Councilmember Jerry Davis, whose district includes Acres Homes and Kashmere Gardens, at the Thursday press conference announcing the second round of Complete Communities neighborhoods. Photo: Leah Binkovitz.

Alief, Kashmere Gardens and Magnolia Park-Manchester were among the neighborhoods selected for the second round of the public-private initiative.

Amid music, tacos and shaved ice, Mayor Sylvester Turner announced the five new communities that were selected to be part of his Complete Communities initiative Thursday. 

"When I came into office, I said I didn't want to be a mayor of two cities, have and have-nots," the mayor told the crowd gathered in Second Ward's recently renovated Eastwood Park. His Complete Communities effort, launched in 2017, relied on community engagement to create broad-reaching plans for each of the long-underserved pilot neighborhoods, including Second Ward. "We cannot overlook these neighborhoods," he continued. After two years, the mayor, joined by city council members and various government officials, announced the next five neighborhoods to be included in the program: Alief, Fort Bend Houston, Sunnyside, Kashmere Gardens and Magnolia Park-Manchester.

"We have to drive meaningful resources into these neighborhoods," Turner said. He joked with the crowd that he anticipated phone calls from AT&T and Comcast later that day pledging more money for the effort.

The question of resources has been present since the introduction of the initiative, which was launched without any new, dedicated funding but instead promised to prioritize those neighborhoods in existing city funding and help guide investment to them. Since then, a patchwork of partnerships has produced some of the most tangible results from the effort, including the Together for Safer Roads partnership in Gulfton, one of the five pilot neighborhoods, that will study ways to make Hillcroft Street safer. The mayor also established a Complete Communities Improvement Fund, which has brought in some $11 million in multi-year donations, and appointed Shannon Buggs as the initiative's first director in March. 

Source: City of Houston.

The second slate of neighborhoods, said Turner, "face real challenges and need our support." Like the original neighborhoods, the five areas announced today will help develop an action plan over several months of community meetings. These action plans identify both short- and long-term goals. "Our goal is to help you find the resources to get what you need in your particular neighborhoods," said Turner.

What Ethel Terrell's neighborhood in the Magnolia-Park Manchester area needs is obvious to her. "We have old broken-down cars that's parked on the streets in front of the houses, we have vacant lots that need to be trimmed, we have old broken-down houses that need to be torn down," she said.

And, she said, it's been that way since she first moved to the neighborhood in 1965. That's why she's a bit skeptical of the effort. "I want to see what they're doing to our community because we live in a community where we are not recognized until it's time to vote," she said.

There are bigger challenges as well. "We live right by the Goodyear plant and a lot of time, you see stuff in the air," she said. "You know what it is." Like many community members, she sees a connection between the area's industry and the health of residents. "I had lung cancer, I work in the yard a lot," she said. "My husband died of cancer. His brothers died of cancer."

Those are the sorts of deep-rooted challenges that may prove more challenging for the Complete Communities initiative to address than parks improvements and public art programs. 

"The pressing need is housing," said Keith Downey, president of the Kashmere Gardens Super Neighborhood. Downey has been pushing for change for years, from infrastructure upgrades to better schools and access to fresh produce. The neighborhood is already engaged, he said. 

"We have about 50 people come to our meetings so the community buy-in is there," he said, "we are ready for growth." 

When considering the first round of Complete Communities neighborhoods, Downey said some of the strongest outcomes were the action plans themselves, because they were guided by residents. "First you have to have a plan," he said. "Then you have to work toward that plan. It will not happen overnight."

Just to the north of Kashmere Gardens, Trinity Gardens' Super Neighborhood Vice President Ken Williams said he's keeping his eye on how the initiative unfolds in the neighborhood he grew up in.

"With each one of these designations, Complete Communities or what have you," he said, "I hope it means all the things the mayor was talking about. Does that bring new development? Supermarkets?" And, as he does with any government effort, he said he wonders about the timeline. "Are we talking five months or five years?"

For Turner, the success of the program relies largely on partnerships outside city hall. With funding and technical support from the Cities for Financial Empowerment Fund and Bloomberg Philanthropies, for example, the city was selected to create a financial empowerment center aimed at offering financial counseling to low-income residents. A one-time grant from the National Endowment for the Arts supported a residency artist program in three of the five pilot Complete Communities neighborhoods. The Home Builder Institute, 14-week training program put on by a national organization, was located in one of the five neighborhoods. These are some of the successes Turner cites that involved private philanthropy, nonprofits or government grants. 

But he acknowledged that working with private partners can come with limitations because of some of the expectations those partners can have. "We want to make sure our initiatives and those we are proposing are very much evidence-based," he said. "What's the expected return?" 

"You can’t get the projects completed if you don’t have the dollars to get them done," he told the crowd.

Some of the existing action plans' stated goals align with interests of city partners. One of the goals in the plan for Acres Homes, for example, was to bring a financial institution to the neighborhood. Turner said Thursday, "Several of the banks are looking at putting their branches inside these Complete Communities." And though Turner noted the addition of affordable housing units, the action plans call for hundreds of new units by 2023. Several of the plans call for more quality child care, improved schools and reduced crime. Other goals, like increased transit access and ridership, depend on the work of other agencies. Carrin Patman, chair of Metro's board joined Turner Thursday to ask for support in advance of the November bond election and promised plans for expanded service in the Complete Communities neighborhoods, including a circulator in Gulfton. 

"It's a very, very ambitious initiative," said Turner, "and it's a lot of different parts to it."

For the latest round of neighborhoods, those that already have community plans underway, the initiative will look for ways to support those. And in neighborhoods without plans, the effort will involve some six to nine months of community engagement. The city expects to see action plans for the second round of neighborhoods by March to May 2020.