$65 Million in Taxpayer Dollars Approved for Gentrification in Third Ward

The Midtown Redevelopment Authority, also known as the Midtown Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone (TIRZ), recently voted to approve $65 million of taxpayer dollars to be allocated to the Rice Management Company (RMC) for the development of the Innovation Corridor (the Ion). This decision is now set to be voted on at Houston City Council, a date yet to be determined.

The issue? There’s no Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) between RMC and the residents of Third Ward to prevent gentrification and displacement of existing residents. The Midtown TIRZ board voted to approve these $65 million tax dollars for RMC despite taxpayers being against it because there is no CBA. There is still a chance for Third Ward residents to have a CBA with RMC, but if the Houston City Council approves these funds as is, it will lessen the chance for equitable development.

RELATED: Mayor Turner Appoints White Guy to Lead Third Ward

Screenshot from HCEDD’s debriefing

The Houston Coalition for Equitable Development without Displacement (HCEDD) has been at the frontlines of this issue fighting for Third Ward residents to have a seat at the table for this development with a CBA. As it is, the food apartheid issue has worsened with the removal of the Fiesta and the development of the Greentown Labs Houston, a clean energy start-up accelerator, in Fiesta’s place.

Also, The Ion development is already playing a role in abusing the community. Milam & Co Painting, a contractor RMC hired, is exploiting its workers in the Ion construction, paying workers as low as $8.50 when the average pay is $14 and a living wage in Houston is $17. There are reports of workers getting only a thirty-minute lunch break and, often times, they are not provided water while working outside.

Call to Action

Currently, HCEDD’s community call to action is to flood City Council with emails and to sign up for public comment at the meetings.

Anyone who wants to be part of this movement can also sign up for strategy teams including social media, grassroots, pressuring leaders, and working with the art team.

There are two points that HCEDD has identified as a priority to benefit Third Ward immediately:

  1. Provide an initial investment of $50 million that will help with the anti-displacement priorities listed in the document attached.
  2. Dedicate 100% of the Midtown TIRZ increment generated by the Innovation District to achieving the CBA pillars listed in our Houston Community Benefits Agreement document.

Request for Comment

I sent a request for comment to the Midtown TIRZ only to be redirected to their PR consultant, One World PR. “Any questions about the CBA need to be directed towards the City of Houston or Rice University,” they replied, but here’s the thing — neither the City of Houston or Rice University voted in favor of allocating the $65 million of tax dollars to this development against the will of the taxpayers, the Midtown TIRZ board did. So, why did the tax funded board vote against the will of the taxpayers? I haven’t received any response.

With the knowledge that this vote is on its way to the Houston City Council at some point, I reached out to Council Member Carolyn Evans-Shabazz, District D representative for Third Ward, to see if she would vote against it and perhaps even work to whip the vote. According to HCEDD, Shabazz told their leadership that if the developer contract did not mandate a CBA with HCEDD, she would oppose the contract. So, will she actually oppose the contract when it comes to a vote? I haven’t received any response. It is a weird position for Shabazz because she could be in full support of HCEDD (not verified because she hasn’t replied to me), but the rest of the city council members need to be on board as well. This is why HCEDD is encouraging people to email City Council members and sign up for public comment.

In peak neoliberal fashion, our local oligarchy is upholding the white supremacist nature of gentrification in the name of clean energy, ya’ll. We do desperately need clean energy alternatives as the climate crisis worsens — absolutely no one, not even HCEDD, is debating the need for clean energy alternatives that is supposed to come out of the work done at the Ion.

However, the local oligarchs are manufacturing public consent at the expense of Third Ward residents. While this tech development is needed to combat climate change which continues to create climate refugees, it is easy to use that as a marketing tactic to create excitement and overshadow how existing community members have a higher chance of becoming gentrification refugees if there’s no CBA in place.

What is a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA)?

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