When I became mayor in 2016, I said I did not want to be the mayor of two cities – the haves, and the have nots.
As a lifelong resident of Acres Home, I have watched good people struggle through no fault of their own – simply because their neighborhoods, usually predominately minority and low income, were ignored or under-resourced for decades. Some policymakers want to move folks out of these communities into so-called “opportunity neighborhoods” – neighborhoods with middle-and upper-income residents and more access to jobs, schools and health care.
That’s all well and good, but why should we tell our young people that they must leave the communities where they grew up with their families, went to school, worshipped and made friends in order to succeed in the world? Instead of telling them to move to neighborhoods with more opportunity, why not bring opportunity to their neighborhoods?
That’s why I created the Complete Communities initiative. Complete Communities is about improving neighborhoods so that all of Houston’s residents and business owners can have access to quality services and amenities. It’s about working closely with the residents of communities that haven’t reached their full potential, understanding their strengths and opportunities and collaborating with partners across the city to strengthen them with enhanced access to quality affordable homes, jobs, well-maintained parks and greenspace, improved streets and sidewalks, grocery stores and other retail, good schools and transit options, while also working to ensure existing residents can stay in homes that remain affordable.
I value and treat our ten Complete Communities equally, but some in the media are trying to paint one—Sunnyside—as still being neglected and have tried to portray it negatively. This does a disservice to the residents of Sunnyside who are hardworking, God-fearing people from close-knit families, deeply rooted in their faith who are proud of this historic community and have worked to improve it over the years.
In Sunnyside, the Complete Communities planning effort began by summarizing existing neighborhood and citywide plans and conducting outreach and small group meetings with key leaders and stakeholders. Meetings were held with faith leaders, nonprofits, community-based organizations, business owners, and other civic, educational, and institutional leaders. Overall, 262 people were engaged in this process, which you can read about, as well as review Sunnyside’s draft Action Plan, on the City’s website at https://www.houstontx.gov/completecommunities/sunnyside/index.html.
In those planning sessions, Sunnyside stakeholders learned more about the City projects and programs that are underway or planned for their community.
Housing and Community Development
During my time as mayor, the City of Houston has invested more than $8 million to preserve and rehabilitate 81 existing homes in the Sunnyside community. We have also provided $712,516 in direct assistance to help 34 low- and moderate-income families and individuals achieve the dream of homeownership.
Through the Home Repair Program, 43 houses in Sunnyside have been repaired. Another 15 homes have been restored through our Disaster Recovery program. I also started expedited the “Blue Tarp” program to REMOVE blue tarps and repair storm-damaged roofs, many of which had been covered since Hurricane Ike. I knew we would not build a city of complete communities when so many of our citizens could not count on the roof over their heads to keep them dry in a storm.
The City also provided nearly $200,000 in funding to boost capacity for 10 critical nonprofits in the Sunnyside area that provide such essential services as:
- Transitional housing or services for individuals experiencing homelessness
- Health clinics for low- and moderate-income residents
- Housing and health services for people living with HIV/AIDS
- Job training and educational opportunities for adults
- Supportive services for adults living with disabilities
- Childcare and early childhood education
- Substance abuse recovery aid
To support renters and keep the Sunnyside area affordable for the people living there now, the City invested $4.2 million into rehabilitating Sunflower Terrace, a residential community that offers 160 affordable apartment homes and on-site educational services to residents.
Public Health & Welfare
When the COVID-19 pandemic began spreading in our community earlier this year, the Houston Health Department and its partners provided five COVID-19 mass testing sites in the Sunnyside area—Cullen Middle School, Houston Community College South, Mt. Hebron Baptist Church, Worthing High School and Caldwell Elementary School.
Sunnyside has a high CDC Social Vulnerability Index (SVI) score – 0.9446 on a scale of 0 to 1 with 1 being the highest level of vulnerability and zero the lowest. The CDC defines social vulnerability as the potential negative effects on communities caused by external stresses on human health, which include natural or human-caused disasters and disease outbreaks. Aware of how reducing social vulnerability can decrease decreasing both human suffering and economic loss, Houston Health has implemented several successful physical health and emotional well-being initiatives for young people. The Youth Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program and the Social Justice Learning Institute Urban Scholars Program, both at Attucks Middle School, as well as the My Brother’s Keeper initiative, are data-driven programs with quantifiable outcomes improving the lives of adolescents, teenagers and young adults.
New Sunnyside Multi-Service Center and Health Facility
My administration’s commitment to helping the next generation of Sunnyside homeowners prepare for present and future opportunities also means improving the built environment of Sunnyside so that Generation Z and beyond wants to inherit and live in the homes that their parents and grandparents worked so hard to buy and maintain. So, we are building a new bigger and better Sunnyside Multi-Service Center and Health Facility that will make the community proud.
