Houston City Council member Tiffany Thomas, who served as the council’s housing committee chair for the last four years, organized a Tuesday public hearing that was called off by Mayor John Whitmire, because he has not yet made his own committee appointments.
Expanding affordable housing options is a particularly important issue to Houston City Council member Tiffany Thomas, who for the previous four years served as the chair of the council’s Housing and Community Affairs committee. She also teaches about the topic as an assistant professor of community development at Prairie View A&M University.
So as the deadline approaches for this year’s round of 9% federal housing tax credits – which are awarded by the state of Texas and can be worth millions of dollars in funding over a 10-year period, allowing developers to offer reduced rental rates to residents – she said she wants impacted residents, businesses and her fellow council members to have ample opportunity to examine the series of proposed multi-family housing projects the city is considering recommending.
On Monday night and Tuesday morning, Thomas said she was not sure that would happen. A public committee hearing she had scheduled for Tuesday was called off the evening before by new Houston Mayor John Whitmire, because he has not yet made his own council committee appointments and did not want any committee meetings to be held, according to a spokesperson for his office. Thomas, under the impression that no public hearing would be held before a planned council vote on the proposed developments Feb. 7, put out a statement Tuesday morning inviting all stakeholders to participate in a public council session Feb. 6.
Later Tuesday, Thomas said she found out Whitmire was amending his plan to hold a public hearing on the issue Feb. 7, with a related council vote scheduled for a week or two later. She called the change “good news.”
“Public engagement is a win, so if the administration has reconsidered the way to do this, it’s a win for Houston,” Thomas said. “It’s a win for stakeholders. It’s a win for the process. I think it’ll be a great learning experience for my new colleagues (on city council) and for the new administration as well. It’s a win.”
Whitmire, the longtime state senator who was elected as mayor in November and took office in early January, informed city council members in a Monday evening email that the public hearing scheduled for Tuesday could not be held, according to Thomas, who said the mayor indicated at that point there would be no public hearing ahead of a planned Feb. 7 vote by the city council. Thomas said she essentially was still acting as the housing committee chair when she organized the meeting in the first place, adding that community input in what has historically been a contentious process is both important and time-sensitive since developers have a March 1 deadline to submit their tax credit applications to the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs.
The city’s Housing and Community Development Department has identified a total of 21 projects to recommend in locations throughout the city, according to Thomas, who represents parts of west and southwest Houston as part of District F. The city council is charged with vetting those recommendations and signing off on them, and its support is worth critical points in the state’s competitive scoring system. The tax credits are typically awarded to specific developments in the summertime.
Thomas said the affordable housing projects are “critically important” at a time when many residents, particularly in predominantly Black and Latino communities, spend significant portions of their incomes on rent. She also said she has become the council’s authority on affordable housing issues, whether or not she continues to serve as chair of the housing committee.
Mary Benton, a spokesperson for Whitmire, said he plans to make his committee appointments by the end of February.
“Mayor Whitmire has the highest regard for Council Member Thomas’ expertise on housing matters,” Benton said.
Benton also said the new mayor “conducts business with the greatest transparency and believes in good government. He plans to ensure each council member has time to review the proposed projects before a vote is scheduled.”
Thomas said she still encourages local civic clubs, homeowners’ associations, residents and others to participate in the council’s public session Feb. 6, adding, “There should be as many opportunities as possible.
Source: Houston Public Media