A Land Battle in Houston: Black homeowners protest HISD's plans of eminent domain acquisition of property

District gunning to take over 11 properties; residents showing resistance

by Jesse Muhammad

Homeowners in Fifth Ward are speaking out against Houston Independent School District’s (HISD) plan to use eminent domain to acquire their properties situated next to Dogan Elementary School.

HISD wants to expand the school but has yet to give clear information according to Council member Jarvis Johnson, who held a press conference on Sunday, October 11, 2009 in front of the home of 86-year-old Elizabeth Williams.

“These residents deserve some answers. There seems to be a lot of ambiguity and a lot of uncertainty,” said Council member Johnson.

"There is nobody standing here who is against expanding educational opportunities for our children but some questions need to be answered," he said.

HISD sent out certified letters informing residents they had 14 days to accept their offer. This did not sit well with Ms. Williams, who has resided in her home for sixty years.

"I got a short letter in the a mail saying they'll give me 14 days to accept the offer and I said, 'That's not a lot of time'," she told the media inside her home.

"I have been so depressed and sad,” said Ms. Williams, who is one of the 11 homeowners being targeted by HISD.

"So we are asking what is the plan for Dogan Elementary and for this particular community, so we may move forward, so that our community will have a better understanding of what's going on," said Council Member Johnson.

According to many of the residents, they are being offered unfair prices by HISD. The district has even used strong-arm tactics by sending an appraiser into the neighborhood with a police escort, according to Council member Johnson.

"The district would never use these types of “gangster-style moves” in River Oaks,” stated community activist Deric Muhammad.

Resident Emily Peterson owns four properties and says she is being offered $30,000 less than the appraised value.

"My home is full of memories. I don't mind selling my home but I want more money. I want what it is worth,” expressed Mrs. Peterson.

Reuben Holms, a resident of the area for sixty-five years, sees the moves being made by HISD as the infant stages of an ultimate plan to "hand this area over to the rich and build high-rises because it's close to downtown."

The Fifth Ward is not a settlement. This is a dignified, historical community. The superintendent needs to come and talk to these residents or we will bring Fifth Ward to your office,” declared Mr. Muhammad.

All photos by Brother Jesse Blog

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