(Orange, Texas)

October 26, 2013

Low income housing project raises concerns for residents

Dawn Burleigh
The Orange Leader

ORANGE — Emmitt Milligan is worried.  He’s lived at the corner of Sikes Road and Martin Luther King Jr. Drive for going on 30 years and enjoyed a tranquil life.

From his front yard the 79-year-old has a serene view of not only a wooded lot, but also of churchgoers across the street and school children going to and from class each day.

But, that’s likely to change if a proposed low income housing project moves in directly across the street.

“I don’t like it at all,” Milligan said. “I’m worried about crime going up; all the criminals will be moving in.”

Milligan is not alone. Residents in his modest neighborhood, and those in the adjacent more affluent Hillbrook Estates are protesting the proposed re-location of Orange’s Arthur Robinson II low-income housing development from the city’s east side to the west side.

Milligan plans to attend a public hearing Tuesday scheduled by the city’s housing authority to protest what he sees as the ruination of the neighborhood.

“Everybody around here don’t really want it,” he said.

Since the project was first proposed earlier this year, Milligan and his neighbors have voiced their displeasure, both because of the presumed increase in crime, and the fear of decreased property values.

Orange Mayor Jimmy Sims hopes as many people as possible attend the public hearing so the Housing Authority will have opportunity to calm some of those fears.

“People are going to be shocked that it’s not as bad as they think,” Sims said. “People cannot assume the crime rate is just going to go up.”

Its not a given that the crime rate will go up. It depends on which residents are moved to the new location at the corner of Sikes and MLK, directly adjacent to Community Christian Church and School, Cliff Hargrave, a detective captain with the Orange Police Department said in a telephone conversation Wednesday.

“It depends on who they move over there,” Hargrave said. “The projects are really good about evicting people causing problems. The actual housing project is not as busy as they used to be.”

According to Hargrave, most of the calls Orange Police respond to in the area come from nearby houses, many of which are rental-assistance.

From Jan. 1 to Oct. 23, the department has had 349 calls to the city’s grid area around Arthur Robinson, one of sixty grids within the city.

Most of those calls are of a more minor nature, such as disturbances and suspicious activity, a report generated by the Orange Police Department indicated.

Eddie Ash is not convinced.

The 66-year-old lives with his wife, Linda, in an upscale brick home on Briarhill Street, across the street from the proposed re-location of the 70 units at Arthur Robinson.

All of the apartments in the new complex will be rental assistance, built on property already owned by the Housing Authority.

“We are against it; we used to have a nice neighborhood,” Ash said.

Though it could be a coincidence, Ash said the area had already experienced an increase in thefts since Pine Hollow Apartments were built about 15 years ago.

“Since then we’ve had break-ins. Now I am concerned we will have even more,” Ash said.

He’s just as worried that his brick home most recently appraised at $135,000, will decrease in value if the apartments go in as expected.

Orange County Chief Appraiser Mike Cedars said it is too soon to tell what effect the re-location would have on nearby property values.

Typically, he said, when there has been a change in a neighborhood, such as the addition of low income apartments, the appraisal district looks at homes sales.

“We look at sales in that neighborhood and we can tell if something has affected it,” Cedars said.

The fact that the proposed re-location would be across the street from the neighborhood, and possibly built behind a barrier of trees, would not impact the area as negatively, Cedars said.

He does, however, expect to see an increase in the number of area residents appealing their valuations if the apartments are constructed at the site.

“I have no doubt in our appeal process. Some of the owners may want to show up and appeal the value of their homes, but until we have a sales record to go on, we really won’t know the effect,” Cedars said.

While residents from several nearby neighborhoods have voiced concerns, perhaps none have been heard louder than those in Hillbrook Estates, an affluent area  nearly across the street from the proposed site.

According to Cedars, the average appraised value of the Hillbrook homes is around $200,000.

On some of the streets in the area neighborhoods, there are already for sale signs posted in front yards.

Selling those homes could prove more difficult if the new low-income apartments are built at the proposed site, Hughie Allen, president of the Orange County Board of Realtors, said Wednesday.

“It might affect in some ways; people may not move in, and may not buy,” Allen said. “You would probably have to work a little harder.”

Residential neighbors aren’t the only ones that would be impacted by the re-location.

On the same side of the road, and in close proximity, three churches exist.

Among them is Community Christian Church, which not only has worship services, but also a school for students kindergarten through 12th grade.

Pastor Daniel Rose declined to comment other than to say the church was there to bless the community.

The site was not the first choice.

Housing Authority Commissioners have stated in previous public hearings that they initially wanted to rebuild where Arthur Robinson currently sits, but that location was denied after a Fair Housing Advocacy group rejected the proposal.

In a letter addressed to Orange City Manager Shawn Oubre, from Relman, Dane & Colfax, attorneys representing the Fair Housing Group were concerned that subsidized housing in Orange County was overly segregated. Arthur Robinson, the attorneys said under threat of legal action, should be built in an area other than the existing site.

Arthur Robinson is to be funded from $17.5 million in Hurricane Ike Round II recovery money. The hurricane funds will help pay for the re-location of not only Arthur Robinson, but also other subsidized housing, Velma Jeter and Pine Grove, both of which are to be rebuilt at their same location.