Fourth Ward group fighting to save historic home, use property as path to affordable home ownership

Amid the various townhome and condo construction projects springing up in the historic Fourth Ward neighborhood of Freedmen’s Town, a conservancy group is working to keep a 102-year-old home from being demolished.

Residents, volunteers and members of the met on Saturday morning in an effort to clean up and raise funds for a project aimed to save the home at 1609 Saulnier Street.

The Houston Freedmen’s Town Conservancy met Saturday to clean up the property and to raise money through a GoFundMe campaign to purchase the home, according to HFTC Fundraising Coordinator Bill Baldwin. They have raised nearly $23,000, but want to reach $300,000.

But the plan, according to Baldwin, is not just to preserve the historic home but to use it as a way of providing an affordable and accessible route to home ownership for a future resident with ties to Freedmen’s Town.

“We hope to put it in the Community Land Trust and then sell the home to someone who meets the income requirements so that they wouldn’t have to pay taxes on the land but only on the house,” he said.

The cottage — built in the 1920s — housed working-class Black families, Baldwin added, a demographic the group is hoping they can put into the location.

“This is a way for us to have a working-class, affordable housing in the inner-city,” Baldwin said.

Freedmen’s Town — a historic Black neighborhood in Fourth Ward — was founded by formerly enslaved people freed after the Juneteenth announcement in Texas on June 19, 1865.

Yet less than 50 out of the neighborhood’s estimated 500 original homes remain, according to Baldwin.

The project aims to right historic wrongs that eliminated most of those homes, said Roman McAllen, historic preservation officer for Houston’s Office of Preservation.

“This is about making up for lost time,” said McAllen, while praising the HFTC’s vision for the project. “This plan will make affordable housing in the area which is a chief problem of concern.”

During the clean up, a neighbor — who did not wish to be identified — expressed concerns to Baldwin about his home’s property value decreasing due to the project’s ‘low income housing.’

“We’re not putting low-income housing, but we are putting affordable housing,” Baldwin responded, emphasizing potential buyers will be vetted, need to have an income and credit while being within the median income range.

“This house will always be in the Community Land Trust and it will always be designated for what is the median income,” he said.

Other residents who joined the clean-up efforts — like Clinton and Katie Akunne who have lived in the neighborhood since 2016 — supported the idea of bringing affordable home ownership to the area.

Having moved into the neighborhood in the past six years, Clinton worries he has contributed to gentrification in Freedmen’s Town, but hopes to help preserve history by volunteering for the project’s clean-up effort.

“This community has been wrecked by people tearing up the roads, building up and moving in for a price anyone can barely afford,” Katie said, adding the path to home ownership should be available to all. “It’s so important for people to have access to this type of asset.”

joel.umanzor@chron.com

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