Gulfton is a community in southwestern Houston, Texas, United States that includes a 3.2 sq mi (8.3 km2) group of apartment complexes with a mostly Hispanic and immigrant population. It is located outside the 610 Loop and inside Beltway 8, west of the city of Bellaire, east and south of U.S. Highway 59, and north of Bellaire Boulevard.
In the 1960s and 1970s Gulfton was developed, in the midst of an oil boom, with new apartment complexes geared towards young singles from the Northeast and Midwest United States who came to work in the oil industry. In the 1980s, the economy declined and the existing group of tenants vanished, causing the complexes to become bankrupt and foreclosed. The owners of the complexes marketed them to newly-arrived immigrants, so Gulfton became an immigrant community. Beginning in the 1980s, the Gulfton crime rate increased and the schools were increasingly overwhelmed with excess students; Houstonians nicknamed the community the "Gulfton Ghetto." The city responded to the sudden changes in Gulfton by increasing its police presence and the school district opened more schools to handle the sudden influx of children.
By 2000, Gulfton consisted of 71 percent Hispanic residents, including many recent immigrants from Mexico and Central America, and became the most densely populated community in Houston. After the 1980s demographic and socioeconomic transition, Gulfton gained a community college campus, two additional elementary schools, added public bus routes, a park and community center, a public library, a juvenile detention facility, and aspects of Latin American culture and recreation.
Before the 1950s, Gulfton consisted of greenfield land, and much of the area was part of Westmoreland Farms. In the mid-1950s, the Shenandoah subdivision, located adjacent to the land which would become the Gulfton apartment complexes, was built; Shenandoah consisted of 16 blocks of ranch-style homes. Shenandoah would, decades later, clash with Gulfton-based organizations as the demographics of the apartments surrounding Shenandoah changed, the apartments themselves deteriorated, and property values became threatened.
With many large acreage parcels and a widely spaced grid road pattern, Gulfton was well-suited to the construction of large apartment complexes. In the 1960s, a number of large apartment buildings were added, and more opened during the 1970s, when Houston prospered during the oil boom. The apartments were geared towards young, predominately white people from Rust Belt areas in the Northeastern and Midwestern United States who were going to work in the burgeoning oil industry. The opening of the apartments satisfied an increase in demand for housing caused by the influx of the professionals.
According to Jim Gaines, director of the Jesse H. Jones Center for Economic and Demographic Forecasting at Rice Center, a Rice University-affiliated urban research center, the development of apartment complexes was not well planned or coordinated, and there was often little interest in building a quality product. Developers were more concerned about generating easy revenue, with deregulation of financial institutions, tax laws favoring apartment construction, inflation, and a housing shortage in the Houston area helping guarantee quick profits for them.
In the mid-1980s the Houston-area oil industry economy declined, and Houston lost more than 200,000 jobs. As a result, thousands of renters left, causing a rise in vacancies. Many apartments throughout Houston experienced bankruptcy, foreclosure, and constant changes in ownership. For instance, Colonial House Apartments, which became known throughout the Houston area for advertisements featuring California promoter Michael Pollack, faced foreclosure and DRG Funding, a mortgage lender headquartered in Washington, DC, took over the complex. On September 16, 1988 the Government National Mortgage Association took over Colonial House Apartments and other properties of DRG after DRG missed making payments, and on Wednesday May 11, 1989 the Colonial House Apartments were auctioned off to an out-of-state investment group for USD $8.9 million, causing the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to incur a $42 million loss. The following year Colonial House was renamed "Lantern Village."
Apartment complex owners noticed that many immigrants from countries such as Mexico, El Salvador, and Vietnam wished to settle in Houston, so the owners abandoned previous "adults only" policies that barred children from living in the complexes, listed vacancies in Spanish, and reduced rents. Despite the reduction of the rates, a July 17, 1988 Houston Chronicle article stated that rent rates at poorly maintained apartments in Gulfton and other Houston areas were about the same as at well-maintained apartments in other areas of Houston. According to Gaines, the complexes in Gulfton began to cater to illegal aliens, and landlords allowed renters to "double-up" housing, with several individuals and/or families sharing the same unit. John Goodner, a Houston city council member representing a district including Gulfton at that time, said that more demographic changes occurred in his district in the several years leading up to 1988 than in any other area of Houston, referring to the changes in demographics in various apartment complexes. The complex owners were unconcerned about this development as long as the rent payments were made. Landlords, including those who did not perform standard background checks, had difficulty in filling apartment complexes. Many banks and other lending institutions owned foreclosed apartments and did not properly maintain them, being uninterested in "pouring money down a perceived rat hole." Gaines added that many complexes deferred maintenance.
