Almost 50 years after they were built, the red-brick public-housing duplexes on Blue Jay Drive in Texas City will soon be torn down and likely replaced with homes for low- to moderate-income residents.

If a private company can secure the construction funding, the 26 new homes would still be available to people who qualify for federal housing assistance.

It’s a move city officials say is badly needed, given the blighted condition of the existing apartments. And the new homes could help reduce the stigma for people living in public housing, by getting rid of the barracks-style units typical of midcentury public housing, Texas City Housing Authority Director George Fuller said.

“It’s going to give families much better opportunities,” Fuller said. “We want them to look nicer so people don’t feel ashamed about where they live.”

Next week, county commissioners plan to ask the Texas General Land Office, the state agency that oversees federal housing money, to release $1.82 million from the Round 2 Disaster Recovery Community Development Block Grant to build 26 public housing units in the 7400 block of Blue Jay Drive.

DSW Homes, the construction company that brought the plan forward, would fund the remaining money for the estimated $3.6 million project, Jim Gentile, the county’s housing director, said.

The company intends to lease the land from the Texas City Housing Authority and would receive the rent on the homes, Fuller said. The company would manage the property while the city’s housing authority is charged with making sure the property and management company is keeping up with federal fair housing standards, he said.

Demolition of the existing 24 units could begin as early as the next 60 days, Fuller said.

The duplexes

The existing red brick duplexes, built in 1969, are a mix of two- and three-bedroom homes with simple interiors. Some have been kept fairly clean, others were left trashed when residents moved out and have years of wear and tear.

“We’re not proud of these,” Fuller said, adding that the housing authority has attempted to keep up the buildings but time — and, in some cases, poor housekeeping — has taken a toll.

Residents began moving out in October when the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development approved a plan to demolish the buildings, Benjamin Davis, deputy director of the Texas City Housing Authority, said.

The last of the residents moved out in January, leaving a post-apocalyptic appearance to the cul-de-sac street near the Greater Barbours Chapel Church.

With the units recently vacated, the Texas City Housing Authority now has 50 public housing units in the city and about 750 vouchers used to pay for housing at private residences, Fuller said. Both programs have waiting lists.

People who were living on Blue Jay Drive had the first right of return, which meant they would be able to move back in once the new homes were built, Davis said. But many decided not to sign up for first return because it would have left them in temporary housing for the time being, Davis said.

For now, all the residents were given housing vouchers to move into other places that accept the subsidized rent, he said.

A new vision

The new development would have 26 single-family homes targeted to poor or middle class families, senior citizens and veterans, according to documents prepared by the county.

The three-bedroom family rental homes also would have two baths and single-car garages, the document said. Housing authority officials hope that the construction would be completed by the end of the year.

“We want to have something that helps build people up, not stigmatize,” Fuller said.

Contact reporter Marissa Barnett at 409-683-5257 or marissa.barnett@galvnews.com.

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