Houston trying to end 'food deserts'

In large sections of Houston, people are living more than a mile from a grocery store, but the city is trying to change that.

HOUSTON- Some people in the Houston area have a tough time doing something as simple as grocery shopping.

City officials say in large sections of Houston, especially in low-income areas in the Northeast and Southeast, people are living in so-called “food deserts”, more than a mile from a grocery store with fresh, healthy food. Whereas people in the wealthier neighborhoods to the west have far more options. 

For Sunnyside resident Paula Spencer, her purchase at the HEB on Scott Street near Old Spanish Trail was the easy part. However, the two-and-a-half-mile trek to get there was anything but.

“With the bus it’s gonna take more than 30 minutes if my neighbor can drive me to the store because the bus stop is really far for me,” said Spencer. “When I get home, I’ll have to call my neighbor to come and get me.”

The problem? Plenty of fast food restaurants and convenience stores to walk to in the area, but not enough high quality grocery stores.

"I grew up in the projects, and we never had a grocery store,” said Council Member Dwight Boykins, who represents District D, which includes Third Ward, Sunnyside, and much of Southeast Houston.

Boykins says he can relate to residents’ frustrations. As a result, he’s spent the last two years trying to bring a high quality grocery store to a plot of land on the northeast corner of State Highway 288 and MacGregor.

Boykins says they have reached out to multiple grocery stores, and so far, HEB has shown the most interest in opening a store at that location.

"Baseball analogy, we're at home plate,” said Boykins, when talking about where the city was in the process of making the store a reality. “We're trying to get to first base."

City staff tells KHOU a lot of stores are hesitant to build in low-income areas because they're worried they'll lose money. However, Boykins says the success of the recently opened Pyburn's Farm Fresh Foods, a couple miles away on Scott Street, proves otherwise.

"They're on track to break records,” said the Council Member. The city would use a mix of low interest federal loans and economic incentive dollars to get the project up and running, similar to what they did with Pyburns Farm Fresh Foods.

 Boykins said a final cost estimate is still being worked out.

(© 2016 KHOU)


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