Many of the new Gulfton residents found that they did not have easy access to government services for low income residents such as food stamps and municipal and county health care. By July 1989, the Gulfton area was designated by Houston's city council as a "Community Development Target," low income areas with increased services supplemented by federal funding. Board members of the Houston Resident Citizens Participation Council (HRCPC), a citizen commission that monitored funding for low income residents, formally protested to city council against the diverting of funds from the "old poor" in existing low income areas to the "new poor" in newly created low income communities. The HRCPC members said that the original "Community Development Targets" were not fully served before the service areas expanded and the budget was decreased. The HRCPC had no official authority to force changes in public policy. Rose Mary Garza, then the principal of Cunningham Elementary School, said that some government officials felt reluctant to expand services to Gulfton because they believed that the low income apartments would be bulldozed. As a city council member Goodner lobbied for services in his district such as a satellite health department clinic for apartment renters.
Robert Fisher, a professor and chair of Political Social Work at the Graduate School of Social Work at the University of Houston, and Lisa Taaffe, a project manager for Houston's "Communities in Schools," stated in "Public Life in Gulfton: Multiple Publics and Models of Organization," a 1997 article, that the development and decline of Gulfton originated from a "purely short term, relatively spontaneous speculative process" that focused on building apartment complexes, clubs, and warehouses for short-term profit without providing supporting infrastructure such as parks, libraries, recreation centers, small blocks, and sidewalks; one park exists in Gulfton.
In 1985, recent Salvadoran immigrants opened the Central American Refugee Center (CARECEN) to provide legal services for Central American immigrants. Between 1988 and 1992 CARECEN cooperated with the Central American Refugee Committee to publicize and advocate proposals related to the Salvadoran Civil War and the immigration of Salvadorans to the United States. In 1988, various representatives of religious institutions opened the Gulfton Area Religious Council (GARC); any Christian church was eligible to join the organization. GARC advocated assistance for Gulfton residents and established relevant programs. Taafe and Fisher said that GARC focused on relieving the symptoms of poverty instead of removing its causes. After Goodner, described as "conservative" by Fisher and Taafe, organized a March 3, 1989, town hall meeting, an organization called the Gulfton Area Action Council (GAAC) was started. The GAAC consisted of business owners who tried to reduce recreational drug use and crime and to improve the neighborhood in order to restore property values.
In the late 1980s, the Southwest Houston Task Force, a coalition of members of the City of Houston government, members of health and human services organizations, businesses, schools, religious organizations, and Gulfton-area residents held two meetings between City of Houston representatives and community groups related to a proposal to establish a municipal health clinic in Gulfton. The organization's meetings led to the opening in 1991 of the Sisters of Charity Southwest Health Clinic, the Gulfton area's first major health clinic. The clinic, jointly operated by the task force and the City of Houston, provided pre-natal and child care. Fisher and Taafe said that the organization "lost its focal issue." After performing a "community needs assessment" and identifying "local leaders", the organization disbanded in early 1992. During the same year, when the Salvadoran Civil War ended, CARECEN continued to provide legal services, campaigned for the United States Federal Government to give permanent legal residency to Salvadoran immigrants, and publicized and advocated causes related to Central American immigrants.
In August 1992, Mike McMahon of the GAAC and Francisco Lopez of CARECEN founded the Gulfton Area Neighborhood Organization (GANO). In 1995, CARECEN merged with GANO since both organizations had common board members and goals. Fisher and Taafe said in the 1997 article Public Life in Gulfton: Multiple Publics and Models of Organization that the merger with GANO, which they describe as "progressive", made cooperation between the members of the combined GANO and the Shenandoah Civic Association and the GAAC, which Fisher and Taafe describe as "more conservative," more unlikely.
On July 11, 1998, Houston Police Department officers acting on a tip about drug dealing entered a Gulfton apartment complex and shot and killed Pedro Oregon Navarro; the circumstances of the event were disputed. On October 19 of that year, a Harris County grand jury did not indict the officers on charges related to the incident. Nestor Rodriguez, a professor of sociology at the University of Houston, described Gulfton as "a place where people are just struggling to get by." Therefore, there were less "displays of outrage" than there would have been if the incident had occurred in one of the "older, well-established Latino communities." Navarro's killing was controversial because recreational drugs were not found in the apartment. During that year Navarro's family, who said that the raid was inappropriate, sued the City of Houston. The city argued that its officers acted in an appropriate manner. A federal judge dismissed the lawsuit in 2000.
The prominence of the Hispanic community led to changes in area businesses; for instance, around 2003 Kroger remodeled its Gulfton area store to cater to Hispanics. Beatrice Marquez, a Houston Independent School District (HISD) parent involvement specialist for the Gulfton area, stated in a 2004 Education Week article that many immigrants in many Central American communities specifically identify themselves with Gulfton rather than Houston.
Gulfton is located in southwest Houston outside the 610 Loop south and east of U.S. Highway 59 (Southwest Freeway), south of the Westpark Tollway, north of Bellaire Boulevard, and east of Hillcroft Avenue. Gulfton is about 10 mi (16.1 km) southwest of Downtown Houston and around 2 mi (3.2 km) west of central Bellaire. Susan Rogers of the Rice Design Alliance said that Gulfton is an example of an "inner ring" area in Greater Houston, which is between the central city and the peripheral suburbs. Rogers said that the "outwardly conventional landscapes" of "inner ring" areas are "neither urban nor suburban, but a conglomeration of both, a hybrid condition mixed from one part global city, one part garden suburb, and one part disinvestment."
