Officials clash in debate over HIV housing facility

May 19, 2010 4:55:38 PM PDT
An angry debate brewed in Houston City Council Wednesday over funding a grant for a home for patients with AIDS. The issue is whether the city should continue to fund the grant to keep the transitional housing facility open. Marjo House is in east Houston off Gellhorn.

Ultimately, City Council decided to do just that but not without a passionate fight among members.

"You know, council member, when you were talking, I had the good manners to be quiet," Council Member Sue Lovell told her colleague, Jarvis Johnson. "I wish you would extend me the courtesy."

Johnson replied, "I'm not talking to you. Finish your comments."

It was a fiery debate at Houston City Hall as Council Member Johnson tried to convince his colleagues to vote against funding Marjo House. It's a debate which fueled anger over the treatment of those living with aids.

"What kept rolling around in my head last night was, 'those people.' 'We don't want those people living in our neighborhood,' and I can't vote for that," Council Member Melissa Noriega said.

"It is a business - not because 'those people,'" Johnson replied to Noriega's comment. "I resent the fact that we keep saying 'those people.'"

Marjo House is a transitional housing facility for men with HIV/AIDS. It has been operating out of a Pleasantville home since 2002.

Johnson says the issue is that by operating as a business, it violates the neighborhood's deed restrictions.

The president of the Pleasantville Civic League was one of the first to speak against the facility.

"We do have deed restrictions, and it says residential - dry and cut,'" said Clinton Johns, the league's president.

Three doors down from the facility, a neighbor's opinion couldn't be more different.

"And it's not like you see people running up and down the street, and even if so, it's a community." resident Diana Johnson said.

But, the issue over deed restrictions still remains.

By allowing this business to operate here, does it open the door for other businesses to request the same in other neighborhoods?

Mayor Annise Parker said ultimately this business is a living facility and doesn't believe it sets any precedent.

"This is not something that in any way would impair the enforcement of deed restrictions," Parker said.

As expected, Council Member Johnson voted against the proposal, as did CO "Brad" Bradford. Wanda Adams, Anne Clutterbuck and Mike Sullivan were absent from this vote.

Meanwhile the operator of Marjo House, Marilyn Jones, issued the following statement:

"I will continue to be a good neighbor and operate in a manner that promotes a safe environment for the clients and community. I have been part of the Pleasantville community for over 50 years. I will continue to do my part to keep this community safe for my neighbors."


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