In Houston’s Third Ward, a Battle for Equitable Development

At church buildings across Houston’s Third Ward, Trip Bible College is a ritual of summer. Among lessons, new music normally peals out of the home windows as small children acquire for games and food items. The grown ups who supervise them snicker and gossip. For Dolores Rodgers, who grew up in the Third Ward, it was virtually an extension of home—while she was increasing up in the ’60s, her family members lived subsequent to Jerusalem Baptist Church on Tuam Road exactly where she attended VBS. But Rodgers’ loved ones no extended phone calls the property on Tuam dwelling. A several many years ago, the Metropolis of Houston claimed the land to make a parking good deal.

Rodgers’ household, like numerous family members with roots in the traditionally Black 3rd Ward, is no stranger to displacement. Her grandparents had been displaced by the development of Highway 288 in the early ’60s. She remaining the community to go to university in the late ’70s, but when she came again, she seen the slow losses, the disappearance of independent organizations like barber stores and grocery shops. Nevertheless, she wanted to make a property in the Third Ward.

“It was just component of my identification as a particular person,” Rodgers stated.

Today, she’s a member of the negotiation group for the Houston Coalition for Equitable Enhancement With no Displacement (HCEDD). The coalition, which is made up of inhabitants and their allies along with 29 region corporations, is asking the Rice Administration Corporation (RMC) and the City of Houston for a Neighborhood Benefits Agreement. A CBA is a legally binding, project‐specific deal among builders or metropolitan areas and local community coalitions that helps communities continue being in manage of developments in their neighborhood. Third Ward people want a say in the hottest transform bordering the community, the new Rice Ion creating.

RMC owns the Rice Ion, a new “innovation hub” scheduled to open up in early 2021. Rodgers located out about the Ion’s design late past summer months when fences started out heading up all over the old Sears Constructing the Ion now inhabits just across the freeway from the Rodgers’s old property. Although no households will be demolished by the construction of the Ion, housing justice advocates and residents are worried that the development will each enhance taxes of homes in the spot and appeal to new developments to the location that could displace men and women.

“What we’re heading to see is that men and women that are previously being priced out of their neighborhoods are heading to continue to be priced out,” states Zoe Middleton, the southeast director for Texas Housers, a housing advocacy team. “And that becoming priced out could possibly in fact be accelerated.”

Rodgers attests that increasing property taxes are a single of the handful of factors that could lead to her to leave the 3rd Ward nowadays. 1 of her cousins has by now had to offer their house for that cause.

“Once you get to the retirement age, it results in being extremely hard to manage even a modest dwelling in the place,” Rodgers states.

RMC is a new participant on the Houston enhancement scene—their main mission is the administration of the university’s $6.5 billion endowment. The Ion’s internet site gives a range of lofty jargon-filled objectives like “convening an inclusive, interdisciplinary and collaborative neighborhood that positively impacts lives via know-how, innovation and entrepreneurship.” If you skip to the leasing site, they offer 300,000 sq. feet of workplace, restaurant, tutorial, and function place, as nicely as 100,000 square feet of “public and shared areas for activities and programming.” The glass-curtain-walled setting up visually distinguishes the far more gentrified Midtown from outdated residences like Rodgers’s in the 3rd Ward on the other side of the freeway.

The City of Houston and Rice have positioned the Ion as the anchor of a new 16-acre Innovation District. They’ve promised group associates that they will supply career training and agreement minority-owned businesses—without any revealed concrete options or ambitions to obtain these guarantees. However Mayor Sylvester Turner has publicly praised the Ion’s prospective to catch the attention of financial commitment, significantly in the tech sectors, to Houston, residents like Rodgers speculate whether or not the community’s interests in cultural preservation and occupation generation for extensive-phrase 3rd Ward people will be honored. If the Ion does not hire 3rd Ward residents for the work it produces, it could catch the attention of new inhabitants to the community who could manage the improved assets taxes and displace historic residents without having demolishing a single household.