Gulfton includes around 90 apartment complexes with more than 15,000 apartment units; Roberto Suro of The Washington Post described Gulfton as a "tightly packed warren." The apartments were designed for young transplants looking for jobs in Houston. In the 1970s one apartment complex included seventeen swimming pools with seventeen hot tubs total, seventeen laundry rooms, and two club houses. Other buildings in Gulfton include strip malls and office blocks. The apartments contain features catering to young adults and lack features catering to families. As of 2005, Gulfton contains more than one hundred semi-private swimming pools, but many of them had been filled in and therefore no longer usable as swimming pools. Some of the apartments in Gulfton have businesses occupying ground floor units. Several area tract houses house beauty salons, small stores, and tire repair shops. Rogers said that the mixed-use adaptation "has occurred spontaneously from the bottom up, indicative of the entrepreneurial spirit of residents and their need to adapt existing space for new uses." A 2000s City of Houston report about Study Area 8, which includes Gulfton and several surrounding areas, states that Gulfton's "large apartment complexes dominate the area’s landscape." John Nova Lomax of the Houston Press described Gulfton as being "uglier" than a group of apartment complexes along Broadway Street in eastern Houston.
The city block pattern of Gulfton differs from that of Downtown Houston; sixteen downtown city blocks could fit into one city block of Gulfton. Few areas in Gulfton have sidewalks. In 2005 the Houston-Galveston Area Council identified Gulfton as one of several Houston area communities considered to be among the most hazardous to pedestrians.
Between 1980 and 2000 the population of Gulfton increased by almost 100 percent with no additional complexes established. By 2005, 60 percent of Gulfton residents were not born in the United States and held citizenships in 42 countries. Many residents were illegal immigrants. More than 20 percent of the households did not own cars. Starting in the mid-1980s, the Gulfton population experienced increases in female and children populations. Peg Purser, an urban planner who directed a 1991 University of Houston Center for Public Policy study commissioned by the Houston Chronicle, said that the Hispanic population growth in the Gulfton area was almost entirely from countries in Central America. According to the study, in the ten years between the U.S. Census of 1980 and the 1990 census, the area gained more than 3,500 Hispanics per square mile. Between 1990 and 2000, the population of the area within the Gulfton Super Neighborhood increased by 13,347, from 33,022 residents to 46,369 residents or 40.4 percent.
The 2000 census stated that Gulfton, described as a "hard to enumerate" tract by the U.S. Census Bureau, is the densest neighborhood in the City of Houston; it reported 45,000 people in approximately three square miles. Some community leaders believed that the true population was closer to 70,000. In a 2006 National Center for School Engagement report, Susana Herrera, the program coordinator for Houston's Truancy Reduction Demonstration Project, said that social service agencies and government officials estimated Gulfton's population as 60,000, with 20,000 juveniles. Under-representation in the census was possible since many of the area's immigrants, especially those residing in the country illegally, may have been distrustful of the government's attempt to obtain personal information. By January 30, 2007, about 45 percent of the families included small children. By that same date, many Gulfton families earned less than $25,000 U.S. dollars per year and relied on public assistance. By 2006, the median family income in Gulfton was $18,733, which was 30 percent less than the city of Houston's median income level.
By 2000, many Gulfton residents were recent immigrants from Mexico and other Latin American countries. In 2000, Houston's Gulfton Super Neighborhood #27, which includes Gulfton and various surrounding subdivisions, reported a population of 46,369 people. Of them 34,410 (74%) were Hispanic, 5,029 were white, 4,047 were black, 2,081 were Asian, 61 were Native American, 13 were Native Hawaiian, and 97 were of other races and were not Hispanic. 631 were of two or more races.
Of the 32,298 reported residents aged above 18, 22,941 (71%) were Hispanic. 4,064 were non-Hispanic white, 2,980 were black, 1,715 were Asian, 38 were Native American, 10 were Native Hawaiian, and 65 were of other races and were not Hispanic. 485 were of two or more races.
The super neighborhood contained 17,467 housing units; of the 15,659 occupied units 14,865 were rental units and 794 were owner units. Super Neighborhood #27 had 9,930 families counted in the census, forming a total of 36,019 people within them. The super neighborhood's average family size was 3.63, compared with a city average of 3.39.
The St. Luke's Episcopal Health Charities 2007 Community Health Report on Gulfton included Gulfton and some areas north of Gulfton; the U.S. Census reported the area to have 60,637 people in the 2000 census. Since 1990, that area's population increased by 16,000 people (over 26.5 percent) and the area's Hispanic population increased by nearly 16 percent. In a twenty year span ending in 2000, the non-Hispanic white population decreased by 50 percent. In 1980, about 15 percent of the area population consisted of children. In 2000, nearly 30 percent of the population consisted of children.
