Citizens who live in the Hillbrook Estates addition and nearby in Orange are still speaking out against the proposed location of a new affordable public housing development, Arthur Robinson II, to be constructed at 4030 Sikes Road in their neighborhood. Residents concerned about decreasing property values, increased crime rates and other issues they believe will affect their neighborhood after Arthur Robinson II is built there stood up to have their voices heard at the Orange Housing Authority meeting Tuesday, Nov. 19.
Despite their opposition, the Orange City Council approved a measure Tuesday, Nov. 12, by a one-vote margin that would allow the city to move forward with the project by applying to the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs for housing tax credits applicable to the proposed location at Sikes Road and two other housing developments in the works.
But those opposing the Sikes Road location say they have not given up yet.
When Hurricane Ike swept through Southeast Texas in 2007, the Arthur Robinson Homes public housing complex did not fare well, and the city requested federal disaster recovery money to rebuild. Their request was granted but with several stipulations regarding location, demographics and more. Per correspondence from fair housing advocates, in order for the city to “affirmatively further fair housing” it had to move the units from Burton Avenue to a more affluent and racially diverse location considered by them to be a “much higher opportunity area.” Only a few OHA properties were approved by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and met the fair housing requirements. After considering factors like acreage, location and demographics, OHA chose 4030 Sikes Road for Arthur Robinson II. Since then, many Hillbrook Estates residents and neighbors have pleaded with city officials to reconsider.
City officials have said their hands are tied. Either they move the complex to a more diverse and high-income neighborhood, or they give all the federal disaster recovery funds received, totaling millions of dollars, back to the appropriate government entities.
OHA board president Michael Combs said during a public hearing Oct. 15 that the housing authority would do what it must to capture the funds intended to replace units damaged in Hurricane Ike.
After the public outcry opposing the Sikes Road location, Orange City Councilman Tommy Ferguson said he intends to support his constituents who have come to him in protest. Ferguson said he would not bow to imposed restrictions he believes are unfair to the people living in Hillbrook Estates. He and two other councilpersons voted against moving forward with the application for housing tax credits at the Nov. 12 city council meeting but were outvoted. He said he would rather return the money than build the new complex he feels is unnecessary in a neighborhood where many people have said they do not want it, but he believes the city could be bound by budgetary constraints.
“The people don’t want it there,” Ferguson said in an interview Nov. 19. “They were supposed to put them back one for one in the places they already were.
“Orange has already got twice the required amount of government housing, and it’s not rented now. They are lying to people if they say this is going to be the same people (from local units). New people are coming. This is not going to be for the people who are already here. This is not going to be for the citizens of Orange. It’s going to be for people from somewhere else. … It’s money with strings attached. It’s probably too much to give back without putting the city in a financial crunch.”
Data prepared by OHA and ITEX, who will manage the housing developments, provided at the Nov. 12 City Council meeting indicates that of the 288 people on the Section 8 waiting list, only 108 are Orange residents. And of the 189 people on the low rent waitlist, 147 are Orange residents. The data gives no indication how long the residents have lived in Orange and does not have the total number of Orange County residents not residing in the city of Orange who may be on those lists.
Despite concerns raised by Orange residents like Jane Wilkes, OHA cannot guarantee property owners that the value of their land and homes would not decrease.
“We cannot give a definitive answer on how these developments will affect the neighborhood property values,” the fact sheet from OHA and ITEX reads, “but the impacts of affordable housing on property values has been examined in a wide variety of circumstances in numerous studies.”
Cited on the fact sheet was a study performed in 2002 by the North Carolina Coalition, a civic group who compiled a catalog of 36 separate studies of the impact of affordable housing on neighborhood property values. According to their findings, “The vast majority found no impact on property values, several had positive impacts, and only one found negative effects surrounding the properties.”
Although a number of studies concur with the coalition’s findings, more data is needed on what impact the developments in Orange could have. Factors such as the concentration of units in a particular area make a difference in that final determination.
Dee Didyk of Hillbrook Estates said she is worried about crime rates increasing in her neighborhood if Arthur Robinson II gets built on Sikes Road. She said she has looked into local crime statistics and found that there is significant criminal activity at Arthur Robinson with over 30 criminal reports from the complex this year. She also echoed Ferguson’s sentiment that Orange has enough public housing.
“We don’t need it, and everybody in this room knows we don’t need it,” she said with a sweeping gesture.
Orange resident June Sonnier asked whether “builders have any silent partners or business transactions with anybody who works with the city of Orange, city council or the Orange Housing Authority.”
Ferguson said he is looking for those answers. For now, it does not look good for those opposing the Sikes Road development with the council voting to move forward on housing tax credits and both council and OHA voting in favor of the location, but Hillbrook Estates residents say they intend to continue to fight as long as they can.