By Chris Rudisill
March 19, 2021
Stories of Houston’s Third Ward and Charlotte’s Historic West End read nearly identical. Rapid development and gentrification are common in nearly every conversation about the historically Black neighborhoods.
Even their histories with mass transit, and the development that typically comes along with it, have been interestingly similar. By the mid-1980s, both Charlotte and Houston leaders were grappling with strategies to address growing population needs and expanding development.
In 1984, Charlotte Planning Commission recommended a light rail connecting Uptown and the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Funds for a feasibility study were dropped however due to lack of city council support. Houston’s path also met early hurdles when voters rejected a 1983 rail plan by referendum.
Ground was broken on the projects in 2001 for Houston and subsequently in 2005 for Charlotte. Now, as there are plans for Charlotte’s CityLynx Gold Line streetcar and expansion of Houston’s METROrail, the two historically Black neighborhoods continue to grapple with added development along transit lines and neighborhoods struggle with how to ensure affordable housing for their residents while preserving their important history.
Close to downtown (or in Charlotte terminology “Uptown”), the areas have already attracted townhome developers, increasing average home prices. According to a 2018 report by Rice University’s Kinder Institute for Urban Research, median home values in Houston’s Third Ward increased 176 percent between 2000 and 2013.
Some plans are seeking to curb that lack of affordability. Federally-funded, city-administered down payment assistance programs, coupled with the city’s Land Assemblage Redevelopment Authority that took vacant tax delinquent property and sold it cheap to developers who agreed to produce homes at affordable price points, have been part of the solution, according to Leah Beinkovitz with the Kinder Institute. Low-income housing tax credits have also been put to use and community-based development groups have been dedicated to providing low-income housing.