Gulfton is served by the Houston Police Department's Fondren Patrol Division, with headquarters at 11168 Fondren Road. The department operates the Gulfton Storefront Station. The storefront opened in summer 1990, and from September 20 of that year the real estate company managing the complex charged the City of Houston rent of one dollar per month. The Gulfton Area Action Council, a neighborhood association, paid the utility bills (around $5,000 per month in 1990-valued currency). The civic association of Shenandoah supported the establishment of the storefront. A June 1999 report entitled the Gulfton Community Five Year Plan and written by the Office of Juvenile and Delinquency Prevention stated that the sudden changes in Gulfton's population exceeded the police department's ability to adapt. The establishment of the storefront augmented the police department's presence in Gulfton. In 1998 the Fondren Patrol division had been established. Previously the Southwest Patrol division, headquartered on Beechnut Street, had served Gulfton.
The Houston Fire Department provides fire protection services. Its Fire District 68 Primary Run Area covers Gulfton, which is located near Fire Station 51 Sharpstown, a part of Fire District 68. The community is within Super Neighborhood #27 Gulfton; its recognized council was established on June 22, 2000. Each super neighborhood represents a group of civic clubs, places of worship, businesses, and other institutions and community interests.
Two city council districts, District C and District F, cover portions of Gulfton. As of 2010 Anne Clutterbuck and Al Hoang, respectively, represent the two districts. By December 3, 1991, increases in crime and demographic changes in southwestern Houston neighborhoods led to many challengers desiring to fill the city council seat of District F. In 2005 Khan promoted an anti-graffiti campaign in Gulfton and other communities in his district.
The city operates the Southwest Multi-Service Center, within the Greater Sharpstown district and adjacent to Gulfton. The city's multi-service centers provide services such as child care, programs for elderly residents, and rental space. The complex includes the HPL Express Southwest library. The center also has the Mayor's Office for Immigrant and Refugee Affairs and the Mayor's Citizens' Assistance Office (CAO) Southwest Satellite Office. The Mayor of Houston, Bill White, and Council Member Khan dedicated the center, which cost $4.1 million U.S. dollars in 2007 rates, on Monday February 19, 2007.
The county has offices at a complex in Gulfton. Services include the Bellaire Tax Office Branch and the Harris County Youth Services Center. The Harris County CPS operates the TRIAD program from the center to prevent and address juvenile crime. As part of the TRIAD program, the county's Gulfton Youth Development Program operates the Gulfton Community Learning Center at 5982 Renwick Drive as a method to reduce juvenile crime. The county operates the Southwest Courthouse Annex 19 at the complex. The Harris County Hospital District operates the People's Health Center near Gulfton. The Harris County Juvenile Probation Department operates the Burnett-Bayland Reception Center and the Burnett-Bayland Home, residential post-adjudication facilities for youth. The Reception Center opened in 1998 with funding from Texas Juvenile Probation Commission state grants and county funds. The Burnett Bayland Home is a 40-acre (16 ha) campus for juvenile offenders who do not require secure confinement.
Gulfton is located in District 137 of the Texas House of Representatives. As of 2009, Scott Hochberg represents the district. Gulfton is within District 17 of the Texas Senate. As of 2009 Joan Huffman represents the district. Around May 3, 1991, Marc Campos of the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project said that the state senate redistricting plan would deliberately re-draw District 15 of the Texas Senate to ensure the re-election of John Whitmire and hamper elections of possible Hispanic representatives. Campos cited the inclusion of Gulfton in Whitmire's district; Campos said that the inclusion of Gulfton would dilute Hispanic voting strength, since many in Gulfton are new immigrants and do not vote. A May 15, 1991 Houston Chronicle article found that some people did not want to see Gulfton included in a mostly Hispanic Texas Senate district because, according to them, many Gulfton residents would not vote.
Gulfton is in Texas's 9th congressional district. As of 2009, Al Green represents the district. The United States Postal Service operates four post offices in close proximity to Gulfton; they are the De Moss Post Office, the Rich Hill Post Office, the Bellaire Post Office in the City of Bellaire, and the Sage Post Office.
Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County, Texas (METRO) operates passenger bus services in Gulfton. Lines serving Gulfton include 2 Bellaire, 9 North Main/Gulfton, 33 Post Oak Crosstown, 47 Hillcroft Crosstown, and 163 Fondren Express. The Gulfton Area Neighborhood Organization successfully lobbied for an increase of METRO bus routes in Gulfton.
As part of its METRORail light rail network, METRO proposed the University Line, an approximately ten mile light rail line connecting the Hillcroft Transit Center to the Eastwood Transit Center. In a 2007 Houston Chronicle questions and answers page about the proposed line, Daphne Scarbrough and Christof Spieler asked why METRO did not include a station to serve Gulfton. METRO responded, saying that the agency originally envisioned "more of an express" light rail service in that area; METRO stated that it would examine the idea of serving Gulfton on the University Line. In July 2008, METRO indicated a "Gulfton Station" as a "potential" light rail station on the University Line in its modified Locally Preferred Alternative (LPA) plan. As of 2010 METRO has proposed to build the Gulfton Station as part of the University Line.
