Drew Elementary in the historic Crosby/Barrett Station Community, in east Harris County, is the site of a new Spark Park. Spark Parks provide needed recreation for school recess while remaining open to the public after-hours and on weekends. The Drew Elementary Spark Park is the latest in a series of CDBG funded projects aimed at enhancing this historic African American Community founded by former slaves.
Barrett Station’s founder, Harrison Barrett (1845-1971) was freed in 1865. Barrett spent subsequent years locating his siblings and purchasing the acreage in Barrett Station for 50 cents an acre.
The family built seven houses, farmed the land, adding a cotton mill, gristmill and coffee mill. They donated land for a church and called their new home Barrett Settlement. In 1947 a Post Office was added called Barrett Station and the name stuck.
Since 1975 over 8 million dollars in Community Development Block Grant Funds have been used to bring surface water to the area, a new civic building, an amphitheater and various other park improvements, including the new Spark Park.
Jerry Bluitt, President of the Barrett Station Civic League is a retired NASA Systems Engineer who grew up in Barrett Station. He has worked with Harris County Community Services since 2004 on a long term plan for revitalizing the neighborhood.
In 2009, Harris County Transit Services added a CDBG funded extension into Barrett Station. After Hurricane Ike, 27 homes underwent major or total reconstruction. CDBG funded down payment assistance and Harris County’s Home Repair program continue to serve this community over several decades affecting hundreds of families. “Just like Clear Lake (where Bluitt lived while working for NASA) has signs and lights and flags indicating its pride, I envision Barrett Station as a place of proud landmarks. This Spark Park is an example of that,” Bluitt said.
The Baytown Park and Ride and subsequent fixed route services led to a CDBG-funded expansion of fixed route transit services to serve a greater part of east Harris County. CDBG is the critical funding support that provides connectivity and access to employment, services and other amenities to many of the County’s economically disadvantaged residents.
It all began in October of 2007 with a Park and Ride service from Baytown to Downtown, which maintains an average of approximately 2,200 monthly passenger boardings from San Jacinto Mall. This was the beginning of a partnership with the City of Baytown led by Mayor Don Carlos and Harris County Transit Services, which offers transit to localities inside Harris County currently not located in the METRO service area.
By July, 2008, the Baytown fixed route service officially began with a Federal Transit Administration grant. Initial passenger boardings exceeded expectations with over two-thousand boardings the first month, an average boarding rate that would last the entire year. The first year over twenty-five thousand one way trips were recorded.
As the ridership continued to climb, stops were refined to better align with the travel habits of the riders. Later, routes were increased, and bus shelters were added along with a shuttle service that connects Baytown to LaPorte. Up next, new and improved sidewalks will be added this year to improve pedestrian safety.
Today, routes have doubled from two to four with monthly trip averages increasing from approximately two-thousand per month initially to nearly seven-thousand average monthly boardings today.
Harris County Transit Services was recognized as a “Best Practice” by the Texas Transportation Institute of Texas A&M in 2011. The success of this service did not escape the notice of Houston Chronicle Columnist Mike Snyder in his weekly column.
“The key to the growth and success of this service is the support it receives from the City of Baytown’s elected officials,” Ken Fickes, Director of Harris County Transit Services said.
Since November, 2012 The City of La Porte was added to the growing route service thanks to the leadership of La Porte Mayor Louis Rigby, the La Porte City Council, City Manager Corby Alexander, and Assistant City Manager Traci Leach. Since the route began, November 1, 2012 through December 31, 2016 the La Porte bus service has recorded 16,844 passenger boardings.
Passengers use this service for shopping, work and medical trips as well as regular stops at San Jacinto Community College.
Since 2003 Harris County RIDES has been helping seniors 65 and over and those with physical limitations get where they need to go. RIDES makes it possible for this targeted population to live independently in their own communities. In 2016, the program provided 77,561 trips for Harris County residents and served 3,558 clients.
“The service is not only available for medical appointments, but for trips to visit family, grocery shop or even take in a movie,” said Vernon Chambers, Assistant Director of Harris County RIDES.
RIDES offers taxi service at half-fare rates to individuals who qualify for the service and even more discounted rates for shared ride service.
Individuals can sign up on their own, or as participants with a RIDES Partner agency such as Amazing Place. Amazing Place, a Day Program for adults with mild to moderate dementia, relies on RIDES to transport its participants whose caregivers are unable to drive them. This frees up an adult child to work or a spouse who is also no longer able to drive.
