Houses for sale or houses for waste?

July 24, 2009 3:40:25 AM PDT
The mayor wants answers from the Houston Housing Authority after 13 Undercover exposed housing waste. Why are hundreds of houses bought for the needy instead rotting away? Roll the dice. Win some cash. Buy a house. Monopoly is just a game, but war isn't.

Wounded warriors were going to be welcomed back to Houston and given discounts to buy homes that had been sitting unused by the Houston Housing Authority for years.

"Here are the veterans coming home. Here are your houses. Why can't we put this together?" asked former Houston Housing Authority hired real estate broker Shad Bogany.

The press release even boasted a quote from Mayor Bill White, "This is a win-win for Houston, which is committed to being the best city in the nation in how it treats its veterans."

"We thought it was a match made in heaven," said Bogany.

Well the wounded warriors never got their houses and today 145 of those houses sit vacant, rotting from unuse and neglect. Vandalism was made worse by the Housing Authority's failure to keep the place secure.

Look at what you see when you walk inside one home in North Glen. You can see the kitchen through a hole. Look at the living room paint job. Missing lights. Broken windows. Graffiti on the brick outside. The AC is gone, too.

"This is literally a waste of millions of dollars," we said to Bogany.

"Yes, I think so," he said.

One home was bought for $32,000 about 22 years ago. If it had been taken care of by the Housing Authority, the appraisal district says it would have been worth $85,000 today. Not know.

Monopoly is a fast-dealing property game. In 1980s in Houston, there were foreclosed homes to buy. So the Housing Authority spent millions from the community money chest buying 366 homes to rent, but as renters left, the houses were left vacant.

The Housing Authority took a chance to sell them, even though thousands of Houston families were still lined up for a place to rent.

"You thought it was better to leave a home vacant for years rather than putting a family in it," we asked HHA Sr. Vice President Horace Allison.

"Well, Wayne, no one envisioned homes would be this hard to sell," said HHA Sr. Vice President Horace Allison.

"We were really just kind of shocked at the inactivity," said Frank Lucco, who was hired a few years back to help.

"That was the plan. They were going to fix the houses up and we were going to sell them," added Lucco.

In the last two and half years, only seven of the homes sold.

It's hard to sell houses that look like this. The Housing Authority wouldn't pay money to fix up what their own neglect had helped cause -- a repair bill now close to $3 million.

"It is a mess," said Bogany. "I think the housing authority is stuck on red tape."

That's why needy families aren't using these homes. That's why the broken promises to the wounded warriors.

"They had a great asset. It is now withered down to very few dollars," Bogany said.

One house has now been vacant for nine years. Another for four years.

Look at the mess we found across the city. What vandals haven't destroyed, Mother Nature is. They may be houses for sale, but many look like houses for waste. And that's not Monopoly money being wasted.

"Houses weren't designed to be unused," said Lucco.

Believe it or not, you've been spending about $600,000 a year to maintain scattered home sites like these. You figure someone could make sure the door isn't left open.

"Under the Housing Authority's watch, this place has been torn up. We've basically wasted our investment," we said to Allison. "How do you explain that?"

"I don't think we wasted the total investment, Wayne, as I said, because the house is still worth some dollars," said Allison.

"Somebody gets killed in one of these houses, raped in one of these houses, you're going to have a huge liability," said Bogany.

The Housing Authority claims it never knew about a plan to sell houses to veterans, but their former brokers, two of them, says they did know and in fact, stopped the plan once they found out. Maybe they never read the press release.

The mayor's office has launched its own review of the housing waste exposed by 13 Undercover.

"I do not understand, except for maybe lack of attention or incompetence, why someone couldn't move these houses," said Mayor White.

The Housing Authority now wants to sell the vacant houses in bulk to an investor. That means Houston taxpayers will likely see only pennies on the dollar for all the millions sunk into this.

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