Month: May 2018

Houston to require firms to give more to get tax breaks

Houston to require firms to give more to get tax breaks

Associated Press

HOUSTON (AP) – Houston has approved new rules outlining additional community benefits companies seeking tax breaks for development projects will need to provide in order to get financial incentives from the city.

The new benefits – including improved training and affordable housing for the local workforce – are geared in part toward helping development in economically challenged communities.

The discussion in Houston over its tax abatement program is similar to others being held in other cities around the country over how communities can get the most from programs that offer tax breaks to spur economic development.

In 2016, voters in Detroit passed an ordinance aimed at making sure developers get input from community members on benefits local residents would like to receive from companies in exchange for tax breaks.

Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Fresh from Hurricane Harvey’s flooding, Houston starts to build anew — in the flood plain

The site of a future housing development in Houston. (Ilana Panich-Linsman/For The Washington Post)

HOUSTON — There was a golf course across from the house on Kemp Forest Drive that Andrew Taylor recently bought with his girlfriend. Hilly and dotted with ponds, Pine Crest Country Club was shabby around the edges, but in this city of floods and footloose building rules, it was a welcome sponge for the seasonal rains.

Now Taylor is watching work crews cement over the former fairways for homes — 900 of them — marking the first new residential development to rise in a flood plain since Hurricane Harvey swept through this city late last summer. Along with the construction comes anxiety, not only along Kemp Forest Drive, but also across the nation’s fourth-largest city, a flat expanse of tree-lined neighborhoods and towering urban enclaves that is always one major storm away from inundation.

“We had some questions about how we would fare flood-wise,” said Taylor, who is 32 and works in an escape room, a real-life game in which groups solve puzzles to leave the locked space. “But this has never really flooded before, so we feel pretty safe. And we’re hopeful it might raise our property values.” Houston is building again, gingerly.

A city chastened by disastrous flooding just months ago is trying to balance the need for new construction in a region short of housing with the civic fear that Houston is returning to its freewheeling ways.

The construction in northwest Houston, which serves as something of a post-Harvey starting gun, is being built to new, stricter standards. Planners say those rules reflect both the local government’s commitment to avoid repeating mistakes and new federal weather predictions that anticipate even more severe periods of rain here for decades to come. In the short term, forecasters say this year’s hurricane season, which begins June 1, could be even worse than last year’s.

Workers lay bricks at the site of a housing development in Houston on May 4. How best to add new homes to the flood-prone city after Hurricane Harvey has generated significant debate. (Ilana Panich-Linsman/For The Washington Post)

As planners take the new cautious spirit and future weather into account, Houston officials are seeking more flexibility from the federal government over how billions of dollars in emergency funds can be used to empty out or retool residential areas that have flooded repeatedly.

“What are we going to do in these neighborhoods that people just don’t want to leave?” said Stephen Costello, Houston’s chief resilience officer, whose task is to balance development and flood protection as the city recovers.

Despite its size, Houston has never had zoning regulations and, despite its flood-prone topography, it added flood-protection standards to building codes just a little more than two decades ago.

The need to build even in flood-susceptible areas is the result of the region’s projected growth rate. Under even modest population forecasts, the Houston metro area is expecting to add 4 million residents — a two-thirds increase — in the next three decades. The housing stock, even before the storm, was struggling to keep up.

In late August, when slow-moving Hurricane Harvey dumped more than four feet of rain across much of Southeast Texas, all 22 of the Bayou City’s bayous flooded. The waters left more than 65 people dead and caused an estimated $120 billion in damage.

The debris piles are gone. But thousands of people remain in temporary housing, and a school district that had nearly 300 campuses damaged by floodwaters is still improvising to get children who are accustomed to neighborhood schools to be comfortable in more-distant classrooms.

The ubiquitous billboards and radio ads for real estate speculators — offering cash for flood-damaged homes — have helped keep the storm and its aftermath at the center of Houston’s civic culture.

