Houston, Texas: Delivering Homes in Near Northside
Scattered throughout the predominantly low-density Near Northside neighborhood in Houston are several light industrial sites that bring noise and pollution into the low-income neighborhood. Transitioning those industrial properties into more compatible housing or neighborhood commercial use was one of the goals of a 2001 neighborhood plan for Near Northside, which was partially funded through a HUD Community Technology Initiative grant. More generally, the plan calls for revitalizing the neighborhood by enhancing housing affordability and quality, strengthening commercial corridors, and improving infrastructure. Avenue Community Development Corporation (Avenue CDC), a Houston-area nonprofit homebuilder that had a representative on the plan’s steering committee, was invested in achieving the plan’s housing goals. The organization approached FedEx about a 20-acre property in Near Northside that was generating a truck trip nearly every 90 seconds, according to Mary Lawler, Avenue CDC’s executive director. In 2008, Avenue CDC acquired the site and began constructing two mixed-income housing developments. Avenue Terrace and Avenue Place consist of 207 affordable and 80 market-rate housing units that provide new rental and ownership opportunities in Near Northside.
New Housing Options for Near Northside
Occupying eight acres of the former FedEx site, Avenue Terrace consists of eight 3-story multifamily buildings. These buildings contain 192 one-, two-, and three-bedroom apartments. Households earning up to 30, 50, or 60 percent of the area median income (AMI) are eligible to occupy 158 of the units. The remaining 34 units are leased at market-rate rents as part of Avenue CDC’s mission to create mixed-income communities for their residents.
Avenue Place features 95 three- and four-bedroom single-family detached houses. Of these for-purchase houses, 49 are affordable for households earning less than 80 or 120 percent of AMI, and the remaining 46 are priced at market rates.
Avenue CDC also provides services for residents of both developments in a community room at Avenue Terrace. Children have access to afterschool programs, and health education for all ages is available. As the landlord of Avenue Terrace, Avenue CDC voluntarily reports on-time rent payments to credit reporting agencies to help residents build their credit profiles.
Potential homeowners at Avenue Place and in the surrounding community can take advantage of Avenue CDC’s housing counselors and other services offered at the nonprofit’s nearby homeownership center. Buyers of the income-restricted units in Avenue Place are eligible for downpayment assistance, which comes in the form of a $26,000 subordinate loan that is forgiven after 10 years of ownership or a no-interest subordinate loan that is repayable after either the sale of the property or 30 years of ownership.
Residents of both housing developments have access to Avenue Place Park; Avenue CDC constructed the improvements and turned the one-acre park over to the Houston Parks Department. Avenue Place Park has become an important node in the green space network of Near Northside and a venue where community residents gather. Many of the houses in Avenue Place have front porches that face the park or neighborhood streets, which increases the number of “eyes on the street” and improves the area’s safety. In addition, Avenue Place residents established a homeowner’s organization that sponsors programs such as a lawn of the month award and neighborhood night out events. These programs and design choices create a close-knit neighborhood and strengthen community cohesion.
Development costs for both Avenue Place and Avenue Terrace totaled $45 million (table 1). Most of the financing came from a combination of conventional loans and equity raised through the sale of low-income housing tax credits. In addition, the city contributed funds from its HOME Investment Partnerships Program and its Tax Increment Reinvestment Zones program. Under the latter program, one-third of the tax increment resulting from new development is set aside to fund affordable housing projects.
Table 1: Financing for Avenue Terrace and Avenue Place
|HOME Investment Partnerships Program funds||$3.0 million|
|Houston Tax Increment Reinvestment Zones funds||2.5 million|
|Low-income housing tax credit equity||14.6 million|
|Charitable funds||2.0 million|
|Conventional loans||22.9 million|
Working to Make Near Northside a Complete Community
The last houses in Avenue Place went on the market in February 2019. Ray Miller, assistant director of multifamily and public facilities in Houston’s Housing and Community Development Department, reported that Near Northside residents are very happy with Avenue Place, which has also proven the economic viability of new market-rate housing in the neighborhood. The Urban Land Institute recognized the success of Avenue Place and Avenue Terrace with a Jack Kemp Excellence in Affordable and Workforce Housing Award in 2018.
According to Miller, Near Northside is one of Houston’s most recent inner-ring neighborhoods to begin to revitalize. The traditionally working-class neighborhood continues to face social and economic challenges. The median household income in Near Northside is only 62 percent of the citywide median. Homeownership rates have declined, and 54 percent of neighborhood renters paid more than 30 percent of their income for housing. However, because of the neighborhood’s strategic location adjacent to downtown Houston and the opening of the METRORail Red Line extension in 2004, development pressure has increased in the neighborhood, which was relatively unaffected by Hurricane Harvey flooding. To account for these changing conditions, Houston selected Near Northside to be one of six communities in the first round of its Complete Communities action plans in 2017. The plan sets three goals for housing in Near Northside: renovate existing housing, build new housing for a variety of income levels, and grow and secure homeownership. Avenue Place and Avenue Terrace are examples of housing options that can achieve these goals.
Interview with Mary Lawler, 1 February 2019; Document provided by Avenue Community Development Corporation; Avenue CDC. 2018. “Houston Housing Developer Wins ULI’s Affordable and Workforce Housing Award,” press release, 9 October. Accessed 12 March 2019.×
Interview with Mary Lawler, 1 February 2019; Avenue CDC. n.d. “Avenue Terrace — Apartment Community.” Accessed 13 March 2019; Avenue CDC. 2018. “Avenue Wins National Affordable & Workforce Housing Award,” press release, 9 October. Accessed 13 March 2019; Correspondence from Samantha Desmond, account executive, Carbonara Group, 11 March 2019.×
Interview with Mary Lawler, 1 February 2019; Avenue CDC. 2018. “Avenue Place.” Accessed 13 March 2019; Avenue CDC. 2018. “Avenue Wins National Affordable & Workforce Housing Award,” press release, 9 October. Accessed 13 March.×
Joint interview with Ray Miller, multifamily and public facilities assistant director, Houston Housing and Community Development Department, and Jennifer Ostlind, deputy assistant director, Houston Planning and Development Department, 31 January 2019; Correspondence from Samantha Desmond, account executive, Carbonara Group, 1 February 2019.×
Joint interview with Ray Miller and Jennifer Ostlind, deputy assistant director, Houston Planning and Development Department, 31 January 2019; Correspondence from Samantha Desmond, account executive, Carbonara Group, 1 February 2019.×
Correspondence from Ray Miller, 6 March 2019; Ryan Holeywell. 2015. “The Most Interesting Affordable Housing in Houston,” Urban Edge, Rice Kinder Institute for Urban Research, 22 July. Accessed 13 March 2019; Joint interview with Ray Miller and Jennifer Ostlind, deputy assistant director, Houston Planning and Development Department, 31 January 2019; City of Houston. 2018. “Near Northside: Complete Communities Action Plan,” 3, 31–2. Accessed 13 March 2019.×