Public houses going to waste

November 4, 2010 4:02:23 PM PDT
Thousands of Houston families are begging for housing while homes owned by the city's public housing agency are rotting away unused. In a 13 Undercover exclusive, we will show you the pictures of your money going to waste.Millions of your tax dollars may have been lost in the public housing debacle unfolding in which dream homes are wasting away.

The Houston Housing Authority spent millions to buy homes for the poor, so why did they allow so many to sit vacant for years only to get systematically destroyed?

They are neighborhood eyesores that you paid for.

Roll the dice, get some cash, buy a house. That's the name of the game in Monopoly. But we don't deal in Monopoly money. We deal in your money.

In Audubon Park, there's a house on Golden Eagle and if there was a sign in front of this place, it wouldn't say house for sale, but house for waste.

Holes in the walls, condom wrappers, broken fixtures, graffiti. We found the door open. It was a vandal's dream come true.

"It is very nasty inside. It's very molded inside," said neighbor Jeremy Moto.

"It's no secret. It's easy to get into. It's always been that way," added neighbor Debra Junor.

"Vandalism in the city, whether it's a house or a commercial building, it's always an issue, always something that has to be dealt with," said HHA Senior Vice President Horace Allison.

"Especially when someone leaves the door open," we said.

You know how long the house has been sitting vacant? Four and a half years.

This little gem around the corner has been vacant for that long too. You know who owns these neighborhood nightmares? You do.

When asked if there are homes that the public owns that have been vacant for 10 years, Allison said, "There are some."

This house on Deepwood has been vacant for nine years. A chunk of the overhang is missing. The door was open and the wood floors were littered with trash. But it's got three bedrooms.

It's the same story in Scarsdale.

"You don't want to wait until someone gets hurt, a child gets raped," said neighbor Norma Salkinas.

One vacant house is a few doors down from an elementary school.

A broken mail box litters the yard of another vacant house, but at least a family of birds gets to live here.

Wait a second. Aren't there 40,000 families on a waiting list for public housing, some for years?

"It feels terrible when you have nowhere to call home," said Angela Jackson.

The back door is wide open on one house, vacant for nearly five years in Kenswick. But at least you can beat the heat since no one has stolen the ceiling fan. At least not yet.

But we wonder who's paying the electric bill, because the meter is running.

In the 1980s, the Houston Housing Authority bought more than 300 foreclosed homes for public housing. Today, about 40 homes are still being rented, but 145 homes are vacant, some for up to ten years.

"There are thousands of people who would beg. There are people who would beg to be in this home," he said to Allison.

"We made a decision not to reoccupy those homes because we had them on the market to sell them," said Allison.

Low incomes families who could qualify under strict housing guidelines could buy them. You can see how well that turned out.

"No one envisioned the homes would be this hard to sell," said Allison.

Empty homes, even unused when thousands of families became storm refugees. We're talking about Hurricane Allison, Rita, Ike, and Katrina. All these disasters occurred and we've got perfectly good houses that could have been used for people.

"But there are certain restrictions on the use of these homes," Allison said.

So they sit and rot on the inside and the Audubon Park neighborhood has their hands tied.

"Trying to deal with housing is impossible," said Kenneth Jordan with the Audobon Park Homeowners Association.

"Why do you suppose that is?" we asked.

"It's their house. They do what they want to do," said Jordan.

When we asked Horace Allison if it was kind of dumb not to rent these houses, he responded, "No, I wouldn't admit it was dumb, Wayne."

Do you think the housing authority deserves to "pass go,"?

The Houston Housing Authority released a statement here late Wednesday afternoon about our 13 Undercover investigation.

Wayne Dolcefino's response to the housing authority's statement is below.

Response from Wayne Dolcefino

In its lengthy statement delivered after 5pm Wednesday, the Houston Housing Authority claims its transparency includes a "direct and exhaustive" response to the 13 Undercover investigation.

Let me share with you the whole story:

The Houston Housing Authority decided to use taxpayer funds to hire an outside law firm to respond to our requests for public information, and questions we had about the Scattered Sites program. Housing Chief of Staff Steve Mike lman refused to speak with us during our first visit to their headquarters, and we were directed that he would not speak with us. We complained, both on the phone and in writing, that Mr. Mike lman is paid $117,000 in part to handle media relations. We further complained to the Office of Mayor Bill White.

After our complaints, we were granted an interview with Horace Allison, the $147,000 a year HHA Senior Vice President. We were not allowed to speak to Bill Ramey, who is directly responsible for the Scattered Sites program. We also requested an on-camera interview with Ernie Etuk, the $192,000 a year Chief Executive Officer of the Houston Housing Authority. That request was rejected by their lawyer.

And HUD, the federal agency responsible for this program? Well, they never called us back despite a full briefing on our investigation nearly four weeks ago.

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