Andrew Taylor inside the home he recently purchased, which is across the street from the first housing development approved after Hurricane Harvey. (Ilana Panich-Linsman/For The Washington Post)

“Harvey was a wake-up call,” Mayor Sylvester Turner (D) told a packed downtown ballroom of Houston’s business, political and civic leaders during his annual State of the City address this month. “And we’re still not where we need to be.”

Turner has been the driving force behind new building regulations that take into effect the revised weather predictions, which come as little surprise to people here. As the mayor told his audience of mostly longtime Houstonians, “We have had three 500-year storms in the last three years.”

A 500-year storm is one that has a .02 percent chance of occurring in any given year. That something is shifting in Houston’s weather has been obvious to those paid to think about how the city should redevelop and grow in Harvey’s aftermath.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration signaled recently that it is revising the rainfall totals for Houston that once defined a 100-year storm, one that has a 1 percent chance of occurring in any given year. In a draft analysis that takes into account Houston’s rainfall in recent decades, NOAA has added three to five inches of rain to what constitutes a 100-year storm, meaning that daily rainfall in such cases would equal 15 to 18 inches.

That revision, still to receive final approval, extends the threat of major flooding to many more neighborhoods.

“So much of Houston was built before we knew what we know today,” said Carol Ellinger Haddock, Houston’s director of public works. “And the weather is changing.”

Haddock has been with the department for 13 years and, at this moment in her career, has subscribed to the “challenge provides opportunity” ethos as she helps chart what the city will look like decades from now. She highlighted one local characteristic that makes rethinking the city even more complex, a trait she calls the desire “to age in place.”

“I don’t know if this is a Houston thing or a Texas thing, but people here want to live out their lives in the house they grew up in,” said Haddock, who lives in a 50-year-old home she has no intention of leaving.

Homes that nearly flooded in Houston look out over the site of a new development. Owners are unsure what effect the development will have on their neighborhood’s propensity to flood. (Ilana Panich-Linsman/For The Washington Post)

But many of these old family homes are particularly prone to flooding, even those built to the pre-Harvey regulations that required houses to sit one foot above the 100-year flood level. City planners would like to ensure that, as those homes are renovated after flood damage, they meet stricter standards. Or, barring that, that they are not lived in again.

To achieve those goals, Houston officials are seeking changes to federal emergency funding rules. About 2 percent of Houston’s housing stock sits in areas that flood repeatedly, and city planners would like to use federal money to buy out, tear down and rebuild those homes as part of their “resiliency” program.

As the regulations stand, any home bought out with federal money cannot be rebuilt. The lot must remain green space. The problem for city planners, not to mention neighbors, is that the policy creates checkerboard neighborhoods where houses stand next to vacant lots along once well-planned streets. Property values for those who remain tend to plummet, as does the tax base.

Haddock and Costello are working with federal and state agencies to have that rule waived. They instead would like to allow the federal money to be used to tear down and rebuild houses — perhaps as many as 10,000 in Houston — to new standards.

At Turner’s urging, a narrowly divided city council approved in April new flood plain building regulations. Now, any new construction in flood zones must be two feet above the 500-year storm level, rules that a public works department analysis found would have spared 84 percent of the homes flooded by Harvey.

Builders and their council advocates argued that the new rules were an overreach, a too-severe reaction to the hurricane. Environmental groups argued that any new home construction in Houston’s flood plain, especially on land not previously developed, is dangerous and another example of the city ignoring history.

“Some will see these changes as too aggressive, and to others they will not seem aggressive enough,” Turner said in his State of the City address.

Rudimentary streets, street signs and unfinished sidewalks mark an upcoming neighborhood in Houston. (Ilana Panich-Linsman/For The Washington Post)

Within days of adopting the new building regulations, the same council voted unanimously to endorse the development known as Spring Brook Village on the nearly 200-acre Pine Crest Country Club grounds. New building on an open tract of land in the flood plain is the kind of development that environmentalists here had never wanted to see again.

