Community residents demand greater say in development plans for Houston's Ion tech hub

Houston, Texas – Community backlash over gentrification reveals fault lines in the construction of Houston's upcoming tech hub.

The Ion tech hub is currently being developed in the heart of Houston's Third Ward, a historically Black neighborhood.
The Ion tech hub is currently being developed in the heart of Houston's Third Ward, a historically Black neighborhood.  © Screenshot/Facebook/The Ion Houston

Houston is poised to open its Ion tech hub in the heart of the Third Ward, a historically Black neighborhood that forms the epicenter of the city's African-American community life. The district's proximity to Downtown and the Medical Center is making it increasingly attractive to developers.

The Ion proposes to create a co-working and innovation center for investors, entrepreneurs, academics, startups, and community members, but many residents are afraid the project will further displace the neighborhood's long-term residents.

Rice University, owner of The Ion building, has proposed several measures to combat fears of gentrification in the area, including funding to support Black and Latinx startups and construct affordable housing units in the neighborhood.

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But not all residents are happy with the provisions afforded in the community benefits agreement (CBA).

Community activists demand a greater voice

The Houston Coalition for Equitable Development without Displacement has proposed its own community benefits agreement.
The Houston Coalition for Equitable Development without Displacement has proposed its own community benefits agreement.  © Screenshot/Facebook/Houston Coalition for Equitable Development without Displacement

According to the Houston Chronicle, representatives of the Houston Coalition for Equitable Development without Displacement (HCEDD) and other activists said Rice University's working group did not adequately consult the community when developing its agenda.

The HCEDD coalition of local activist and community groups has unsuccessfully sought to establish its own CBA with Rice Management Co., including a more encompassing affordable housing plan, sponsorship of Juneteenth and Kwanzaa celebrations, and funds for preservation of historic sites in the area.

HCEDD slammed Rice Management Co. for reaching a community benefits agreement without the actual community, arguing that the terms of the CBA should be decided with "those who are and who will be disproportionately impacted," not with the local government.

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"After the advisory circle finished making recommendations, they knowingly and incorrectly called these recommendations a Community Benefits Agreement to manipulate the general public into supporting the disingenuous effort, and gain unaccountable control over the drafting process, thereby attempting to stop HCEDD from attaining a research-based and academically sound CBA," an HCEDD statement said.

Nevertheless, the university group is proceeding with an agreement with the City of Houston instead. A Rice Management Co. representative explained, "The scope of this project is going to have a citywide benefit, and so we believe that the city’s in the best position to negotiate what those benefits should be for the city."

Currently, Rice's proposed CBA with the City does not outline its oversight measures or details of community member inclusion on its advisory council.

Cover photo: Screenshot/Facebook/Houston Coalition for Equitable Development without Displacement

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