The Gulfton area includes several scattered parcels of land used for commercial and light industrial purposes. When Gulfton gained a large number of immigrants starting in the mid-1980s, the regional economy could not support the increasing pool of potential workers. This led to an increase in the unemployment rate, which caused families to "double-up" housing, where multiple families share the same unit so that the overall costs are lower than if each family had its own unit. Scott Van Beck, the head of the Houston Independent School District's West Region, worked at the West Region Headquarters in the Gulfton area in 2006. During that year, he said in a keynote address to the Rotary Club of Bellaire, "When I look out my window on Chimney Rock, I don't see big corporations; I see Gulfton; I see mom and pop businesses." The Greater Southwest Houston Chamber of Commerce, headquartered in Bellaire, assists economic activity in Gulfton.
As of 2005 many Central American businesses have outlets in Gulfton. Pollo Campero has one restaurant in Gulfton, while ADOC footwear has its only United States location in Gulfton. In addition three bank branches of Salvadoran banks and importing businesses are in Gulfton. As of that year many businesses in Gulfton, including small grocery stores and restaurants, were founded by Salvadoran immigrants who fled during the Salvadoran Civil War. Grupo TACA operates the Houston-area TACA Center along Bellaire Boulevard in the Gulfton area. In addition the Mexican appliance and furniture chain Famsa has the #38 Bellaire location in Greater Sharpstown, adjacent to Gulfton.
The Fox Network Center was formerly located on Gulfton Drive in the Gulfton area before it moved to The Woodlands in unincorporated Montgomery County around 2005. A 2008 Houston Chronicle article described the former Fox Network Center location, which was staffed by around 300 people, as "flood-prone." In 2001 a partnership formed between Ed Farris of Farris & Associates and U.S. Builders began construction on the Plaza de Americas, a 30,000 square feet (2,800 m2) shopping center adjacent to the Kroger in Gulfton; the project, which was scheduled to attract retailers attracting Hispanic clients, was built for $4 million. Lane Design Group designed the center to have a "Hispanic flavor." The developers made the project since they felt the Hispanic buying power in the Gulfton area was profitable. The Consulate-General of Nicaragua in Houston was located in Suite 470 at 6300 Hillcroft Avenue, adjacent to Gulfton. As of 2009 the office now resides in an area not in proximity to Gulfton.
Oriana Garcia, a Gulfton-area community developer of Neighborhood Centers Inc., described Gulfton as "sort of like the Ellis Island of the current time," with residents from seventy distinct cultures speaking thirty different languages and occupying an area of around 16,000 square feet (1,500 m2) of space, which Garcia describes as "probably the most dense area in Houston." Adrian Garcia, the anti-gang office director of the Mayor of Houston in 2002, also referred to Gulfton as "somewhat of an Ellis Island." Susan Rogers of the Rice Design Alliance said that Gulfton's "affordable housing, shops, language, food, and culture all help to provide a familiar environment that eases the residents’ transition to life in America." Rogers also said "In many ways the residents of Gulfton are more connected globally than locally."
The Houston Parks and Recreation Department operates the Burnett Bayland Park and Burnett Bayland Community Center in Gulfton. The complex has an outdoor basketball court, a hike and bicycle trail, a playground, a lighted athletics field, and a water park. Prior to the opening of Burnett Bayland, no recreation centers existed in Gulfton. In 1995 Mike McMahon, executive director of Gulfton Area Neighborhood Association (GANO), criticized the city for not establishing any libraries, multi-service centers, parks, or recreation centers in Gulfton. 
In 1995 GANO activist Francisco Lopez, a refugee from El Salvador, said that "Gulfton is what Denver Harbor is to Mexicans. Any recent Latin American immigrant has a relationship to Gulfton." Lopez added that the immigrants mainly stayed in Gulfton because of the Fiesta Mart and other businesses in Gulfton that cater to immigrants. Lopez explained that many people originally believed that Gulfton would act as a temporary place for immigrants to go to before moving to other neighborhoods, but by 1995 many immigrants had stayed in Gulfton for long periods of time; even if they switched apartments, they would not leave Gulfton.
The popularity of soccer (football) in the neighborhood flourished after the Southwest Houston Soccer Association was established in the 1990s. Prior to its establishment, a few adult teams existed, but there was no children's league. In 1995, Silvia Ramirez, a soccer coach, said in a newspaper article that a lack of confidence in English language abilities and time consumed by work prevented many area residents from creating soccer leagues. Some people stated in the same article that the will to play soccer prevented them from joining gangs. In 2010 a proposed site of a stadium of the Houston Dynamo, the Houston area soccer team, was located in proximity to Gulfton.
