New housing complex brings opportunity, apprehensions
While the University of Houston has plenty of dormitories available and renovations are planned to improve living facilities, privately-owned off-campus student housing complexes hope to provide another option for students looking for the independence of living away from campus without sacrificing convenience.
One such facility is The Icon housing and retail development owned by New Quest Properties, which is set to be built on the corner of Scott and Elgin.
“It will be the premier product,” said Steve Helm, one of the project developers for Tier One Commercial Real Estate, the property developer of the building.
According to the Virtual Builders Exchange, the developers said “the project is ideally located for students, such as upper classmen or graduate students who want to live near, but not on, campus.”
Helm said that when compared to other similar facilities like The Vue on MacGregor and the yet-to-be-built Gateway on Cullen, The Icon separates itself by offering around 400 beds upon completion with 7,800 square feet of retail space.
Helm said the complex will be strictly for student residents, so the retailers will be selected based on solely their needs. Helm said the types of businesses expected to populate the complex were mainly food service.
“Since the housing is in the community, I think the retail portion should cater to both the residents (inside Third Ward and in the apartment),” said Trinell Davis, the volunteer coordinator at Change Happens, a non-profit operating in the Third Ward.
While the property is turning out to be a viable housing option for current and future university students — it is set to open in time for the fall 2017 semester — its presence could pose issues for Third Ward residents.
“Typically, when these kind of projects go up, the values of the properties around it typically go up,” said Elwyn Lee, Vice President of Community Relations at UH. “Then they raise your taxes, and if they raise the taxes, they have to raise the rents.”
Davis has witnessed the effects of raised property taxes due to the number of townhomes and apartment complexes being constructed in Third Ward as lower income residents have been pushed from their homes.
“Fixing up poor neighborhoods is good, but it usually means that poor residents can’t afford to live there anymore and have to move,” Davis said.
Helm noted that while the retail center that previously resided on the corner of Scott and Elgin as well as nine houses have been purchased to make space for construction, he does not believe residents will be displaced.
“There’s plenty of other housing opportunities in the area,” Helm said.
In an interview with Houston Public Media, however, resident DaMarcus Goods learned he would need to leave the home he lives in with his mother in order to make way for parking for The Icon facility, which will be a part of a later phase of construction.
“That’s probably the only word I can think of — shocked,” Goods said in the interview with HPM. “A little bit upset.”
Information and logistics technology freshman Zach Quarles also had apprehensions when he first heard about The Icon.
“That doesn’t sound too safe,” Quarles said of the location along Scott Street. “It’s a small community; we’ll see what happens.”
Davis recognizes the drawbacks of these type of developments in impoverished communities similar to the Third Ward, but sees the possibilities new college residents could bring.
“I feel that the student housing facility can benefit the community because it will add young college students to the area who will spend money in that community,” Davis said. “This will support the small businesses in the area as well as boost the economics of the area.”
University officials are on board with the project and believe it will bring much needed development to the area. However, if history repeats itself, the developments could come at a cost for Third Ward natives.
“Some of the economic changes are favorable because many of the changes create positive economic growth,” Davis said. “It does make the neighborhood nicer, and many times the crime decreases, but it doesn’t get rid of poverty; it just displaces it.”