Councilman opposes apartment renovations in own district

April 21, 2011 9:40:39 AM PDT
A Houston City Council Member is angry and upset over planned renovations for a worn-down apartment complex and he let fellow council members know it.

The issue is over how the complex deals with millions of dollars in federal money and how it's being spent. The cash is set to fix up apartments on DeSoto near Antoine in Councilman Jarvis Johnson's district.

Johnson has not shied away from controversy ever since he took office. Today he made it clear that he didn't like the deal that would direct $12 million of federal money to his district and got angry when we asked why.

Linda Vista apartments on DeSoto Street is not a pretty place, and the people who live there say they would love to see some improvements.

"Change what they have in the apartments, don't just paint over it or don't just cover it up, actually put new stuff in there -- fix the piping, fix the rodent issue," said resident Juanita Branch.

The federal government wants to give the city $12 million in community grants to rehabilitate the 500 unit complex. All it needed was City Council approval. However, today Johnson, the council member who represents the DeSoto Street area and those who would benefit the most, was not happy with the vote.

"I'm asking my colleagues to vote no, and I'm asking the administration to send it back, and then come back with a better deal," Johnson said.

He passionately opposed the deal with apartment owners. Speaking with Eyewitness News, he said the current owners won't use enough local contractors.

The city's housing director says the law already requires federally funded projects to use local contractors and Council Member Johnson has always supported the project.

"We've been at this for a long time; if there had been a concern it could have been addressed long ago," said James Noteware, Housing Dept. Director.

In fact, Eyewitness News has obtained a letter that Council Member Johnson wrote in 2009, where he says he "happily recommends" the Linda Vista apartments for the federal block grant.

But today, he was the only person to vote against the grant that would benefit many residents in his district. And he was not pleased when we asked why

"Let's find the jobs I'm trying to create," Johnson told us. "Find the jobs in this as opposed to always trying to find the dirt. Channel 13 needs to stop trying to find dirt and find good."

The city's housing director points out that today's agreement was with the apartment owner, that no contracts have even been awarded yet and invites any company that wants to and is qualified to submit a proposal in an open bid process.

Johnson sent a prepared statement to us Thursday which read in part, "Let me make it clear, I was not voting 'no' on the deal. I do not want the $12.5 million dollars to go back to HUD. I simply urged the mayor and my colleagues on council to send the deal back to the developer. I wanted to go back to the table to renegotiate the terms to include local contracting opportunities for businesses in and around the area of District B."

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