By: Crystal Toussant
When I was made aware of the Historic District fight, I was confused about why so many people were against it. I have a love for all things history, so I didn’t quite understand the pushback. I think Houston has a very diverse and rich history in Third Ward, so why wouldn’t anyone want to preserve it. I believe that the City of Houston could do a better job of truly creating more landmarks and signage to explain the history of the place, people, and landmarks that make Houston such an amazing city.
I chose to attend the Historic District Town Hall Meeting at St. Mary’s Church Multi-Purpose Center Gym. The meeting was sponsored by Councilwomen Dr. Carolyn Evans-Shabazz of District D and moderated by Khambrel Marshall, KPRC News Anchor with guest speaker, Director Margaret Wallace Brown from the City of Houston’s Planning and Development Office. The purpose of the meeting was to help people of the Third Ward Community to better understand the Neighborhood Preservation Tools, to give the community a chance to have a question-and-answer session, and to share a Community Leader’s Presentation for Riverside Terrace, Third Ward, and Timber Crest.
Many Third Ward residents were not pleased with how the start of the Historic District process was conceived and carried out. The first meeting that established the desire for the Third Ward Residents to be designated as a Historic District was sent via text message and told to people only in the Black neighborhoods. The City of Houston guidelines states that there needs to be a public forum that is an open invitation to everyone. The ordinance also says there is a series of public meetings that must occur.
The first meeting that was listed as the public forum only consisted of 15 property owners who were directly contacted to attend, but no public effort to invite the community was made. The next meeting was also attended by a select few because the notice to the Super Neighborhood Head was never received.
Dr. Carolyn Evans-Shabazz discovered that the email was incorrect which was the reason for the low participation and late dissemination of information to the community about the second meeting. Many residents feel that the city doesn’t want to work with the citizens of Third Ward, so they are trying to circumvent them. At the meeting, the vote went as follows 13 supporting, 12 opposed, and 11 no responses which counts as opposition. According to the guidelines of the City of Houston in order to consider the request, the Historic District must have a 67% approval. This means that they fell short of that threshold. In an effort to create the 67% approval, they redrew the map without another vote. The ordinance gives them the right to redo the map which is not fair. By overriding the vote, they are manipulating the situation.
The integrity of the process is crucial to gaining the support, respect, and confidence of the residents of Third Ward. Third Ward Resident, Elizabeth Smith believes “It is about us as a Black People being taken advantage of. Most of the people who are for the Historic District are rich. I am a six-generation Texan and third-generation Houstonian. For five generations my African American ancestors have been dealing with property issues and have fought for the right to be property owners in the state of Texas. In the State of Texas, the highest responsibility of citizenry is property ownership and paying taxes which has led to the right to vote in the history of our nation. This situation calls into question our rights as property owners and our rights in regard to voting. The property owners voted overwhelmingly to disapprove the Historic District then they gerrymandered the map to create the 67% approval which completely negates the majority vote of the property owners in the community in favor of the Minority property owners in the community in favor of the Minority property owners without an ensuing vote after the map was gerrymandered.” Many citizens believe it is a constant attack on African American people in Urban and Rural areas. In Rural America, corporations are trying to buy the little people out. They are systematically erasing African American people throughout our country.”
Many Third Ward Residents believe that hard-working, tax-paying Texans who are mostly second and third-generation Houstonians are being attacked by these corrupt tactics to do land grabs from people who can’t afford to make the adjustments and requirements to maintain a property in a Historic District. The people of Third Ward are grateful to Mayor Sylvester Turner for rescheduling the vote for more research and discussion. The third ward is a very special place to all of us who reside in the Tre and we will fight to preserve our heritage and legacy.