Neighborhood Centers, Inc. operates The Bridge/El Puente, a privately operated community center on the grounds of the Napoleon Square Apartments which opened in 1998. In 2007, the group announced that it would build the Gulfton Neighborhood Campus at the intersection of Rookin Street and High Star Drive when it raises $20 million. The Baker-Ripley Neighborhood Center, the neighborhood center at the intersection in Greater Sharpstown, was scheduled to open in December 2009. The site, designed by New Orleans-based Concordia architects and landscaped by Asakura Robinson Company, will contain a farmers market, a health clinic, an outdoor film venue, a publicly-accessible library, a school, and some outdoor park areas. The center design incorporates architectural symbols from Mexican and South American art. Rosa Gomez, an employee of Neighborhood Centers, said that the organization did not want Baker-Ripley to appear "too fancy or official looking" as a building with that appearance may intimidate recent immigrants. The non-profit organization Project for Public Spaces assisted in the development of Baker-Ripley. Texas Children's Pediatric Associates Gulfton, a child health care center affiliated with Texas Children's Hospital, is in Gulfton. As the third pediatric primary health care center opened by Texas Children's, the Gulfton campus exists as part of the Project Medical Home program to assist families with financial hardships so that they do not have to use emergency rooms for primary care.
In 2004, many promotoras, people from "hard-to-reach" communities who study health care from doctors and non-profit organizations and return to their communities to educate people in health care practices, operated in Gulfton. U.S. public health care programs began using promotoras based on the Latin American model, although the promotora model used in Gulfton varies in some respects from the Latin American system. For instance, promotoras in the U.S. cannot legally dispense medication.
After the 1980s economic bust and the changes in demographics, crime increased in the area. By 1988, many Houstonians gave the neighborhood the name Gulfton Ghetto, derived from Gulfton Drive. In a 1988, a Houston Chronicle article cited police officers patrolling the Gulfton area who said they could indicate the complexes where they often arrest criminals. In April 1992, Bob Lanier, the Mayor of Houston, named Gulfton as one of ten Houston neighborhoods targeted by a city revitalization program. One aspect of Lanier's project consisted of building barricades around the Shenandoah subdivision to reduce traffic and crime; the Shenandoah Civic Association supported and pursued the street closures. The Gulfton Area Neighborhood Organization (GANO) opposed Shenandoah's barricading. All of the other advocacy groups, except for some GAAC members, opposed the closure. Members of the community groups said that the closure had racist motives, that they would not effectively control crime, that the city was not using funds wisely, and that the closures would harm local businesses.
In 1993, a youth street gang named the "Southwest Cholos" began to appear in Gulfton. The gang did not have the traditional leadership structure seen in New York City and Los Angeles gangs. Several police officers said that the gang engaged in criminal activities. Controversy erupted in 1995 after six teenagers and two adults sustained injuries in a drive-by shooting near Long Middle School. Police believed that the shooting was related to street gangs and arrested a 13-year old Sharpstown Middle School student in connection with the shooting. The Gulfton Area Neighborhood Organization had demanded for years that the City of Houston expand its anti-crime activities, but they had not seen improvements. Sarah Turner, a spokesperson for the mayor, insisted that the city took corrective action.
During the same year, the State of Texas announced it would provide $500,000 worth of grant funds to Gulfton-area agencies to prevent crime. The state targeted Gulfton because Gulfton's zip code had 419 juvenile probation referrals, which was the highest number for any zip code in Harris County. After the grant was established, GANO cooperated with the Shenandoah Civic Association and GARC to accomplish the goal of reducing juvenile crime. In 1995, Nelson Reyes, a man who counseled immigrants from Mexico and El Salvador at the Gulfton Area Neighborhood Organization, said that Gulfton-area parents have positive attitudes about living in Gulfton since they made more money in the United States than they did in their home countries, but that Gulfton-area children felt the impact of area crime.
Rose Mary Garza, the principal of Benavidez Elementary School in 1995, stated that year that she hated hearing the word "Gulfton Ghetto," which was still a common phrase in the Houston area, and that the community was trying to move away from the image. Crime rates in Gulfton had decreased during that year; Captain Charles Bullock, commander of the Southwest Patrol on Beechnut Street, which patrolled Gulfton at the time, said that an increase in police presence caused the crime rates to decrease.
In the 1990s City of Houston officials started the "Weed and Seed" program, in which funds would be used to replace criminal activity with positive activity for the communities. The City of Houston spent $800,000 in five years on Gulfton. Items funded by "Weed and Seed" included "United Minds," a leadership program for teenagers, the Las Américas Education Center built on the Las Américas Apartments property, the Gulfton Community Learning Center, and a computer lab at an area park. Adrian Garcia, the anti-gang office director of the Mayor of Houston, said in 2002 that the "Weed and Seed" program restored a sense of community and safety to Gulfton, which "was never engineered for family life," without "heavy-handed police tactics."
