Houston Hope Update:
Interview with Steve Tinnermon

From March 3rd, 2006 Interview

Houston Hope Update

Project Houston Hope is a major initiative to improve Houston’s quality of life announced by Mayor Bill While in his State of the City address in January.

Part of the Division of Housing and Neighborhoods in the Mayor’s office, Houston Hope is managed by Steve Tinnermon. It is the implementation arm of the Land Assemblage Redevelopment Authority (LARA). The goal of the project is to turn neglected tax delinquent properties in targeted neighborhoods into productive properties and to increase the stock of affordable housing in the process.

Houston Hope’s first RFP to develop affordable housing on the first 135 lots acquired through LARA was issued in April.. The Mayor’s goal is to address the most neglected areas first. Houston Hope neighborhoods include:

• Acres Homes
• Clinton Park
• Trinity Gardens
• Settegast
• Independence Heights
• Sunnyside
• Magnolia Park
• and pilot areas in the 3rd and 5th Wards.

How does LARA work?

LARA, a local government organization, is overseen by a 13 member board representing the affected taxing authorities. Severely tax delinquent vacant properties go through a title search and then go to foreclosure. Under current enabling legislation the sale of these properties must be at public auction. Money derived from the sale is pro-rated to eligible taxing jurisdictions and the rest of the tax, if any, is forgiven. LARA holds clear title to the property. The land is “banked” until developers respond to the RFP. In effect LARA sells the land to successful developers—both CDCs (Community Development Corporations) and private developer/home builders—to build affordable housing. In turn the developer sells to the homeowner, with restrictive covenants regarding resale.

Challenges in this process are neighborhood transition and the potential for land speculation. Particularly in regard to the land speculation issue but also to encourage neighborhood cohesion, the City is seeking modifications to the enabling legislation. One change would allow for private sale of the property at market rate to LARA without the public auction; all taxing jurisdictions must agree to operate under these terms for this provision to work. Other proposed changes include giving the right of first refusal to adjacent land owners to buy the land and build affordable housing. Another would give the second right of refusal to CDCs—again, to build affordable housing.

How does Houston Hope work?

Houston Hope takes a comprehensive approach and Tinnermon serves as the coordinator and orchestrator of cooperative efforts among a wide variety of entities. The private sector and CDCs are invited to provide development services and construction; Public Works provides appropriate supporting infrastructure; Planning and Development helps to identify strategic areas; Housing and Community Development supports the buyer with its down payment assistance and home owner education programs. The Mayor’s educational consultant engages the involved school districts and promotes adult education. Tinnermon also draws in the Super Neighborhood Council, Parks Department, Health Department, METRO—all aspects of a healthy neighborhood work together.

This comprehensive approach to neighborhood revitalization is a case study in effective planning—identifying needs and assembling the resources, both public and private, necessary to address these needs. Success depends on coordination and collaboration among City departments, County and school districts, and private sector service providers. Houston Hope encourages long term plans for neighborhoods focused on the delivery of city services and the development of projects that neighborhoods can deliver on their own. Success in Houston Hope would not only turn tax delinquent properties into tax producing properties and add to the stock of affordable housing but also bring attention to Houston neighborhoods long seeking delivery of City services. Houston Hope also has the potential to demonstrate that comprehensive planning with intentional cooperation and collaboration across jurisdictional lines is a way to improve the quality of life throughout the City.