HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- After nearly three weeks of controversy, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner announced Monday he will no longer support housing subsidies for a Clear Lake senior living apartment complex, saying it had become "too much of a distraction."
"The Huntington at Bay Area development will not be recommended for funding," Turner said in a written statement released early Monday. "While it would have created affordable housing for seniors in District E, where there has been no affordable multi-family housing constructed since 2016, and never in the Clear Lake area, the project has become too much of a distraction for the administration's agenda and for this city."
Instead, Turner said he will support two other projects that scored higher on original rounds. New Hope Housing at Berry, a 240-unit complex on Houston's northside, was recommended for $10 million in subsidies. Turner replaced the Huntington project with Fairways at Westwood, a 120-unit affordable apartment complex in the Alief/Westwood area. The Fairways project is recommended for the $15 million in subsidies the Huntington project would have received.
According to city documents, the switch costs the same amount but will build 32 more affordable housing units. As Turner's statement notes, neither of the projects are in Council District E, which encompasses Clear Lake and Kingwood.
The new recommendations from the mayor, again, do not select the highest scoring projects. That has not escaped notice at the GLO, where they are reviewing Houston housing spending. A GLO spokesperson told 13 Investigates on Monday they will insist the city "prove it followed a federally approved competitive bidding process" to make this new $15 million award.
Turner has always said his support for the Huntington project was formulated on his desire to add subsidized housing in the Clear Lake community. Both Turner and City Attorney Arturo Michel suggested last month the US Housing and Urban Development department had criticized the city in the past for not spreading low-income housing across the city.
The moves come nearly three weeks after Turner's now-fired housing director Tom McCasland shocked City Hall by alleging a "charade of a competitive bidding process" led to Turner's support of a pre-determined winner.
"This administration is bankrolling a certain developer to the detriment of working families who need affordable homes," McCasland told a city council committee on Sept. 21. Turner fired McCasland later that afternoon.
The Huntington project was proposed by the M Group.
Turner's former law partner, Barry Barnes, is listed in state documents as a co-developer and co-manager of the project. Turner said he was unaware of Barnes' involvement.
Neither M Group, nor Barnes, has returned any of the multiple calls for comment by 13 Investigates since the news first broke last month. Since then, the Texas General Land Office began a review of many other Houston projects.
The City Attorney announced he will soon hire an outside lawyer to conduct a review of the McCasland allegations. The Harris County District Attorney asked for documents related to Houston spending and contracting. It is unclear if Turner's decision will stop any of those investigations.
NOTE: An earlier version of this post miscalculated the number of additional affordable units that the proposed switch in projects will deliver.
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