Saturday, January 28, 2012

What Houston Needs to Look For in a New HDHCD Director

Houston Department of Housing and Community Development (HDHCD) Director James Noteware resigned earlier this month to seek employment in the private sector. It’s very sad to see him go. Mr. Noteware was keenly attuned to Houston’s unique needs when it comes to housing and community development. He understood that the job is much bigger than just to meet the Department’s primary objective. His successor will face a very steep learning curve.

Houston is the largest city in the US to lack a traditional, comprehensive zoning ordinance. This is good because our neighborhoods have developed organically to be mixed use and mixed income. But the down side is that neighbors often feel that they lack protection from undesirable development. Our new HDHCD Director needs to be sensitive to neighborhood concerns; and not simply write them off as NIMBYs.

This City went through a building boom in the 1950s through 1970s. Multifamily housing was overbuilt. Those complexes are now at the end of their useful lives. Whole neighborhoods are dragged down by complexes that were once upscale, but are now dangerous slums. It behooves the new HDHCD Director to know all about these complexes, and he has to be driven to help the neighborhoods around them.

The State of Texas has extremely weak laws regarding urban blight and substandard housing. Those laws were made even weaker in 2011. Recent experiments have used low-income housing funds to help mitigate blight, while providing safe, decent housing for the poor. We need an HDHCD Director who believes in this approach.

The primary function of the Houston Department of Housing and Community Development is “to provide decent housing, create a suitable living environment and expand economic opportunities, principally for low and moderate income persons.” But we also need an HDHCD Director who really understands our City, is sensitive to local concerns, and helps neighborhoods solve their problems.

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