HAI Group Spotlight: Houston Housing Innovations

One agency, one voice.

That's the mantra of Houston Housing Authority (HHA), an agency that prides itself on operating with excellence and passion for the community it serves.

And it's working. In a video filmed and produced by HAI Group Online Training highlighting HHA's innovative programs, CEO and President David A. Northern Sr., staff, and residents speak highly of the agency's efforts to go above and beyond for its community.

Northern says HHA strives to lead by example. He hopes other agencies examine HHA's approaches and incorporate them in their own ways.

"It's our job to teach and educate individuals so we can be accepted," he said. "That's how I see the Houston Housing Authority: as a leader who is self-sufficient, not depending on tax dollars all the time, and making our own income so we can provide the resources and do specialized programs that HUD may not fund." 

Watch the full video below and keep reading for a summary of some of the initiatives HHA has implemented and is working toward.


Feeding our future

At the Cuney Homes apartment complex in the Third Ward, one of six historic wards in Houston, resident council leaders established the Feeding Our Future food pantry in 2023 for residents in response to food deserts nationwide.

When HHA launched the food pantry, agency reports showed that 36% of families in the community went without food for at least one or two nights per week. Food deserts, defined as areas with limited access to affordable and nutritious food, significantly contribute to food insecurity across the country. In 2022, the Social Policy Data Lab reported 54 million Americans having no reliable access to food, 23.5 million living in food deserts, and 20% of Houston County residents being food insecure.

Cuney Homes resident Dolores Ford, who assists with the pantry's operations, talked about the opportunity for residents to access fresh food.

"We feed our future," Ford said. "If we have it to share, we will, but if we don't, we'll make sure that somehow you get fed."

Choice neighborhoods initiative

7HHA, in partnership with the city of Houston, was awarded a $450,000 Choice Neighborhoods Planning grant. The Choice Neighborhoods program, led by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), leverages public and private dollars to support locally driven strategies meant to address neighborhoods struggling with the distressed public of HUD-assisted housing.

With the grant, HHA and the city will work with Cuney Homes' resident council and other key stakeholders to create and implement a transformation plan for the Third Ward.

Sasha Marshall Smith, revitalization planning program manager for HHA, oversees the Third Ward-Cuney Homes Choice Neighborhoods initiative

Through the Choice program, she hopes Third Ward-Cuney Homes will overcome several challenges, including "several structural, environmental, and health deficits," according to HHA's application.

"I'm happy to be here, happy to bring the change we wish to see," Smith said. "…This is the biggest change that Third Ward has seen, ever."

The impact of affordable housing 

Northern admits that he didn't truly understand the impact of affordable housing when he started working in the industry. His experience has given him perspective on the issue.

"Being in it for so long, seeing the actual benefits that it has on families, seniors, people with disabilities, elderly, communities as a whole … it's a necessity in people's lives," said Northern, who includes the hashtag #AffordableHousingMatters on most updates he shares to his over 14,000 followers on LinkedIn. 

HHA resident Earl Hughes is a prime example of the opportunities HHA provides. Hughes, a 19-year veteran from Virginia, traveled to Houston more than a decade ago to visit friends but never left. Hughes slept in his car without a place to live until the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs provided him a voucher to live in a rental property. He stayed in the rental property for nine years before he became qualified for a home under HHA's Affordable Housing Houston program.

"This is going to be my own home," Hughes said. "There's nothing like having your own home."

Breaking the cycle

1Gilda Jackson, director of economic opportunities for HHA, reflected on the second part of HHA's mission: to promote education and self-sufficiency. Not only have HHA staff witnessed families with zero earned income find work and collect over $100,000 collectively, but they have also seen something else—a break from generational poverty.

A National Academies report states that 34% of U.S. children born around 1980 who grew up in families with incomes near or below the poverty line are still living in low-income households in their 30s. Intergenerational poverty rates "are higher for Black (37%) and Native American (46%) children than other children," the report reads. 

Brookings notes that "roughly one-third of children who grow up poor in the United States will also experience poverty as adults," but that an ad hoc committee formed by National Academies has identified programs and policies to improve the outcomes of children facing intergenerational poverty.

"We say to [residents] that our services are holistic," Jackson said. "We want them to understand that we're not only working with moms or dads, but we're working with the entire family."

Watch the full video highlighting Houston Housing Authority's various resident initiatives below:


Learn more about HAI Group Online Training, your source for housing-centric training:

Learn More About HAI Group Online Training

This article is for general information only. HAI Group makes no representation or warranty about the accuracy or applicability of this information for any particular use or circumstance. Your use of this information is at your own discretion and risk. HAI Group and any author or contributor identified herein assume no responsibility for your use of this information. You should consult with your attorney or subject matter advisor before adopting any risk management strategy or policy.

Leave a Comment