ABOVE: Houston City Council Member Tiffany Thomas (District F)
There have been a myriad of misleading reports and accusations lobbed at one of the female African American city councilmembers in the City of Houston that has raised eyebrows.
Council Member Tiffany Thomas (District F) has served as the chair of the City of Houston’s Housing and Community Affairs committee after being elected in 2019 to present. She is also a leader in the areas of affordable housing, community development, community research, and cultural heritage & preservation, in her current role as Program Coordinator and Assistant Professor of Community Development at Prairie View A&M University.
In line with what she has always done since holding her first meeting as chair of the Housing and Community Affairs committee in 2020, Council Member Thomas sought to hold an important public hearing on January 30th, so that her fellow city council colleagues, as well as impacted Houston residents and businesses would have time and an opportunity to review several proposed multi-family housing projects that the City of Houston was considering voting on soon.
Seemingly, without warning, Council Member Thomas received the news that her scheduled public hearing was being scrapped by Houston’s new mayor, John Whitmire, because he did not want any council committee meetings held until he officially makes council committee appointments of his own. Because Council Member Thomas believed that no public hearing would be held before these multi-family housing projects came up for a vote on February 7th, she released a statement clarifying her actions while encouraging people to get involved.
The statement, that was sent to the Forward Times on January 30th, stated:
As the former chair of the city’s Housing and Community Affairs committee for the last four years, a National League of Cities’ Community and Economic Development Committee member, an assistant professor of community development at a Historically Black College and University, and the 2023 Community Development Educator of the Year Recipient, one can imagine my deep commitment to this work – with or without a title.
I am also acutely aware of the depleted housing legacy in Houston, the ‘Not-In-My-Backyard’ campaigns, and the limited knowledge the general public has about how the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit Program works in our city and our role.
Tax credit applications must go through a rigorous and transparent public hearing process so that Super Neighborhoods, civic clubs, real estate developers, and council members have adequate time to have their voices heard ahead of a final vote by the full council.
At the current pace, I am concerned the city may not create space for robust dialogue regarding projects that can potentially guard against the growing unaffordability in Houston, especially when renters are paying more than 30% of their income on housing and when the applications are due by March 1, 2024.
The Mayor’s Administration and I share a core principle – transparency.
The Administration has decided to present the applications on the full agenda for a vote on February 7, 2024 – without a separate public hearing. Therefore, I want to invite and encourage all stakeholders to fully participate in this process and sign up to speak at the public session held on Tuesday, February 6, 2024, at 2 P.M. and contact your council member so you can help us co-create the Houston we all deserve.
According to the City of Houston’s website, meetings for the Housing and Community Affairs Committee are slated to be held “on the third Tuesday of each month at 10:00 a.m. unless noted otherwise,” with all meetings being “open and accessible to the public,” and giving anyone an “opportunity for public comment related to the items presented during that meeting.”
Typically, when there is a new mayoral administration in the City of Houston, the new mayor has the authority to appoint Council Members to serve as members, vice chairs, or chairs for various committees, as well as those who serve in key roles in the city, such as department directors.
At the time of this article, Mayor Whitmire has yet to make any council committee chair appointments. Customarily, those currently serving in these important roles would continue in that capacity until a committee chair has been named by the new mayor, so that the city’s business continues without a disparate impact and is not stifled.
That has not happened.
As a matter of fact, Mayor Whitmire states that he has made plans to make his committee chair appointments by the end of February, according to his spokesperson, Mary Benton, who recently served as the Director of Communications under Mayor Sylvester Turner’s administration.
So, that brings us to the issue that has concerned many in the community, as it relates to understanding the way the situation between Mayor Whitmire and Council Member Thomas has been played out by several in the mainstream media, calling her actions “unauthorized” and such.
Council Member Thomas vehemently states that these are false narratives and far from the case. She was just doing her job, as she has done every month for four consecutive years.
The Forward Times caught up with Council Member Thomas to gain a clearer understanding of what truly went on relative to the situation between her and this process, as well as why she felt the need to educate the public on this matter.
FORWARD TIMES: Has the new mayoral administration appointed a Chair of the Housing and Community Affairs Committee? If so, who were you replaced by?
CM THOMAS: The Administration has not appointed anyone to any committees to date.
FORWARD TIMES: Were your actions standard and customary in your role and responsibility as the Chair of the Housing and Community Affairs Committee?
CM THOMAS: During my last term (2020-2024), I met with the former Mayor on January 9, 2020, and was appointed Chair of the Housing and Community Affairs Committee and held my first Special Called Meeting regarding 9% Tax Credits on February 3, 2020. I expected to follow the same format to ensure this process was not interrupted during the transition of a new Administration and the quick turnaround. Apparently, the work will be initiated through his Administration.
FORWARD TIMES: As the committee chair, did you believe it was important to call the meeting until the new committee chairs were announced by the new mayor?
CM THOMAS: Absolutely. We are talking about a public hearing – especially when the process and narrative around housing are often contentious and unclear. Recent reports have already spotlighted Houston as an unaffordable city, and when we have real estate developers and stakeholders intentionally focusing on creating housing inventory in our communities, it would only be prudent to keep the same schedule and pace.
FORWARD TIMES: What was your primary reason for issuing a public statement?
CM THOMAS: The Houston Chronicle led with such an aggressive headline, painting me as the ‘out-of-line’ Black woman for clicks and shares rather than leading with a story to elevate the importance of affordable housing in Houston, especially since the Administration led with that as a campaign talking point. I wanted to share my perspective with Black media to offer a balanced perspective and encourage folks to pay attention and participate in what’s happening at City Hall.
FORWARD TIMES: How will this issue impact affordable housing in the city?
CM THOMAS: After the recent reports, more people are paying attention, but now it’s time for a more elevated conversation. Let me also add that African Americans are paying nearly 46% of their income on housing and are more likely to be house-poor while not generating the same income as their white peers. What’s important to underscore as it relates to the 9% tax applications that center the public hearing is that we are not talking about police, fire, and teachers — we are talking about the CAN that provides care to your grandparent, we are talking about the paraprofessionals in schools and hospitals that provide front line service to your children and patients. We are talking about law school students pursuing their degrees and must focus on school full-time.
FORWARD TIMES: What do you want the community to know/do about this issue and should citizens be concerned about it?
CM THOMAS: I want the community to know that I operate at the highest level of integrity and principle any time my name is involved because I represent more than myself. I represent you and your issues with fidelity. You can participate in this process by engaging with real estate developers, sharing your concerns, and/or supporting projects. As for the public hearing that is currently scheduled, I hope folks understand how important the process is and how transparency is the name of the game to ensure that Houstonians know what Housing options are available to them. We have to do a better job of painting the picture of why we must invest in housing inventory that creates options for people who choose to work, live, and play in our city.
Forward Times readers, as far as this council agenda item is concerned, a vote on this item is scheduled on the council agenda for February 14th (Valentine’s Day). If the item is tagged on February 14th (which means a council member can delay the matter for a period of one week, according to the City of Houston’s Code of Ordinances), a vote on this item would be rescheduled to appear on the February 21st council agenda for consideration and possible action.
For more information and to find out how this may impact you as a resident of the City of Houston, please contact your district or at-large council members and get engaged in the process.