In an outstanding piece of investigative journalism Houston Chronicle staff writers Matt Stiles, Mike Snyder and Julio Cortez have exposed the astounding indifference of the City of Houston and the city’s political leadership toward substandard apartments in the city.
To read this story headlined “Operators of squalid apartments ignore the law to prey on the thousands of Houston’s poor desperate for shelter Life in places of last resort” is to be infuriated at the slumlords and the the City of Houston.
A Houston Chronicle analysis of city records shows that inspectors issued at least 2,300 citations to owners of about 300 Houston apartment buildings the past two years, alleging violations of health, building, fire or electrical codes – or for neighborhood “nuisances.” …
The citations are criminal complaints, heard in Municipal Court, that often follow one or more notices instructing owners to correct problems. One quarter of the citations the Chronicle reviewed alleged that owners failed to maintain structural standards requiring, for example, that stairways be safe and that floors and walls be sturdy enough to safely bear weight.
Despite this record of criminal citations it was April 2007 before the City of Houston acted to shut down the first offending apartment project. The City took action only after 240 citations were issued and “two months after two children were hospitalized with burn marks after being shocked by an unsecured electrical transformer there,” according to the Houston Chronicle story.
I daresay that the Houston Police Department would make a point to arrest an individual who had other types of criminal citations issued against him that had not been taken care of. But in this case an apartment owner is allowed to accumulate 240 violations while continuing to operate an apartment complex with human beings living in it in dangerous conditions before the city takes any action.
Please read this story and get angry.
Since writing this posting I see from a story in the Houston Chronicle yesterday that Houston Mayor Bill White has responded to the stories in the Houston Chronicle with a promise to increase enforcement against noncomplying apartment projects
The mayor’s office has announced that it plans to spend up to $1 million a year on additional inspections. According to the Chronicle:
The goal is to get the city’s apartment enforcement on a routine inspection cycle, especially at properties with the worst conditions, replacing a system that is inconsistent and driven largely by complaints.
Yet the point of the story was not that there were not enough inspections. Some of the apartment developments had as many as 300 citations against them. The point was that nothing was being done after a citation was issued. If the city is serious about cleaning up this problem it needs to get serious about enforcing the citations that its inspectors issue.
Nevertheless, congratulations to the Houston Chronicle and its team of reporters who worked on the story for getting the mayor’s attention.