Briargrove residents voice concern over plan to build low-income apartment complex

HOUSTON (KTRK) -- Every afternoon, Adi Martinez loves walking her daughter home from Briargrove Elementary. Now she's worried her younger son, who is not yet school age, may never get the chance to join his sister.

"We bought houses here, for the hopes our kids will go to Briargrove," said Martinez, who joined a group of fellow school moms to speak with Eyewitness News. "I hope my son can do that."

The worried moms say the elementary school is already at capacity, and had to turn away kids this year. They are concerned with the Houston Housing Authority's plan of building a new, low-income development in the same school zone.

"They would have 300 more kids on the waiting list at Briargrove," said mom Jennifer Dollinger. "We already have 150 or so on the waiting list."

If all the funding goes through, the proposed 233-unit development will sit at 2640 Fountainview, the location of the Housing Authority's current headquarters. Last year, HHA bought the neighboring property, 2650 Fountainview, and plans to renovate it into its new headquarters. The proposed complex is in the heart of the upscale Briargrove subdivision, and just around the corner from Tanglewood, where million-dollar homes are the norm.

Houston ISD school board member Harvin Moore says the Housing Authority never talked to him before going forward.

"It's been a completely untransparant process, it's like they've been flying under the radar all this time," said Moore, who represent this area.

The head of HHA says it did talk to some people at HISD and followed all legal procedures to publicize its plans. Still, Tory Gunsolley admits, this is the most upscale location the agency has ever pursued, and he knew it would not be popular.

"I think a lot of people misunderstand the projectS that we do and I think there is a lot fear out there," said Gunsolley. "We're building a Class A-looking project that would be indistinguishable from the market rates next door."

In addition, Gunsolley points out that the the federal government wants to put more affordable housing in higher end neighborhoods because it helps the residents better their lives. The children of low-income parents will have an opportunity to go to better schools and move up economically.

Parents already here say they would welcome the children, but the school does not have the room. They argue kids who move in would either squeeze out existing families, or be bused elsewhere anyway.

"To me they're not going to fulfill their promise to their residents," said Jennifer Gerry, another mother. "So, it's not just about us, it's also about the future residents of this complex."

Briargrove residents are organizing. Already, Congressman John Culberson has written a letter of opposition got HUD Secretary Julian Castro, asking the project be halted. Expect a full fight, including a website and protests, in the months ahead.
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