Guest Commentary Joe Guerra Jr.

Editor’s Note: The Battalion recently offered all the candidates running for public office in the cities of Bryan and College Station as well as Brazos County the opportunity to submit guest opinion pieces. We will be publishing the articles of those who accepted that offer daily between Oct. 26 and Election Day.

Joe Guerra Jr. is a city/transportation planner and candidate for Place 4 on the City Council of College Station in the 2020 election on Nov. 3.

Dear Aggies,

My name is Joe Guerra Jr., and I am running for College Station City Council Place 4. I am a fourth generation Texan, born and raised in Corpus Christi. My family and I have lived in College Station for 12 years. I am a city/transportation planner by trade with more than 30 years experience, ten with the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), five with the City of College Station and the rest in the private sector. I am a certified city planner through the American Institute of Certified Planners and a professional transportation planner certified through the Institute of Transportation Engineers. I received both my bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. I currently sit on the City of College Station Planning & Zoning Commission. I am the president of the Wellborn’s Lions Club, a past vice president of the Castlegate HOA, and am a member, and serve on the scholarship committee of the Bryan-College Station Hispanic Forum. My education and experience set me apart from my opponent.

There are three reasons why I am running. First, I want to work toward a better College Station for everyone — mindful of the needs of the students as well as the permanent residents. Second, I come from a family that values public service. Residents elected my father to a city-wide office in a little town outside of Corpus Christi in the 1970s and he later served on its Planning and Zoning Commission. The last reason is that if elected, I would be one of the first Latinos, if not the first, elected to the Council. I want to serve as a role model for other minorities who might consider running for office in College Station.

I often am asked about the proposed Restricted Overlay Ordinance (the “ROO”). If passed, this would limit the number of unrelated residents in a home to no more than two people. This would only apply in neighborhoods where residents have solicited agreement from most of their neighbors to petition city council for a ROO. This issue is not about students but about affordable housing, accelerated gentrification and being able to stay in the home where you decided to put down roots. It is very unfortunate that the student renters are caught in the middle. Because this is a complicated issue, it is important to know the history behind it.

There are two African American neighborhoods that, about ten years ago, began to experience what I call accelerated gentrification. The first was the Pasler area, east of campus. Investors came in and bought houses and lots above market value that became “comps” (comparables). The tax appraisal office used these comparables to appraise the values of surrounding homes, see links above. As more housing was bought and new rental housing built, the existing home values increased to a point that long-time residents could no longer afford to pay their taxes, and some were forced to move.

The McCulloch subdivision off Holleman near the Lincoln Center, now the only remaining largely-Black, historic subdivision, experienced this same issue, and was documented in an Eagle newspaper article, see link above. In 2015, the neighborhood approached the city government for assistance. The city recommended a conservation overlay of the subdivision. The neighborhood picked the tool in the toolbox to prohibit new construction of two-story housing. The rental units that had been built were two stories. The overlay stabilized appraisal prices, so folks were able to pay their taxes and stay in their homes, but McCulloch remains a threatened neighborhood, and the ROO would offer them another way to better preserve their community, see links to the Brazos County Appraisal District above.

A restricted overlay district would add another tool to use in the city’s toolbox when the other tools would not prevent accelerated gentrification. But this would only apply to neighborhoods zoned for single-family housing. A rental owner could still rent to four unrelated people in duplexes, townhomes and multifamily zoned districts. Like other tools, this overlay only takes effect if the neighborhood collects petitions and holds stakeholder meetings with the neighbors in the subdivision. They then go before the Planning and Zoning Commission and City council for approval. This is a bottom-up approach where the neighborhood determines if an overlay is appropriate, instead of a top-down approach. Finally, anything already built will be grandfathered. Existing rental properties will still be able to rent to four unrelated people.

Because of my experience as a city/transportation planner, I understand the issues surrounding affordable housing — and the consequences of its absence, potential roadblocks and potential tools that can be used to alleviate this issue.

Please consider my qualifications and desire to serve and represent all our community members for a better College Station. If you have any questions, I invite you to contact me: Joe Guerra Jr., for College Station City Council Place 4.

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