From the Rector: (Re)Directing Growth in Houston

As St. Stephen’s is engaging in discernment around our mission and the space we need to exercise it, our neighborhood is thrust into a similar exercise.  The City of Houston, through the Mayor’s office of Economic Development, had proposed annexing parts of the Montrose into the Midtown Tax Increment Redevelopment Zone (TIRZ).  There are currently 24 such zones in the city.

A TIRZ is a development tool which allows a tax increment, drawn from a defined area of the city, to be utilized by that area for the development of that area.  Monies from TIRZs are used to develop roads, parks, affordable housing, and other enhancements recommended by an appointed 9 member board and approved by the City Council. The City Council must approve the priorities of a TIRZ each year.  The State of Texas limits the amount of tax revenue which can be utilized for TIRZs.  Bonds can be issued by TIRZs, as well. The Midtown TIRZ, the Uptown TIRZ, and others have driven substantial economic growth in the city.  They have also been used to avoid the tax cap which is imposed by city charter.

The proposal to annex Montrose into the Midtown TIRZ was stopped by Councilmembers Ellen Cohen and David Robinson so that the citizens of Montrose could be part of the decision making process.  At issue is the direction of development in Montrose, the equity of tax policy in the city, and political control of the process.

Last Saturday a public meeting was held at St. Stephen’s to present the facts about a Montrose TIRZ as they are known at present and to solicit citizen volunteers to help with the analysis.  The decision will be made in June/early July.  The current proposal would include St. Stephen’s property in the TIRZ.

One of the unique gifts that houses of faith bring to the table in such conversations is an eye for the common good.  The development and redevelopment of our city is a spiritual issue as much as it is an economical and political one.  Who gets to live in a neighborhood?  Is there work for people?  Is their green space for refreshment that is accessible to all?  What about the poor, the old, the very young, our most vulnerable citizens?

By engaging in these civic conversations in a civil way, people of faith model compassion, vision, and respect.  These qualities are often lacking in our social media engagements and media.  Faith invites our presence and input.  We don’t control the results.