“The avenues for equitable obtain just aren’t there,” suggests Curtis Davis, who serves on the steering committee for the Northern Third Ward Neighborhood Implementation Challenge. “It’s sort of like a body that has blood vessels that link to the different organs. And this individual organ doesn’t have really fantastic connections. And so that heartbeat, that red blood and oxygen and whatnot, which serves lots of of the other organs of the human body, don’t serve this certain organ really perfectly.”

Just after a summertime of protest demanding investment in Black communities alternatively of the law enforcement, their phone calls for transparency and commitment are echoed nationwide. For the duration of a coalition neighborhood assembly around Zoom, sociologist and 3rd era Third Ward resident Assata Richards designed connections to the police murder of the Third Ward’s possess George Floyd.

“The explanation he ended up in a position so considerably from house was mainly because he couldn’t get access to the alternatives he desired,” Richards claimed. “So lots of George Floyds are becoming pushed out.”

Table of Contents


While the 3rd Ward didn’t grow to be predominantly Black until right after Entire world War II, the neighborhood’s Black roots date back to Reconstruction. In 1872, a team of church communities led by Reverend Jack Yates, a Baptist minister, pooled $1,000 to purchase 10 acres of open up land for their Juneteenth celebration. In honor of their flexibility, they named it Emancipation Park. Rodgers’ family’s former property appeared out on the baseball subject.

Establishments founded in the Third Ward served Houston’s Black local community when no one particular else would. Texas Southern College, a historically Black college, was proven in 1947, for the duration of segregation. When Jack Yates Senior Significant School opened its doorways in 1926, it was only the next faculty for Black children in the metropolis of Houston. In the late 1960s and ’70s, integration intended that wealthier Black households could move out of the Third Ward and into the suburbs. In the a long time that followed, the town disinvested from the neighborhood. By the early 2000s, developers seized the option to purchase affordable house. Gentrification had started.

In some parts of the neighborhood right now, luxury townhouses dwarf more mature households and vacant lots. But housing is just one particular piece of the puzzle. The battle versus displacement and for revitalization is a patchwork of neighborhood teams, nonprofits, and tax-reinvestment zones, which include the coalition preventing for a CBA.

Quite a few of the coalition’s problems are grounded in the 2019 3rd Ward Desires Assessment, co-authored by scientists at the Baker Institute at Rice College and the Sankofa Research Institute, a neighborhood-centered exploration institute. Richards heads Sankofa, which recruited and experienced associates of the Third Ward as co-scientists for the needs assessment, delivering them with resources and mentorship in both of those study competencies and local community engagement. Their study uncovered that most people experienced lived in the 3rd Ward for over 15 decades and experienced tiny motivation to move away. The report also pointed out significant stages of “collective efficacy,” which measures cohesion between neighbors and with their willingness to operate in the direction of the typical excellent.

“For quite a few of us, we do not by ourselves have specific means to satisfy all our needs,” Richards says. “We are structurally dependent and interdependent on other persons. And which is what the Third Ward has been.”

The requirements assessment also claimed quite a few residents’ worry of displacement. Just about 1-3rd of citizens said they ended up fearful about owning to transfer in just the following 12 months, and a the greater part ended up “extremely concerned” about a loss of African American lifestyle in the Third Ward. While sometimes fears of gentrification are positioned towards growth, residents also pointed out a want for new hospitals, childcare facilities, eating places, and motion picture theaters. For Richards, the CBA gives an avenue to align the new progress with the documented requirements of Third Ward citizens.

“You are unable to say you’re supporting the community and not keep on your own accountable to what that assistance appears to be like,” she claims. “Now, you have an evaluation of that. It is simple to communicate in the abstract about supporting the community.”


