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Harbor Bridge disputed settled; Hillcrest home purchases resume

What you don't see in this architect's rendering of the new Harbor Bridge now under construction in Corpus Christi are the homes and neighborhoods being displaced and overshadowed by the structure. Courtesy image

The feud between the state and the federal government seems to have been settled and homes are now being sold in the Hillcrest neighborhood that lies in the path of the new Harbor Bridge. Federal Highway Administration funds of about $300 million slated for bridge construction were in jeopardy as the Texas Highway Department argued over eligibility rules for resident buyouts in Hillcrest. The federal agency gave TxDOT until Feb. 18 to fully comply with Title VI Civil Rights agreements that were originally agreed upon by the two in December 2015.

The two agencies came to an agreement Feb. 8, and offers for the Port of Corpus Christi to begin purchasing homes in Hillcrest have begun in earnest. By late February, five offers had been made and more were in the hopper, according to Del Richardson and Associates, the firm hired to negotiate the buyouts.

The port has authorized $20 million to help purchase homes and relocate qualified residents. The problem between the federal and state highway departments centered on exactly who was qualified.

According to the feds, “Title VI protects and applies to all persons,” a definition extended to undocumented immigrants and landlords who own property in the area but do not live there.

TxDOT disagreed, stating that while undocumented immigrants are eligible for other benefits, they do not qualify for relocation funds. Also, landlords should only receive moving costs, not housing replacement. Giving relocation funds to undocumented residents would mean helping “undocumented aliens relocate and remain in the country where they are unlawfully residing,” read one of several letters that have been sent back and forth between the two agencies.

Officials at TxDOT halted the payout of relocation funds because of the dispute in November 2016. Outraged residents of the Hillcrest neighborhood called for a halt on bridge construction until an agreement was reached.

The newly negotiated agreement includes renters as eligible for relocation funds, even if the property owner is not willing to participate in the program. The agreement also includes absentee landlords, who can now receive fair market value of their property as well as relocation benefits to move personal property.

Undocumented immigrants, however, won’t get relocation money but will get fair market value for property they own. According to U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold’s office, the federal highway changed its ruling where undocumented immigrants were concerned after the changeover from the Obama to the Trump administration.

So far, nearly 500 Hillcrest properties are considered eligible for buyout. More than half have indicated they are interested in selling.

With the dispute now settled and homes being purchased, the next problem is one of where to go. A lack of affordable housing faces Hillcrest residents, who are selling homes valued at under $60,000. Only 90 homes are selling for less than $100,000 in the current Corpus Christi market, according to the Corpus Christi Association of Realtors.

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