If you are going to stand up and point fingers, then I am going to stand up. You will have your opportunity (to speak). … When you get funds from the government, they set the rules on where you get to spend them.”
Coppage said the board originally intended on rebuilding the Arthur Robinson units in the current location, but fair housing advocates sued the government and won, enabling them to demand the units not be built in the same “low-income” neighborhood. She mentioned “NIMBY,” a term included the letter to the city from attorneys of TxLIHIS and Appleseed meaning “not in my back yard,” and said it is “illegal” to exclude low-income housing units from placement in more affluent neighborhoods.
“You’re talking about helping people who are too lazy to help themselves,” Richardson said to the board. “My point is very clear. If somebody does not have the encouragement to provide for themselves because the government is going to do it, or because taxpayers are going to be made to do it, then they will never have the initiative to do it themselves.”
Combs said he was “offended” by Richardson’s assertion that clients of OHA are “lazy.”
“The majority of our clients are employed,” he answered.
Richardson said he felt the city had not informed citizens of what was going on until after the decision to move forward with the housing units was made. Combs said that was why the hearing was underway – to give citizens a chance to voice their opinions.
Margaret Adams said she and her husband, Calvin, have lived in the Hillbrook Estates for approximately eight years, and she spoke regarding concerns she has about Arthur Robinson II.
“I do understand the arduous task that this board has in locating a suitable location to rebuild the housing project,” Adams said. “The concerns that my husband and I have are somewhat sentiments of some of the other residents of the Hillbrook Estates. Mainly, it’s that from previous experience living in other neighborhoods in the Orange area, typically when a low-income housing (unit) is brought into that neighborhood, we see a degradation in our property value. As many of the other residents of Hillbrook have stated, we do have some concerns that it will impact our property values in our neighborhoods.”
She said she believed OHA should perform a study regarding the impact the decision will have on Hillbrook residents and property values. She said at this time the crime rate in Hillbrook Estates is low in comparison to other areas in Orange, and while she does not know crime rates will increase after Arthur Robinson II is built, she is concerned about that as are some of her neighbors.
Although OHA board members staunchly denied that there would be an increase in crime rates near the proposed Sikes Road development, reports from the Orange Police Department indicate that as recently as Oct. 15, a resident of the Arthur Robinson complex was arrested on weapons charges. Brandon Lajohn Richard, 22, was found with a loaded 9 mm pistol in his possession.
Fredia Henry, a resident of Anderson Villa, said she has lived in public housing for years starting with Pine Grove in Orange, and she supports the location proposed for Arthur Robinson II.
“Even though I don’t agree with some of the things the housing authority does, I know that they are helpful to the people who need it,” Henry asserted. “I went from Pine Grove working at McDonald’s to living at Anderson Villa working for the middle school, and it’s because of the assistance I got here. … We all want to move up. For us that are trying to move up, give us the opportunity.”
She said concerns expressed regarding drug dealers and increased crime rates are unfounded.
“We have no drugs out there,” she said. “All of our homes are taken care of. You can drive by. It’s very well taken care of.”
“I talked to the city manager and he could not guarantee me that our property values would not go down,” Nancy Donnaud of Hillbrook Estates said.
“I have no problem with people moving up,” Margaret Adams said. “We have all had to move up in life. That is not my concern. My concern is our livelihood because we have situated ourselves so that we can provide a better lifestyle for ourselves and our children, and now it is being impacted by decisions of the city. … You said you are concerned about our interests, but so far I have not heard that.”
After the public hearing, OHA resumed their regular meeting and voted unanimously to approve the resolutions pertaining to the three proposed housing units, including Arthur Robinson II.
The housing units will be further discussed at meetings Oct. 29.
Sharon Brooks can be reached at (409) 832-1400, ext. 241, or by e-mail at sharon [at] theexaminer [dot] com.