Making Up for Lost Time in Lubbock
The nearly vacant, deteriorating buildings that make up the Lubbock’s Green Fair Manor public housing complex bake in the summer sun. Rows of trains from the adjacent rail yard block the views. And occasionally, the evening breeze delivers the stench from a nearby feedlot. It’s hard to imagine a bright future for this part of the city’s neglected East Side.
Yet the remaining residents are expecting better days for this part of town. Sitting on an old couch in the breezeway of one of the buildings, 83-year-old Sarah Johnson says she’s confident the city will follow through on its recent pledge to tear down Green Fair Manor and build energy-efficient, government-subsidized apartments. “The last few years, they have been trying to do something about the East Side,” Johnson says. “Pretty soon I think this community will be like it was when I was young.”
Johnson’s 60-year-old son Robert Hastings can also remember a more vibrant east Lubbock, and he thinks his mother is right. “I believe it’s going to get better,” Hastings says sitting on the ground near his mother. “Why do I believe it? Because I’m an optimist. It can’t get no worse. Things got to get better.”
Johnson and Hastings watch over a dozen or so children playing with footballs on a dusty piece of land next to the apartments. When the heat becomes too much, the kids pile inside to play video games. There aren’t many kids left here; as tenants have moved away or been evicted, the Lubbock Housing Authority has declined to re-rent apartments. Fewer residents at the time of demolition mean fewer people who have to be moved.
Lubbock City Councilman Floyd Price says residents will be temporarily displaced for several months during the demolition and construction of the apartments. The old apartments were built out of cinder blocks, and much of the mortar has come loose. There is asbestos in the buildings, Floyd says. The window air-conditioners can only cool a portion of the apartments. The pipes are old, too. Face-lifts aren’t enough, Price says. The four-decade-old complex needs to come down.
Lubbock’s East Side, where most of the area’s African Americans live, has heard a lot of talk but seen little redevelopment over the years. John Hall, executive director of the North & East Lubbock Community Development Corp., says interstate and railroad lines bisecting the city seem almost designed to create two distinctly different Lubbocks. To the west, white-columned estates near Texas Tech University stand in sharp contrast to the East Side’s crumbling apartment buildings and abandoned storefronts.
Most of the new development has been concentrated on the west, while the east has been all but forgotten. “Why do we have to leave our place of comfort to buy things, to go to a nice restaurant, or things like that?” asks Tina Betts, a community leader and president of Parkway and Cherry Point Neighborhood Association. Councilman Price ended a recent interview making the same point. He said his wife was waiting for him to take her to dinner—on the West Side, where most of the restaurants are.
Betts reels off several unfulfilled promises made to East Side residents over the years. She has heard talk about an IHOP restaurant and a Home Depot (and the jobs that accompany them) coming. It hasn’t happened. Betts also maintains that so-called “gateway” funds, money administered by the City Council for economic development, have not been equitably distributed across the city.
“We had promises, we’ve voted on different things, and we’re still waiting for them to come through,” Betts says. “You go through the proper channels, and things still don’t happen.” Betts mentions a bond election for a new baseball complex on the East Side. “All they’ve done is go out there and break ground,” she says. “I have not seen one piece of equipment.”
According to Price, the complex is under way. He also says east Lubbock is getting primed for more development. Part of the reason for the history of neglect, Price says, is that the East Side had no representation in city government because council members were elected citywide until about 20 years ago. But with single-member districts, there is now minority representation on the council. “Before that we were just a stepchild that was left out to be beat on,” says Price, who has been on the council for about two years. “For many years, you had a council that truly didn’t hear the moans and groans of a large part of the city.”
John Hall, from his office at the development corporation, says his part of town has grown accustomed to “empty promises,” noting that the last completed subdivision dates to 1954.
On top of that, one traditionally African-American neighborhood to the west of the interstate highway was redeveloped out of existence. The Overton neighborhood, which separated a stunted downtown from the campus of Texas Tech, was in the way. So in the late 1990s a company owned by the powerful McDougal family – which includes Marc McDougal, who stepped down in May after serving two terms as mayor – headed a project to make way for hundreds of new and cheap apartments, a Wal-Mart, a Starbuck’s, a tanning salon and other businesses.
The once-prominent Overton community had become a neighborhood of mostly poor renters. Crime, prostitution, and drugs were becoming prevalent. McDougal Construction executives saw an opportunity and bought out or condemned the old housing stock. The low-income residents were shuffled out to make room for droves of Tech students.
Local activists say things will be different this time, starting with the residents of the Green Fair apartments. They are expecting the city to make good on its pledge of improving life for its residents. Price—who showed up a neighborhood meeting sporting a designer shirt and red cowboy boots—says it is becoming more apparent that city leaders are beginning to see east Lubbock as an opportunity. The property is cheap and plentiful, and close to downtown, the interstate, and the airport. Unlike parts of the West Side, east Lubbock is above the floodplain and close to the water table. “They are just beginning to notice the gold mine,” Price says.
Price and others point to the current construction of the Kings Dominion mixed-income housing development-where houses will cost between $75,000 and $150,000.
He credits Kent Hance, the former Republican congressman and lobbyist, with directing attention to the city’s revitalization recommendations for the East Side.
Hance, along with son Ron, is the developer in charge of rebuilding Green Fair Manor. He says he has always enjoyed support in east Lubbock and now wants to be known as one of the first people who worked on East Side revitalization. “It has been kind of forgotten,” Hance says of the area. But, like Floyd, he says the neighborhoods are on the rebound, partly due to his developments. He’s already built two East Side complexes for Lubbock’s working poor. Included in each are computer rooms, exercise rooms, and children’s playscapes, he says, adding, “We’re the first ones to build something like that in east Lubbock, maybe ever.”
Councilman Price calls Hance an old friend and believes in his plans. At a recent meeting of Green Fair tenants, Price spoke of a revamped Green Fair and rejuvenated East Side. Give it 18 months or two years, he says. The east is about to be transformed, he insists.
Sarah Johnson, who has known Price since he was a toddler, says she has put her faith in him, and so have a lot of other people who have heard the promises over the years. They’ll see soon enough whether things will be different this time.