In late September and early Oct, RMC hosted workshops for local community customers on work teaching, housing, and using the services of possibilities. Mainly because of the pandemic, what would have been a standard group assembly migrated online, disrupting the feedback process. The RMC workshops were hosted on Zoom in the webinar structure, which prevents members from observing how lots of folks are watching. They also disabled the chat characteristic, filtering questions by way of the Q&A functionality, which retains non-panelists from looking at what issues are currently being requested until they get answered, if they get answered at all.

“It’s felt like outdated-college politics around how builders appear into the spot,” Rodgers states. “And they genuinely do not want to interact the community. They just want to go by way of the motions to say, I have checked this box off.”

Sam Dike, the director of strategic initiatives at RMC, suggests the workshops were being an opportunity to educate group members about the innovation district and the prospective prospects, as properly as a time for the group to give responses to shape a Neighborhood Positive aspects Arrangement.

Dike details to RMC’s partnership with nonprofit Brighter Bites as an case in point of their determination to action. After Fiesta, a regional grocery retail outlet that sat at the western edge of the Third Ward, closed in July, RMC partnered with the nonprofit to distribute 100,000 lbs . of refreshing generate to 375 underserved families in the 3rd Ward all through the university yr.

An HEB that opened in December 2020 also sits on the outskirts of the neighborhood, straddling the 3rd Ward and the extra affluent Museum District. But even prior to the Fiesta’s closing, the 3rd Ward was classified as a food stuff desert by the U.S. Section of Agriculture. And as Richards pointed out for the duration of a September coalition assembly, functioning course inhabitants have unique entry wants than center class citizens, and some of the other solutions like income orders that the Fiesta offered have not been restored.

The Fiesta supermarket near the western edge of the Third Ward closed in July.
The Fiesta supermarket at the western edge of the 3rd Ward shut in July.  Gerardo Velasquez

In the meantime, the coalition has hosted Zoom community meetings of their own. All who take part are invited to introduce them selves and say why they’re attending the assembly.

Above the study course of the slide, tensions have risen between organizers, the town, and Rice. Builders claim to be negotiating a CBA, but have moved forward without input from the coalition. The coalition elected an eight-member negotiation workforce that satisfied with Dike alongside with general public relations and authorized representatives from RMC in early November. Following the conference, Dike available a letter outlining RMC’s posture on the CBA and invited four coalition members to be section of a CBA doing the job group alongside other stakeholders. Although coalition associates ended up pleased that RMC responded in writing, they noticed this as a divisive tactic. “They are attempting to define who speaks for the Third Ward,” Rodgers mentioned in a debrief conference. “We are not able to let them displace the coalition.”

While the coalition decides upcoming methods with RMC, they are getting their needs to the Midtown Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone, a community district that takes advantage of assets tax profits in Midtown Houston for redevelopment assignments. RMC has requested $75 million in community funds from the district, which the coalition believes need to be conditional on the signing of a CBA involving the coalition and RMC.

The stakes are sky large for 3rd Ward inhabitants who really feel they’ve been down this highway just before. Houston’s Black group has by now observed a edition of this occur with the gentrification of Freedmen’s Town. For long-phrase residents like Dolores Rodgers, the struggle for a CBA is a struggle for a possibility to continue to phone the spot in which their grandparents lived, where their moms and dads lived, and where they hope to reside out the relaxation of their lives, house.

“We can be certain that this community just does not turn into a community of people who are rich just for the reason that they can pay for residence and get advantage of people today who have no sources to struggle again,” Rodgers says. “And so I just pray that the assault on communities of coloration will end with this undertaking.”

Browse a lot more from the Observer:

  • Bringing the Useless Dwelling: 30 yrs after Congress handed the Indigenous American Graves Security and Repatriation Act, only a portion of human stays held by Texas’ museums and universities have been returned.

  • How We Got Here: Texas’ health program has been underfunded, understaffed, and unprepared for years. Below, COVID-19 observed the best place to distribute.

  • Community Organizers Describe the Republican Surge in South Texas: Democrats have prolonged taken Latino voters for granted, though Republicans have labored to fill that arranging void.