HOUSTON — Two churches in Texas have filed suit to stop the Houston Housing Authority from bulldozing their properties in order to build a housing development.
With the assistance of the Christian legal organization The Liberty Institute, First Christian Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church and Latter Day Deliverance Revival Church filed the lawsuit Tuesday in Harris County Court in an effort to obtain both a temporary and permanent injunction against the effort.
The Houston Housing Authority is seeking to purchase property through eminent domain belonging to the two entities—a total of four properties—to build a 63-unit affordable housing development and a library in the city’s Fifth Ward. But the churches don’t want to give up their property and the Housing Authority says that the project can’t move forward without them.
“The Churches have operated in the community for decades, seeking to strengthen community bonds through faith and worship. The Churches have shepherded this community through its darkest times—providing a place of peace and hope and a beacon of inspiration to the community,” the legal complaint reads. “The HHA intends to condemn property throughout the Fifth Ward to pursue urban renewal.”
Tory Gunsolley, president and CEO of the HHA told the Houston Chronicle that the city is “trying to build decent, safe, affordable, but modern housing.”
He said that the city has not yet come to the point of seeking to tear down Christian Fellowship Missionary Church, although its leaders were approached about selling the property.
“So I don’t know necessarily what changed,” Gunsolley told the outlet. “But we had not started eminent domain process on that parcel. We have started the eminent domain process on the parcels that the Latter Day Revival Church has.”
He said that Latter Day Revival Church, however, has also expressed objection to giving up their land.
“And the main parcel of land that they own is essentially the alley down the center of the block that would stop,” Gunsolley explaned. “Without that parcel we can’t pursue redevelopment.”
The Liberty Institute says, however, that eminent domain is being misapplied in this case. It says that it is wrongful for HHA to seek to destroy churches that have long served the community.
“These churches have been all along the way from back when the Fifth Ward was called ‘the bloody Fifth’, or as Texas Monthly used to call it—‘the toughest, proudest, baddest ghetto in all of Texas,'” attorney Jeremy Dys told reporters. “This was back when it took the police hours instead of minutes to get to them when gunfire was a routine sound in the community.”
“These churches have been buying up properties and houses of ill repute and turning them into centers for youth, tearing down one that had to be torn down and building new places for youth centers, ministries for people coming out of drug addiction and that sort of thing,” he continued.
“Now that the churches have done well to get this challenging community back on their feet, now that they have done a good job of cleaning up the properties and getting the Fifth Ward back into a good place to live in and to work in and to raise a family, the city is saying, ‘Thanks a lot for the hard work, good bye,'” Dys said.