“The vote reflected the old way of thinking,” said Jim Blackburn, an environmental lawyer and founder of the Bayou City Initiative, formed after Harvey to help influence decisions about the city’s growth. “It did not take into consideration the lessons we have come to learn about flood-prone areas.”

But city planners defend the decision. For one, the development had been approved in principle before Harvey, which put any new construction on hold. To restart it, the developers had to agree to build the homes to the new, stricter standards.

The council also approved the creation of a municipal utilities district around the development. That allows the city to issue bonds and reimburse the developer for 70 percent of the road and sewer costs. In exchange, the developer will build fewer houses on the site with far fewer costs to cover.

“It is not better simply to build a higher version of what we did in the past,” Blackburn said. “Yes, that’s a step. But that does not mean it is the kind of building the city taxpayers should subsidize.”

Costello, the resilience officer, said he understands the argument. But, he said, it ignores the reality that Houston will continue to attract newcomers, making new construction inevitable.

“The city is going to continue to grow, and we just have to figure out how to regulate that,” he said.

The sales office for Spring Brook Village will open soon, even though there are no signs of the houses. The development has rudimentary roads, a line of brick pillars that will hold a fence, and street signs for Presentation Lane and Teague Drive. Homes will run in the $300,000 range.

“We’re watching it very closely,” said Buddy Hancock, a retired technical writer who has lived in the adjacent neighborhood of Willow Walk for three years.

His house and others around it watched Harvey’s floodwaters creep up over the sidewalk and touch front lawns. But no homes flooded. How the new construction next door will influence rising water is a concern.

“I can’t imagine it can handle water the way the golf course did,” Hancock said. “On this side of it, in particular, I worry we’ll have more water than we ever did before.”

From the window of a home across the street, a view of the site of a future housing development in Houston. (Ilana Panich-Linsman/For The Washington Post)

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Oasis at Ella affordable housing apartments break ground in north Houston – Houston Business Journal

Oasis at Ella affordable housing apartments break ground in north Houston – Houston Business Journal

A new apartment project offering mostly affordable housing units has broken ground on a nine-acre tract near Ella and Rankin Road in north Houston near Greenspoint, according to filed city permits and brokers involved in the deal.

The Oasis at Ella was also approved for a low income housing tax credit from the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs. Documents show $1.5 million in credits were requested. The developers behind the Oasis at Ella LLC filed building permits valued at $24.7 million with the city of Houston for the six-building complex, which includes a club house.

Fred Ghabriel, a partner at Houston-based Bejjani & Associates Inc., represented the seller, Northborough Wiese Joint Venture. Representatives for the buyer were listed as Andrew Armour on the project’s low-income housing tax credit application. Armour declined to comment.

A page detailing the development team members lists Houston-based Canterbury Development LLC as the developer, and another document within the application dated June 15, 2017, showed the ownership structure for the Oasis at Ella, with 99.99 percent owned by RBC Capital Markets Tax Credit Equity Group and the other .01 percent owned by Ella Apartments LLC. Of that .01 percent, 100 percent is owned by I.E.G. Interests Inc. Documents filed with the Texas comptroller show Canterbury Development’s registered agent name as I.E.G. Interests Inc.

Houston-based Element Architects designed the 135-unit project, with 102 affordable and 33 market rate apartments. The location is outside of both the 100- and 500-year floodplain, whereas 72 percent of all multifamily units in the Greenspoint area are located inside the floodplain or floodway, the application states.

In 2017, the Houston Housing Authority broke ground on its first new affordable housing project in a decade. The year prior, Mayor Sylvester Turner Mayor Sylvester Turner blocked a proposed affordable housing development at 2640 Fountain View Dr., located in a so-called “high opportunity” neighborhood in the Briargrove area near the Galleria. The move prompted a federal Housing and Urban Development investigation, which found in 2017 that Houston had violated the Civil Right Act prohibiting discrimination in housing.

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Tearful Reunion: Houston Woman Reunites With Biological Mother

HOUSTON, TX — For 17 years, it pained Katherine Beal-Roblin to walk down the aisle of a store that had Mother’s Day cards on display. After her mother died unexpectedly in 2000, Beal-Roblin always tried to avoid the greeting card aisle every May.

