Ever since I took office in 2016, I have said that I did not want to be the mayor of two cities — the haves and the have-nots.
Early in my first term, I engaged in a spirited debate with Washington DC policy makers who advocated for moving low-income families, many of whom are families of color, into “opportunity neighborhoods” — neighborhoods with middle-and upper-income residents and more access to jobs, schools and health care. I support these efforts but not in a vacuum. They must be coupled with investment in long under-served neighborhoods as well.
Put another way, why should we tell our young people that they have to leave the communities where they grew up with their families, went to school, worshipped and made friends in order to succeed in the world? Instead of telling them to move to neighborhoods with more opportunity, why not bring opportunity to their neighborhoods?
This is not theoretical for me — it’s the reality of my experience. I grew up in Acres Homes, then a poor, segregated community on the outskirts of Houston. I still live in Acres Homes today.
On April 17, 2017, I announced the Complete Communities initiative. Complete Communities is about improving neighborhoods so that all of Houston’s residents and business owners can have access to quality services and amenities. It’s about working closely with the residents of communities that haven’t reached their full potential, understanding their strengths and opportunities and collaborating with partners across the city to strengthen them. While working to improve these communities, we must also work to ensure existing residents can stay in homes that remain affordable.
The City is now working in a concentrated manner with stakeholders in each area and partners across Houston to create more complete neighborhoods with enhanced access to quality affordable homes, jobs, well-maintained parks and greenspace, improved streets and sidewalks, grocery stores and other retail, good schools and transit options. The work in these neighborhoods will help develop solutions that are transferable to other communities in Houston — creating One Complete City.
Complete Communities started with five neighborhoods across the city and two years later we added five more. The ten neighborhoods are:
- Acres Homes
- Fort Bend Houston
- Kashmere Gardens
- Magnolia Park-Manchester
- Near Northside
- Second Ward
- Third Ward
Each of the ten Complete Communities are diverse neighborhoods with various conditions and individual challenges. No two communities are the same. Common elements between them are that they are all historically under-resourced, each has a base level of community involvement and support, they have diverse populations and each has its own unique look and feel.
And the city is not coming into these neighborhoods telling the residents what it is going to do. Quite the opposite. The City engages residents in each neighborhood to understand their vision and partner with the local community to support their efforts to achieve their goals. The first step begins with the public engagement process to guide community residents, business owners, non-profits, faith-based organizations, schools and others to develop an Action Plan identifying gaps and opportunities in each area.
If planning efforts are already underway or completed, the City will look for ways to support implementation of those plans. For areas without previous neighborhood planning efforts, the City will conduct a six to nine-month community engagement process to help local residents and businesses identify improvements to strengthen these communities. After completing these plans, City departments and outside partners will then work together to implement strategies identified in the Action Plan that will lead each area to transformational change.
More than 3,500 residents participated in 14 community engagement meetings to develop Community Actions Plans for the first five neighborhoods in the program.
We are beginning the neighborhood meetings for the five communities just added to the initiative this summer. If you live in one of the new communities, I urge you to attend your neighborhood meeting to share the vision of what you want to see in your community. Your input and plans will help define what makes your neighborhood a Complete Community.
The next neighborhood meeting will be in Fort Bend-Houston at 8 p.m. October 29 at Willowridge High School.
Although they have been underserved for decades, these ten neighborhoods represent some of the best of Houston — they’re diverse, hard-working, and proud. Complete Communities will ensure that all ships rise with the tide, so that all of our communities are part of the fabric that makes Houston one complete city.