When executive director Robert Reyna came to the Beaumont Housing Authority in 2003, the agency was in turmoil. Fresh off being taken under HUD control for lack of oversight and fiscal responsibility, BHA had little to work with for day-to-day operations and was the proud owner of housing that hadn’t been updated in more than 30 years.
It didn’t take long for Reyna to change all that, though. And by 2006, the new housing director and his staff had secured more than $50 million in funding to replace the dilapidated Magnolia Gardens housing project and revitalize the city’s entire north end as part of a highly competitive Hope VI grant award. Now with the millions spent, BHA, HUD, and city and state leaders are looking in the rearview to determine how effectively that money was used.
An evaluation team from the Texas A&M University Center for Housing & Urban Development has been keeping a concerted eye on the project’s progress since construction began in 2007. During a small gathering Thursday, July 12, at the Beaumont Housing Authority central office, the A&M team outlined its final assessment of the project.
“It’s basically our report card,” Reyna joked in anticipation of the group’s findings. “All I can say is, ‘Bring it on!’ We’re ready for whatever they have to say.”
As far as report cards go, BHA definitely scored passing grades. Not only had the housing authority successfully replaced all 195 public housing units demolished at Magnolia Gardens, but BHA also doubled the amount of affordable housing with the funds it was allotted. With the Hope funds, BHA was able to the demolish Magnolia Gardens, development 318 rental units for families of mixed incomes, develop 87 single family homes dubbed Regent II, and construct a new Neighborhood Resource Center.
BHA, according to its A&M evaluators, scored excellent reviews not only in expanding affordable housing in Beaumont, but also in aligning civic and private partnerships, revitalizing the communities where public housing was placed, and enhancing the quality of life for the residents of the housing authority.
“Overall,” the group’s written report states, “the direct impacts of the grant have been extraordinary.”
Group spokesperson Ed Tarlton, a doctoral candidate, added even more praise of BHA and Reyna in person.
“Robert Reyna and his staff did a phenomenal job,” Tarlton said. “What Robert Reyna has done since coming to this authority is absolutely incredible. He has set the pace around here, and it is awesome! BHA is not only creating relationships, but is now establishing trust with transparency and being up-front.
“Robert (Reyna) is building a lasting legacy Beaumont can be proud of.”
Aside from property crime in Beaumont’s north end still plaguing BHA, A&M’s report couldn’t have been more flattering. But Reyna says the community hasn’t heard the last hoorah from BHA now that the authority has found some momentum.
“I don’t want this pace to ever stop,” Reyna said, joking that since BHA has conquered Beaumont’s housing woes, next it will take on the world’s housing problem. Although global domination might not actually be in store for Reyna and crew, BHA staffers have plenty of work yet to do, he said.
“We’ll be going over all our properties to prioritize our next project, and of course we need to maintain what we’ve already started. We have home ownership programs, high school senior mentoring programs, self-sufficiency programs, our HUD programs, voucher programs… They say it isn’t wise to bite off more than you can chew, and right now we’re chewing on a nice chunk.
“We’re more than just housing; we foster families here; and we don’t want that to get lost in translation.”