But last week she bought one and mailed it off, and the Houston native couldn’t have been happier to send it. The recipient was an 81-year-old lady in Los Alamos, California — the person who actually gave birth to Beal-Roblin six decades ago.

The story begins in Detroit, where Elizabeth Frasier became pregnant with Katherine. Frasier’s father was a bigwig in the Detroit auto industry, and his daughter planned on having the child out of wedlock, which was wickedly taboo in the age of the baby boom.

Her father kicked her out of the house, and Elizabeth went to live with her sister. She gave birth to a baby girl, but caring for a newborn was more than she could handle. The realization hit hardest when she arrived home one day to find her baby with scalding burn marks on her necks. The babysitter had warmed up the infant’s milk too hot, causing the burns, and even more pain soon to follow for Elizabeth.

The young mother made one of the toughest decisions of her life — she signed over papers in a courtroom to give up her child.

Little Katherine was placed in an orphanage in Mount Clemens, Michigan, at just 7-and-a-half months old. In what normally would’ve been a lengthy process to get adopted, Katherine got fast-tracked because of an outbreak of measles at the orphanage. At 8 months, she was adopted and living in a loving home.

Photo of Katherine at 8 months when she was adopted – 1 months after Betty gave her for adoption. When Betty saw this photo she immediately recognized her.

Her new parents showered her with love, trips, education and guidance. The other local kids used to gaze in awe at the amount of possessions Katherine had. Her parents were open about Katherine getting adopted, but her mother had just one request.

"She was insecure about me finding my biological mother. She wanted me to wait until after she died before I found my biological mother," Beal-Roblin said. "I knew her name and I knew she was from the Detroit area. I knew only what my adopted mom told me."

Katherine’s adopted mom passed away suddenly, and unexpectedly, in October 2000.

Katherine (left) with her adoptive mom when Katherine was 22.

"I was devastated," she said. "I had to avoid the Mother’s Day card aisle."

Katherine began caring for her adopted father, who had already been diagnosed with dementia. He passed away in 2002.

Getting older, and with no iota of her biological family tree, Katherine yearned to know more about her family health history. Her husband submitted queries on adoption websites with a shred of hope there might be a connection. Somewhere, somehow and some way.

Nothing materialized.

Then they submitted a profile on 23andme.com, a website that takes saliva from an individual and traces the DNA and matches it with other members in the system. The first results that came back were a 10 percent match to a first cousin in Missouri. Katherine’s husband is an attorney, and he initiated the contact with Tom Kokorunda, an attorney in Kansas City.

When explained the situation and asked if he knew Elizabeth Frasier, Kokorunda said "That’s my Aunt Betty."

The irony in finding Kokorunda, or cousin Tom, was that he probably would have never signed up and made a profile on 23andme.com had his daughter not bought him a package.

With her cousin Tom (the tallest) who is the first relative she met on 23&Me. Tom made contact with Katherine’s mother.

Cousin Tom got the ball rolling on that family’s side. Though he hadn’t spoken to his Aunt Betty in 25 years, he made the call with Katherine’s 80-year-old biological mother to break the news and perhaps set up a phone conversation. But Katherine still has some doubts lingering.

"When you’re adopted, you have a fear of rejection," Katherine said. And to top it off, her biological mother was so emotional after getting the initial news from Tom that she couldn’t speak that night.

The next day, Katherine and Elizabeth finally spoke on the phone. Mother and daughter. Blood relatives who had six decades worth of questions for each other. They chatted away for two and a half hours. They could have gone longer had the two-hour time difference not been a hurdle.

"We wanted to talk and ask each other questions," Katherine said. "She had more for me. She wanted to know about my childhood and my adoptive parents. I assured her she couldn’t have given me to a more loving home. And she talked more of her life."

They stayed in touch, and Katherine made the voyage to Los Alamos, just north of Santa Barbara, to visit her biological mother and half-sister Paula for Thanksgiving. The build-up for the meeting was at high pitch.