A University of Houston professor, Peter Nguyen, remarked in 2005 that "You almost get a different sense of feeling once you cross over to Bellaire," an incorporated city consisting of single family houses with a safe reputation. Nguyen said that he believed that the city should increase efforts to fight crime in Gulfton. The professor added that it would be difficult to get Gulfton's population of "working people" who live "day to day" to participate in anti-crime activities such as crime watches. Bruce Williams, a Houston Police Department Captain, said that the force, with a reduction in man power, is finding it more difficult to fight crime. Williams said that U.S. federal government agents began working with the Houston Police Department to arrest serious criminals in Gulfton, including Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) criminals who were operating in the neighborhood. In 2007, Tammy Rodriguez, the head of the Gulfton Super Neighborhood, a regional department in the City of Houston Government, and the Fondren Patrol Division announced that the division will expand its Police Apartments Clergy Team (PACT) into three Gulfton complexes. PACT places married couples who are active in churches into apartment complexes so they can work with tenants. In August 2009 a gang war erupted between the Southwest Cholos and other area gangs, causing violence to increase in Gulfton and surrounding areas.
The district's West Region offices, Charter and Safe Schools Initiatives office, Health and Medical Services office, Student Assessment department, and Virtual School Department are located in a building in the Gulfton area. Prior to Houston ISD's 2005 reorganization, the Southwest District was headquartered in the building now occupied by the West Region offices and the Alternative Education offices. Around 2004 but before 2005 the Southwest District was no longer in the Chimney Rock building; instead the West Central District offices occupied the Chimney Rock facility.
The attendance boundaries of Benavidez Elementary School, Braeburn Elementary School, Cunningham Elementary School, and Rodriguez Elementary School cover sections of Gulfton. Gordon Elementary School, located in the City of Bellaire, serves as a reliever campus for Benavidez, Cunningham, and two non-Gulfton campuses. The Gulfton area is zoned to Jane Long Middle School with Pin Oak Middle School, located in the City of Bellaire, as an option. Pin Oak was named a National Blue Ribbon School in 2008.
Gabriela Mistral Early Childhood Center in Gulfton is the early childhood center closest to Gulfton. Poor students, homeless students, students who are not proficient in English, and children of active-duty members of the U.S. military or whose parents have been killed, injured, or missing in action while on active duty may attend Mistral. Las Américas Middle School and Kaleidoscope Middle School, two optional middle schools, are located in the Long Middle School campus.
Several state charter schools are located in Gulfton. SER-Niños Charter School is a pre-kindergarten through 8th grade state charter school in Gulfton. SER-Niños as of 2009 receives state funds per student and relies on philanthropy for other expenses. Prospective students receive admittance based on a lottery. The student body is of mostly of Mexican and Salvadoran descent. Amigos Por Vida Friends For Life Charter School, opened in 1999, is a state charter school for pre-kindergarten 3 through Grade 7. The Academy of Accelerated Learning, Inc. operates a charter school in Gulfton. YES Prep Gulfton (orignally YES Prep Lee), a state charter middle school that was originally located on the Lee High School campus, plans to expand to the six through twelve grades with thirty classrooms. As of 2007 many students at YES Prep Lee were from the Gulfton area. YES Prep Gulfton is now located in Greater Sharpstown. The Baker-Ripley Charter School is located on the grounds of the Baker-Ripley Neighborhood Center in Greater Sharpstown. The Juvenile Justice Charter School serves residents of the Burnett-Bayland Reception Center and the Burnett-Bayland Home.
There are several private schools in the Gulfton area. Robindell Private School serves preschool through Grade 3. The Holy Ghost School, a PreK-8 Roman Catholic school operated by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, is near Gulfton.
Most children live within 2 mi (3.2 km) (as measured by travel along the closest public roads) of their assigned elementary schools, so they are usually not eligible for free school bus transportation. This means that many children have to walk or ride bicycles to school.
In 1953, Cunningham Elementary School, the first elementary school to serve Gulfton, was built with a capacity for 300 students. Braeburn Elementary School opened in 1956. Long Middle School, which as of 2008 serves Gulfton, opened in 1957.
In 1979, Cunningham Elementary School, which was built for 300 students in 1953, had 436 students. 75.5% of them were white, 14% qualified for free lunch, and 15% qualified for reduced cost lunch. Due to the increasing populations and the sudden conversion of adults-only complexes in Houston, Cunningham Elementary School became overcrowded by 1986 with its enrollment increasing from around 500 in 1985 to more than 900 the next year. By 1988, Gordon Elementary School, a campus in Bellaire, Texas, re-opened to serve as a reliever school to Cunningham and to a non-Gulfton school. By September 3 of that year, 1,268 students were enrolled at Cunningham; of them 72% were classified as Hispanic and 99% were on free or reduced-cost lunch programs. Many of the children arrived from Central American countries experiencing civil strife, and therefore many of them had received inadequate educations prior to coming to the United States. In 1989, Cunningham's overcrowding was described as being "unanticipated." In 1988 the U.S. federal government passed the Fair Housing Act, which, under most circumstances, prohibits any policy that excludes families with children from living in an apartment complex; Abbe Boring, the principal of Cunningham in 1992, said that the student population increased when formerly singles-only apartments were required to allow families to rent complexes. In September 1991 Braeburn and Cunningham were two of 32 HISD schools that had capped enrollments; in other words the schools were filled to capacity and excess students had to attend other schools. By 1992, Cunningham had around 1,200 students and 51 temporary classroom units.
