Denver Harbor residents relaunch efforts to curb gentrification

Rene Porras serves up his late mother's recipes at Porras Prontito.

"People drive 50 miles to get those carne guisadas. That's the house specialty," Porras said, looking at the menu on the wall.

His restaurant and store is where he has called home for more than 50 years — Denver Harbor in Northeast Houston.

"When I went to Vietnam, this was a body and paint shop. When I came home from Vietnam my mom was selling tacos from a little window there," Porras pointed to an area near the main entrance.

The Vietnam veteran smiles and adds how much he loves Denver Harbor and its residents.

"We're close to everything. Downtown is six minutes," Porras said.

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However, that proximity and the historic, mostly single-family home community has made Denver Harbor a target for gentrification.  For years, Porras and other residents have fought back efforts. Porras says he gets offers regularly and they are well below what his property is worth.

"They're thieves. Excuse me for using that language," he said.

Anjelica Cazares and Juan Alanis say they turn down cash offers for their home at least once a week.

"I really hope my neighbors aren't falling for these," Cazares said.

The young couple bought a home in Denver Harbor about a decade ago. Cazares family has lived in Denver Harbor all her life. 

"Being that there was a house up for sale right down the street from my mom's house, [we] took the opportunity and I'm here. Stayed" she added.

What concerns them and Porras the most is feeling like investors are there trying to rob the community's integrity, and displace longtime residents. They agree — they want Denver Harbor repaired and respected, not replaced. 

Bill Fulton, Director of Kinder Institute for Urban Research at Rice University, studies gentrification.

"Interestingly enough, Houston is among the national leaders in gentrification," he noted.

Fulton adds many of Houston's communities on westside of the 610 loop have been gentrified.

"We now see gentrification moving to the east side of the loop, east of Main street, and Denver Harbor is one of the neighborhoods where this is now occurring," he explained.

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He adds in theory, development of new homes and amenities is not bad. What is bad, he says, is when it displaces long-time residents because they can no longer afford the higher property taxes or rent.

Often, the developments involve the construction expensive townhomes. Porras and a group of longtime residents have used a city land use-tool known as Chapter 42 to stop their construction.

"It creates a minimum lot size in a neighborhood. That is more likely to retain long time houses and it makes it difficult or impossible to build denser, more expensive townhomes," Fulton said.

"That's why I'm so into Chapter 42. I want my neighborhood intact. It's a great place," said Porras.

On Thursday, Porras and other concerned residents met to relaunched their efforts to curb gentrification. The meeting was held on Zoom; it was the first meeting since the start of the pandemic. 

"My hope is that we get enough young people to come and redo the neighborhood. Gentrificaiton tears you down and replaces you. We just need to repair," Porras added.

Cazares and Alanis intend to do just that.

"We choose to stay here because we want to build with the community," Alanis concluded.