“We have partnered with RIDES since it began. It has allowed many participants to attend who may not otherwise have been able to get here,” said Lillian Anfosso, Amazing Place Finance Director.
Doylene Rice is one such participant. She is part of a RIDES carpool to Amazing Place three days a week. Her daughter, Terrie Mayfield, says that without RIDES she would not be able to keep her job.
“My mother is my number one priority. Amazing Place is essential to her thriving and well-being. Even when there is a holiday break you can see the effect not going has on her,” Mayfield said.
In 2016 RIDES provided 1,828 trips to or from Amazing Place for Seniors like Doylene. Amazing Place’s Lillian Anfosso with Doylene Rice
The Katy VA Outpatient Clinic, another Rides partner agency, makes RIDES available to people like Vietnam Air Force Veteran Jim Smith. Jim says he requires as many as 15 visits a month to the Katy VA Outpatient Clinic or the VA Hospital near downtown Houston, “If I didn’t have RIDES I would really be stuck.”
Lisa Whipple, LCSW, CMM with the Katy VA Outpatient Clinic administers the RIDES program for veteran patients. She sees the benefits of RIDES daily.
“We recently had a Veteran who was dependent on a feeding tube, which somehow quit working. He was able to call RIDES, and quickly get to the VA hospital, where a potential emergency was prevented,” Lisa said.
Another case involved a veteran who became a double amputee, which led to his confinement in a nursing home, a less than ideal place for someone only in his late 50’s. RIDES became a key ingredient to a collaborative effort to give this veteran some independence.
“He really wanted to get out of the nursing home. So the nursing home caseworker and I collaborated to find him a first floor apartment, Meals-on-Wheels, an emergency alert system and nursing care,” Whipple said. With RIDES, the veteran is also able to keep his V.A. doctor appointments.
Agencies interested in becoming partners with RIDES or individuals wishing to see if they qualify may call 713-368-7433 and go to
Elderly Veteran and Spouse Get Much Needed Help with Aging Home
Harris County’s home repair program helped thirty-five homes in the past year with Community Development Block Grant Funds for low to moderate income and disabled individuals who qualify for the program. While a CDBG award is approximately $20,000.00 per home, the need is often greater than the funds.
In order to maximize the benefit to the homeowner, Harris County seeks to collaborate with other agencies and non-profits that offer home repair, greatly expanding the scope of work. This Deer Park home, owned by an 83-year-old veteran and his wife is a case in point.
With the $20,000 CDBG funds, Harris County’s home repair program was able to replace the worst of the rotting leaking windows with brand new aluminum framed glass and sills. The original exterior wood was completely replaced with commercial synthetic lap siding. Window units were removed while central air and heat was added. A utility room rendered unusable received a newly poured concrete floor and was completely rebuilt from the ground up.
But the home was also in need of a new roof, electrical panel and paint, all which exceeded the $20,000 grant amount. Thanks to the generosity of the non-profit Rebuilding Together Houston, the roof, electrical panel and paint was added over and above the grant.
A recent report issued by the Kinder Institute for Urban Research at Rice University indicates that Harris County’s average rental rates are substantially higher than the median income of Harris County residents.
The report says that 435,000 households in Houston are seeking some form of affordable housing with 305,905 paying more than half of their income on rent/mortgage and utilities. Meanwhile, only 90,000 units are available to them at some sort of subsidized rate.
The current combined waiting list for Houston and Harris County Housing Authority vouchers is 29,500, accepted from 80,000 applicants.
While the demand is daunting, Harris County Community Services is pleased to report that 548 new individual units of affordable housing will be added to Harris County in the coming year.
In addition, 127 existing units for senior adults are undergoing a complete renovation.
The projects are the result of various partnerships between Harris County, the City of Houston and other public and private funding sources, such as CDBG and HOME.
Discrimination against a person based on race, color, religion, gender, disability, familial status or national origin is a violation of the Fair Housing Act.
If you feel you are being denied access to housing, whether, in renting or buying a home or obtaining a mortgage on the basis of discrimination, please contact the Houston HUD office at 1-800-669-9777.
Other local agencies available to help you navigate the Fair Housing complaint process are:
Harris County Community Services Department 8410 Lantern Point Dr. Annex M, Houston TX 77054 713-578-2000