"I had always hoped to have a relationship and find her," Katherine said. "It was beyond my wildest imagination I’d having another loving family."

The reception was tearful and joyous on the fall California evening. They spent a lot of time that holiday, and spent even more time this Easter, which fell just two days after Betty’s 81st birthday. The education has been as cool for Katherine, who says her mother is beautiful and healthy.

"I didn’t know she struggled seven months to keep me," Katherine said. "I respected that and what she went through."

Likewise, Elizabeth was thrilled to know the daughter she had to give up because of circumstances went to a loving family who brought her up and cared so much for her.

The mother and daughter share some of the same mannerisms and nuances that could only be shared by the same DNA.

They talk a couple of times by week, and Katherine has become quite the friend of her half-sister, Paula.

Katherine plans to call Elizabeth for Mother’s Day on Sunday. Not to just see if the gift she sent had arrived, but to say "Hi" to her mother in a newfound family.

Tom lives in Kansas and had not talked to Betty for 25 years. Soon after Katherine visited Betty, Tom also re-united wit her and with Paula (Katherine’s sister)
Paula and Katherine at Thanksgiving 2017 in California.

Top image: Katherine with her biological mother, Elizabeth, last Thanksgiving in California. (All photos and video courtesy of 23andme.com and Katherine Beal-Roblin)

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Mega Millions winning ticket sold at HEB in Houston

Mega Millions winning ticket sold at HEB in Houston

Someone who bought a Mega Millions ticket in Houston has won $4 million dollars as of last night’s drawing.

The $4 million winner of Texas Mega Millions Lottery Friday has not come forward according to Houston news sources.

The numbers were selected yesterday and according to the Texas Lottery website, the lucky ticket was purchased at an H-E-B in Houston.

The exact address is HEB #7133501 at Clear Lake City Blvd., Houston, TX 77059.

The numbers were 4,5,10,12,18 and 21 with megaplier 4.

HEB employees at the Clear Lake location have told news sources that they’ve had lots of customers checking their tickets while they buy their Cinco de Mayo supplies.

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Survey says: San Francisco is tops for real-estate pros

Survey says: San Francisco is tops for real-estate pros

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San Francisco, Seattle and San Jose are the best places in the nation to be a real-estate agent, according to a survey of data from Wallethub.com.

Analysts compared more than 170 U.S. cities across 18 key indicators of a healthy housing market, ranging from sales per agent to annual median wage for real-estate agents to housing-market health, in coming up with the ranking.

Finishing up the top five markets were two California communities, Fremont and Oakland. The rest of the top 10 was New York City, Santa Rosa (Calif.), Denver, Nashville and Vancouver.

Among highlights from the report:

• Salem, Ore., has the most homes sold in the past year per real-estate agent, 148.20, which is 21.6 times more than in Houston, the city with the fewest at 6.86.

• San Francisco has the highest median house price, $858,800, which is 20.9 times higher than in Detroit, the city with the lowest at $41,000.

• Honolulu and Pearl City, Hawaii, have the highest annual median wage for real-estate agents, $87,070, which is 3.6 times higher than in Laredo, Texas, the city with the lowest at $23,970.

• San Francisco, San Jose and Seattle listings have the fewest days on the market, 38, which is 4.3 times fewer than listings in Miami, the city with the most at 165.

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Kurt Reymers, a professor at Morrisville State College, said all agents need to accept that they are in an up-and-down business.

“Boom and bust is an inevitability of market capitalism,” he said. “As with any business that experiences high times and low times, being prepared for slowdowns by having reserve resources is essential for success.”

Tom Payton, coordinator of career and counseling services at Southern State Community College, had advice for those entering the business.

“Get more education beyond simply a real-estate license – business, marketing and communication classes are essential,” he said. “Plus, the focus on soft skills has been lacking in too many people. I have encountered Realtors who, though wonderful people, lacked the energy and sense of urgency.”

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