Local issues

It is too late for two children but now is the time for Houston to act on slum apartments

A staircase fell at a Houston apartment complex killing two children.
A staircase fell at a Houston apartment complex killing two children. Click the picture to watch video.

It happened again last night.

More kids were hurt, this time killed, in the slum apartments the city of Houston tolerates in the Southwest section of the city.

It should not have happened.  The City of Houston has long known about the deplorable living conditions in this area.  The Houston Chronicle has splashed it over the front page of the paper in feature stories in recent months.

Last night a stairway collapsed at the Westwood Fountains apartments killing two boys, ages 10 and 4.

This week’s story is almost too sad to read.

You may want to watch this video of conditions in these apartments.  Keep in mind this is not a uniqe situation.  These type of grave heath and safety problems are widespread and are not being addressed by the City of Houston.

So what needs to be done?

1) Send the City building inspectors out right now to sweep through the apartments in this area, and ultimately through the entire city, and give landlords no more than 24 hours to fix major health and safety issues.

2) Establish a division in the Houston City Attorney’s office with adequate staff to take landlords to court who ignore orders from building inspectors to repair apartments.  Seek jail time for landlords who willfully violate repair orders.

3) Condemn and demolish at city expense the worst apartments and provide the tenants relocation assistance.

4) Establish a tenant relocation fund to relocate tenants from apartments that threaten their health and safety while repairs are made.

5) The City of Houston should pass an ordnance licensing landlords, collect a fee and use the proceeds to conduct regular inspections.

6) Establish and publicize a phone number to allow tenants to call and file complaints anonymously so they do not have to fear retaliation from their landlords. Pass an anti-retaliation ordnance protecting tenants who file complaints.

7) Establish a Mayor’s Task Force to investigate the extreme levels of racial and economic segregation present in the City of Houston and come up with a plan to breakup concentrations of poverty and substandard living conditions.

8 )  Establish a fair housing counseling and “Moving to Opportunity” program in Houston to overcome the segregation of Katrina evacuees created by the temporary housing program in these Southwest Houston apartments.

9)  Seek funding from the federal government to provide rent vouchers allowing the relocation of Katrina and Rita evacuees from the segregated southwest Houston apartments they were located in immediately following the hurricanes.

10) Houston needs new and better apartments to replace these slum apartments.  Congress needs to give Texas the flexibility to award additional Low Income Housing Tax Credits (a 160 percent increase) to developers who agree to rent up to one-third of their apartments to very low-income families. This way, the state can adjust the credits to produce apartments with deeper subsidies that rent to families earning between roughly $18,000 and $26,000 a year.

11) The Texas Legislature needs to pass a law allowing community based nonprofit organizations to force apartments with serious and repeated code violations into receivership so that responsible new owners can take over the apartments and get them torn down or completely rehabilitated.

12) The Texas Legislature should pass a law allowing residents in apartments with serious health and saftey violations to withold their rent and place it in a court approved escrow fund until the code violations are addressed.

I started my commitment to housing justice for people and communities with low incomes in 1975 in Austin's Clarksville community. These years of working side-by-side with dedicated community leaders to find solutions to housing and community development challenges have taught me some things and I’m learning new things every day.

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