Houston Third Ward’s needs, challenges and resilience highlighted in survey

Displacement, losing African American culture on residents’ minds

Neighborhood development has many residents in Houston’s Third Ward concerned about displacement, according to a new report from Rice’s Baker Institute for Public Policy.

Houston's Third Ward

Photo courtesy of Project Row Houses

Almost a third of residents worry they’ll have to move within the next year, the report found. Rising rents were the most commonly cited reason.

“Third Ward Comprehensive Needs Assessment Data Report” was co-authored by Quianta Moore, fellow in child health policy at the Baker Institute; Assata Richards, director of the Sankofa Research Institute; and Chris Kulesza, research analyst in the Baker Institute’s Child Health Policy Program.

The authors found that a majority of residents were “extremely” concerned with a loss of African American culture in the Third Ward. “Further, when residents were asked about the neighborhood conditions that concerned them, the construction of new townhomes was an ‘extreme’ concern for approximately 40% of respondents,” they wrote. “Our results suggest that new housing developments and the rising cost of living were major factors driving these anxieties.

“This is not to say, however, that residents were opposed to all new development in the neighborhood,” they wrote. “We found that they would like to see new services, stores and businesses come into the Third Ward, including hospitals, child care facilities, restaurants and movie theaters.”

The researchers hope their report will inform strategies and investments that will support access to health care, transportation and other quality-of-life concerns while maintaining the community’s character and affordability.

“Residents in this neighborhood had a strong sense of community,” the authors wrote. “Most of those surveyed had lived in the Third Ward for more than 15 years and had little desire to move. Our survey responses indicate that residents were overwhelmingly satisfied with living in the Third Ward. Additionally, our results provide substantial evidence that residents were committed to supporting their community and one another.”

The research also indicates Third Ward residents feel a strong sense of obligation to their neighbors. Collective efficacy, which measures individuals’ willingness to help one another in times of need, was notably high across the Third Ward, the researchers found. “Individuals were also willing to find ways to support the neighborhood through formal associations. The percentage of residents that participated in a neighborhood association, resident council or a civic group exceeded national trends.”

Very few residents reported that they do their grocery shopping outside of the neighborhood. “Thus, our data reveals that Third Ward residents were strongly tied to their community, were supportive of each other and invested in neighborhood businesses,” the researchers wrote.

Most Third Ward residents reported their overall health as “good” or “very good.” “Our survey also suggests that they were undertaking regular exercise,” the authors wrote. “More than half of neighborhood residents engaged in either moderate or high-intensity activity three or more times a week. Additionally, we found that the prevalence of most physical health conditions was not significantly different from national rates.”

There are notable findings, however, that warrant attention, the authors said. “Only 68.38% responded that they had health insurance coverage,” they wrote. “Prevalence rates of diabetes, asthma, neck problems and hypertension were higher than national trends. Further, approximately one-fifth of residents responded that health conditions were a barrier to working. Additionally, housing inadequacy and food insecurity were hurdles to resident health and well-being.”

Housing inadequacy, as defined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, was remarkably higher in the Third Ward than national averages, the researchers found. “Likewise, more than half of residents were facing food insecurity, which is more than four times higher than national trends,” they wrote. “We found that approximately half of the residents receiving assistance from Social Security Disability, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or food banks were still food insecure.”

These findings suggest that new strategies must be developed to meet the housing and nutritional needs of the community, the researchers said.

While the Third Ward faces challenges, the information presented in the report also paints a picture of resilience, the authors underscored. “We hope this data can be used to inform strategies, programming and investments to leverage the strengths of this community and ensure that every Houstonian has access to health care, quality housing, food and employment opportunities,” they wrote.

The report presents findings from a comprehensive needs-assessment survey conducted in the Third Ward. The data was collected in three phases between April 2017 and August 2018 in the area bounded by State Highway 288/U.S. Highway 59 to the west, Interstate 45 to the north, Cullen Street to the east and Blodgett Street to the south. The project team was assisted by resident researchers, all of whom had completed National Institutes of Health training on human subject research before collecting data. The dataset includes responses from 1,616 heads of households, representing a 49% response rate.

Moore’s research focuses on developing empirically informed policies to advance the health of children. She uses mixed methodologies, including community-based research and surveys, to gain insight into the health needs of communities and to develop data-driven, tailored health policy recommendations. Moreover, she helps funders and community stakeholders develop strategies to support an equitable future for children and their communities.

About Jeff Falk

Jeff Falk is director of national media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.