Benavidez Elementary School, which opened on January 21, 1992 and relieved Cunningham of around 675 students and 29 teachers, opened as part of a $370 million Houston ISD school construction project. On its opening day Benavidez referred 400 students to other schools due to overcrowding. In 1994, the school had 1,065 pupils and it had to send 200 children to different schools. By 1996, both Cunningham and Benavidez became overcrowded. Gordon also became a reliever school for Benavidez and another non-Gulfton school. SER-Niños opened in 1996.
The Las Américas Education Center, which included a preschool named Las Américas Early Childhood Development Center and two middle schools, Las Américas Middle School and Kaleidoscope Middle School, started in 1995 as a reliever campus for Cunningham and Benavidez. The reliever school was established with funds from the "Weed and Seed" program established by City of Houston officials. In 2000, the center moved into the Las Américas Americas Apartments in Gulfton.
Rodriguez Elementary, built on almost 10 acres (4.0 ha) with Rebuild 2002 funds, opened during the first week 2002 to relieve Benavidez, Braeburn, and Cunningham. As a result, Rodriguez's attendance zone took territory from Benavidez and Cunningham's zones, while Cunningham's zone took territory from Braeburn's zone. Pin Oak Middle School in Bellaire opened in 2002 to relieve several overcrowded schools in southwestern Houston.
HISD paid around $200,000 USD to lease the Las Américas units. In October 2006, Michael Marquez, president of the Hispanic Housing and Education Corporation, which operated Las Américas, announced to HISD in a letter that the organization would terminate the lease agreement because of issues related to maintenance and management. The district decided to vacate the property instead of appealing the decision. In summer 2007, the former Las Américas Education Center closed. The early childhood center merged with Mistral and the middle schools moved to the Long Middle School campus.
Gulfton residents are zoned to Lee High School, which opened in 1962 to relieve Lamar High School, with Lamar and Westside high schools as options. Most Gulfton high school-aged residents attend Lee High School. When it opened, Lee High School had mainly wealthy white students; its demographics shifted to a mostly Hispanic and immigrant student body. In September 1991 Lee was one of 32 HISD schools that had capped enrollments, and excess students had to attend other schools. When Westside opened in 2000, residents of the Lee attendance boundary gained the option to attend Westside instead of Lee, with no free transportation provided. By 2004 three out of every four Lee students were born to non-English-speaking households.
In addition, HISD also operates Liberty High School, a charter high school for recent immigrants. In January 2005, Houston ISD opened Newcomer Charter School on the Lee High School campus. School officials placed fliers in Gulfton-area apartment complexes, churches, flea markets, and washaterias. The school relocated to a shopping center along U.S. Highway 59 (Southwest Freeway) and adopted its current name in June 2007.
By the 1997–1998 school year, 75% of Gulfton students qualified for free or reduced-price lunches. Almost 95% of Gulfton students were classified as economically disadvantaged. This is almost double the Texas rate. More than 70% of Gulfton students exhibited a lack of English language proficiency, while 27.6% of Houston ISD students and 13.4% of Texas residents exhibited this level of proficiency. Susana Herrera, the program coordinator for Houston's Truancy Reduction Demonstration Project, said that truancy was a major issue in Gulfton education, and said that language barriers, a lack of supervision by parents and guardians, "high mobility," lack of familiarity with United States laws, and familial norms act as "barriers to attending school." A publication by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention stated that parents had many characteristics that complicated their support of education, including low socioeconomic status, "language and cultural barriers," and "limited opportunities for acculturation." The City of Houston started the Gulfton Truancy Reduction Demonstration Project, which is operated by the Anti-Gang Office under the Mayor of Houston and includes support from Houston ISD, the Houston Police Department, and the municipal courts. Scott Van Beck, the head of Houston ISD's West Region, which administers Gulfton-area schools, said in a keynote address to the Rotary Club of Bellaire that urban education needs "social capital" or frequent adult contact with children.
Gulfton is within the jurisdiction of the Houston Community College System (HCCS). The community college district operates the HCCS Gulfton Center, inside a 35,100-square-foot (3,260 m2) campus building owned by HCCS. The building opened in 1990 after Mutual Benefit Life Insurance Co. sold the building to HCCS for $700,000 (1990 dollars). The West Loop Center, an HCCS-owned campus which opened in spring 1999, is in close proximity to Gulfton. Both the Gulfton and West Loop campuses are part of the district's Southwest College.
Houston Public Library operates the HPL Express Southwest at the Southwest Multi-Service Center in the greater Sharpstown district and adjacent to Gulfton. HPL Express facilities are library facilities located in existing buildings. Prior to the opening of HPL Express Southwest on January 24, 2008, no libraries existed in proximity to Gulfton.