The City purchased land and provided funding at 4410 Reed Road for a two-story, 60,000-square-foot building with its own health clinic and community park. The facility is currently in the final design phase, with construction expected to begin in the summer of 2021 with completion at the end of 2022. The new building will offer more parking and an updated space for families and community groups to gather. The $25 million project was created with close community collaboration.
I recently joined Houston Public Works in Sunnyside to launch my Street Rehabilitation Initiative, a citywide program designed to improve streets, curbs and gutters citywide. The work will focus on council districts and in Complete Community locations, including Sunnyside.
Houston Public Works has completed or started construction on more than $18 million of improvements to rehabilitate and reconstruct City street, drainage and utility infrastructure in the Sunnyside Complete Community during my time in office. These infrastructure improvements include:
- $12 million for thoroughfare and neighborhood street rehabilitation, including $4.4 million for Bellfort, Airport and Jutland through the new Mayor’s Street Rehabilitation Initiative and more than $1.5 million to replace the pavement on Sunbeam St east of Cullen;
- More than $1 million in other mobility enhancements addressing the needs and safety of all users including sidewalks, ADA ramps and traffic calming;
- More than $4 million in drainage system rehabilitation, including a current $2.3 million project to restore the roadside ditches and culverts in the neighborhood between Sunnyside Park and Scott Street
- More than $1 million to replace aging water lines along Holmes Road and the area south of Worthing High School
Proposed Drainage Improvement Project
Another possible massive investment into Sunnyside is a proposed $111 million drainage improvement project that will replace and improve existing storm sewers and construct larger storm sewer trunk lines throughout the neighborhood. The project could reduce ponding on 12 miles of street, reducing flood risk to approximately 3,460 properties. Public Works is submitting its proposal for the project next month to the Texas General Land Office. This is a competitive funding process that is open now for public comment. Please add your voice to the conversation by getting more information here. https://hpwgeo-ms.houstontx.gov/drainageStudy/05_sunnyside.pdf
Sunnyside Solar Energy Farm
Something else that has tremendous possibility to transform Sunnyside is the development of the nation’s largest urban solar energy farm in the heart of the neighborhood. The City coordinated with C40 and the Reinventing Cities initiative to host a competition for a plan to redevelop the 240-acre landfill site bordered by Bellfort on the North, Reed Road on the South, east of 288 and west of Comal. Sunnyside Energy was selected in 2019 and its plans include offering job training programs and supplying the Sunnyside community with the amount of power equivalent to what is typically used by about 10,000 Houston homes over the course of a year. It’s important to me that all of Houston has access to climate-friendly energy sources and green jobs and that the steps we take to improve the environment can benefit all residents.
Parks and Greenways
Going green is also about enjoying more greenspaces. Last year, I created the 50/50 Park Partners program to partner with the Houston Parks Board and Greater Houston Partnership to combine public and private resources to revitalize neighborhood parks. To lay the foundation for this program, the Houston Parks and Recreation Department assessed the maintenance and improvement needs of the city’s 170 neighborhood-scale parks. More than $2 million in capital investments are needed for four parks within Sunnyside and Cloverland- E.P. Hill Park, Grimes Park, Bricker Park, and Sunflower Park. While we’re raising funds for those upgrades through the 50/50 park program, HPARD has scheduled safety work to begin soon. Already, the City and Parks Board have completed two miles of trail and improvements along Sims Bayou between Scott Street and MLK Blvd. Work is continuing that will extend the trail to Hwy 288.
New Fire Station 55 Replacement
Finally, construction was completed this year on a new Fire Station 55 replacement. It is equipped with five large apparatus bays, support areas for 16 firefighters, EMT’s, Fire Chief and Captain’s quarters. The new project was placed on a 3.987 acre newly acquired site just south of Old Fire Station 55 on Cullen Boulevard, which was purchased for $757,000.
These projects are just some of the initiatives that my administration has worked on with input from residents of Sunnyside. But our work together is not finished
As mayor, I will not be satisfied until Sunnyside has a fair share of this city’s resources and projects to help it thrive. This community has faced challenges over the years and remains resilient despite those difficulties. The residents persevere and maintain their “Sunnyside Pride”- a vibrant culture built on modest homes, welcoming churches, and committed businesses that succeed despite the economic changes and demographic shifts in recent years.
The complete story of Sunnyside has not been told. We are writing new chapters every day and defining for ourselves what Sunnyside is and will become.