PAnews.com, Port Arthur, Texas

Local News

July 1, 2013

Housing projects draw heated debate at PACC special meeting

— For nearly two hours Monday afternoon Port Arthur City Council members bickered, argued parliamentary procedure, and took personal jabs at one another — all while trying to decide the fate of two proposed housing developments.

By meeting’s end — and after numerous “point of order” challenges, the only item decided with certainty was the need for another meeting.

At issue was whether the City Council should support a request for allotment of housing tax credits that would offset costs of the two proposed sites: Park Central at 2500 FM 365 and Edison Square, 3501 12th St.

Edison Square, a proposed $10 million development for  the elderly, would feature 128 townhouses to be built on 12th Street at the old Edison Middle School site.

Park Central is the proposed facility that would be built at 2500 Highway 365 to relocate Carver Terrace residents.

Both are affordable housing projects to be funded with federal hurricane recovery dollars made available to the city.

District 1 City Councilman Raymond Scott has taken issue with the Edison complex because of the number of neighbors protesting the proposed facility, which is in his district. He also led the discussion Monday around housing credits, asking why the city needs more when it holds the dubious distinction of already being above the state average.

In Port Arthur there are 11 different tax credit properties funded from the highly competitive 9 percent Housing Tax Credit Program —enough that the state requires the city to give its blessing before allocations are made.

Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs has until July 25 to determine which projects will receive housing credits.

Tax credits are awarded to eligible participants to offset a portion of federal tax liability in exchange for the production or preservation of affordable rental housing. The value associated with the tax credits allows residences in HTC developments to be leased to qualified households at below market rental rates.

Statewide, the average per capita number of units is 0.008. Port Arthur’s existing rate is 4.6 percent, according to Gordon Anderson, spokesperson with the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs.

“We cannot afford to give away any more tax credits,” Scott said.

The city has more tax credit units per capita than Orange, Chambers, Jefferson and Liberty counties, Scott said.

Averages are determined by the number of units and a community’s population, but does not take into consideration other demographic criteria.

“In the city of Port Arthur we re unique. We have an aging population, outrageous poverty levels, have had two hurricanes. I think it is unfair to look at averages based on just population,” Derrick Freeman, Position 7 Councilman, said.

Mayor Deloris “Bobbie” Prince said she was in favor of taking advantage of the hurricane recovery money. Not only is there a tight deadline on getting it spent, that type funding will likely not come Port Arthur’s way again, she said.

“We are being given an opportunity to provide decent affordable housing to our senior citizens, and for councilmembers who have been entrusted to do what is best for the citizens of Port Arthur, it seems personnel to go against this project. It saddens my heart and breaks my heart to go against this,” Prince said.

Scott said he was concerned about senior citizens too, but felt it was his responsibility to stand up for the people in his district. During the rezoning process — which has not yet been decided — 78 letters were sent to neighbors surrounding the proposed Edison project. Of those, 26 percent responded saying they were against building the facility.

“I am for senior citizens 100 percent, but if we have to locate somewhere else, then we have to locate somewhere else,” Scott said.

Freeman urged Scott to name another area that was closer to facilities needed by seniors such as grocery stores, hospitals and senior citizen centers.

“This is not about me trying to find  a place to locate this. The citizens of my district have said they don’t want it, and I am here to represent the citizens,” Scott said. “The people who elected me, Councilman Freeman, and maybe you forget who elected you , have spoken that they are against it.”

“If you are the voice of the people, I would encourage you in future dates to have a solution,” Freeman said.

After noting that fair housing advocates had determined the only acceptable place to build south of Texas 73 was at the Edison site, Mayor pro tem Robert E. “Bob”  Williamsn characterized the meeting as a “circular argument.”

Prior to the discussion about housing credits, Prince attempted to discuss zoning issues relating to the Edison project, but was told the way the meeting was posted would not allow that type discussion.

Prince said it was her understanding that zoning issues would be discussed along with the housing credits.

“If we can’t ask questions (about zoning,) then there is no way to work through this,” Prince said.

After much discussion about what discussion should be allowed during Monday’s meeting, City Attorney Val Tizeno was directed to draft another workshop meeting posting, this one to include the language: “full and complete discussion of all aspects of hurricane recovery grant funding, subsidized housing and zoning, and specifically about the Edison project.”

E-mail: skoonce@panews.com

Twitter: skooncePANews

 

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