Houston Mayor Bill White acted quickly and responsibly in preventing the owners of the 600 unit Houston La Casita apartment project from abandoning the property after collecting the rent money. (Read story from the Houston Chronicle). But the underlying question remains: what is the city going to do to address the massive affordable rental housing crisis?
Tens, if not hundreds, of thousands and lower income Houston families are packed into cheaply built and rapidly deteriorating apartments lo catted in massive apartment ghettos. These apartments have become socially and physically a poor housing option for struggling families.
The City of Houston has adopted a policy of providing modest amount of funds to the owners of these apartment projects to patch them up and keep them occupied. In the case of the now infamous La Casita Apartments a $1.3 million government loan was provided. Despite this the tenants report that repairs are not being made and the apartments are in increasingly bad shape. The situation was aggravated by wind and water damage from Hurricane Ike.
Mayor White did what he needed to do to keep the La Casita apartments open. In fact, he acted far more decisively and responsibly that we would expect of most Texas big city mayors. With the shortage of affordable housing aggravated by Hurricane Ike refugees the need to prevent 1,000 low-income low-income Houstonians is critical.
This seems to be a product of the increased attention to enforcement actions and oversight of low-rent apartments put in place by Mayor White in response to the highly publicized deaths of children in dilapidated apartments in the past several months. The system is not prefect however. The Houston Chronicle reports that the city learned about the impending absconding of the management of the La Casita Apartments only after the managers called Houston police for help when a mob of the tenants refused to let the manager’s moving van leave to complex. The City of Houston’s new system also failed to coordinate with the Houston Housing Authority when it relocated a number families receiving Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers from La Casita because of the substandard conditins that management failed to address.
In this case the vigilante action of the tenants is the main factor that prevented the tenants from being cast out on the street.
Just how long will the leadership of the city of Houston rely on this terribly flawed answer to the affordable housing needs of the poor and low-income working class before developing a viable alternative?