Residents split on if ‘historic district’ prevents gentrification or puts their homes and legacy at risk

“There are neighbors in that area who do not want to be included in the district,” said Sharon Evans-Brooks, Vice President of the Riverside Civic Association.

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A proposal to make a predominantly Black Houston neighborhood a historic district has divided residents, The Houston Chronicle and others are reporting.

The process to officially declare Riverside Terrace, located in the Third Ward, a historic district, was initiated last year by homeowner Asif Mahmood. 

Home for sale is shown on August 12, 2021, in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

Opponents are concerned that the historic designation could drive up routine repair costs and property values and present a litany of challenges related to altering or selling their homes  – all of which could displace some longtime residents. 

“We are talking about our homes, the one thing African Americans have to pass onto our children,” longtime Rosedale resident Elizabeth Smith said. “It is our legacy. What they are trying to take away from us is our generational wealth.”

“There’s an empty lot next to me, and purely selfishly, I don’t want a suburban home built there,” Jack May told Click 2 Houston.

“I say no! Absolutely no! It would push a lot of people out and bring more people in that are waiting to get over here,” said Ronald C. Thornton to Click 2 Houston.

According to city officials, the 51 homes outlined in the original application to create the historic district were reduced to 19 after lines were redrawn by the planning development director. The Chronicle reports that the adjustment allowed the petition to meet the required number of votes to move forward.

“They redrew the lines and borrowed some votes from another street in order to meet the required 67% to pass. That’s fundamentally the problem,” said Sharon Evans-Brooks, Vice President of the Riverside Civic Association, according to KHOU 11.

“There are neighbors in that area who do not want to be included in the district,” said Evans-Brooks.

Planning Director Margaret Brown Wallace said she acted within her authority to adjust the boundaries of the proposed district. “The map did change. It’s our responsibility to honor the constituents who are asking for this district,” Wallace told KPRC 2 News.

The homeowners who oppose the historic district claim a minority overruled them in favor of the process. According to the Chronicle report, the Riverside Civic Association has hired an attorney and believes that if seven alleged violations of the city ordinance governing historic districts are proved true, the proposal will be rejected.

Former City Council member Jew Don Boney initially voted in favor of the proposed historic district, then withdrew his support earlier this month. The city rejected Boney’s reversal, which the civic association claims violate state law. 

“I was not aware of the negative impact this would have on the community and the African Americans who have lived in Riverside Terrace for generations,” Boney wrote in an email to city officials. “I understand now that this … does not reflect the desires of the community, but only a few.”

Mahmood, who declined to speak with the Chronicle, does have some support for his effort. He owns a columned brick house that was once home to the family of Mack Hannah Jr., a wealthy civil rights leader and longtime Texas Southern University regent who died in 1994. Currently, he is overseeing a renovation of the property. It is unclear how Mahmood intends to use the house, however, he reportedly owns several homes in the district that he operates as apartments or Airbnb rentals. 

A public hearing will be held on the historic district proposal at 9:00 a.m. on Wednesday, June 8, then it will go to the city council for a final vote, Click 2 Houston reports.

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