Federal red tape being blamed for abandoned Acres Homes houses

May 30, 2013 4:31:47 PM PDT
Homes in one Houston neighborhood, trashed and overgrown, are just waiting for someone to fix them up or tear them down. So why are developers who want to do just that being turned away?

A home is where you raise a family. A house is just a building. And if you let a house sit empty long enough, it becomes a dump.

On two houses on the end of Dyer Street in Acres Homes, the windows are boarded up. The drywall was ripped out inside one of them by vandals intent on stealing the copper wire from the walls. Someone even pulled off the hardi plank looking for who knows what. A squatter lived in one for a while. Vandals even got the breakers from the box inside the garage.

Just a few renovations, right? Like maybe a new air conditioner, because the cage they put in didn't keep vandals from stealing it. It's not hard to believe the homes were built four years ago and they've been vacant ever since.

But so what? It's just another vacant house no one wants. The difference here is that you paid for this house, and someone does want it.

"I see a house that could be turned around and made livable and habitable for someone that this program was designed to be," developer Bob Sherman said.

Sherman saw a deal. And so have other developers.

"I called the Realtors and the Realtors told me that they couldn't take an offer from me because they already had four, five other offers and the city had turned them down because they didn't meet the criteria," SHerman said.

The city says that's not the case, that the city never saw offers from the bank that foreclosed on these two houses. And that breakdown may be the biggest reason they haven't become homes.

"We begged and pleaded with the bank not to foreclose because we were concerned about what would happen to those homes. And for whatever reason, they chose not to take our advice," said Neal Rackleff, director of the Houston Housing & Community Development.

Rackleff tells us an old city program got federal money to help build the houses with a non-profit group. They were supposed to sell to low-income people. And 96 of the 99 homes built in the program sold, which is great news, unless you live next to two that didn't. And when these two didn't sell in a bad economy, Whitney Bank foreclosed on the homes, and ever since they've sat, becoming an eyesore in the neighborhood but still beholden to federal rules.

"We didn't create those regulations, we didn't write them, but we do have to live by them," Rackleff said.

The city says it is close to a deal with a non-profit and the federal government to get the places fixed up and sold. But the city admits that when you are working with the feds, time is more often measured in months and years rather than in weeks and days, so who knows when it might be done.

Whitney Bank, by the way, will only say it's working with the city to get this deal done and won't answer any more questions.

Find Ted on Facebook at ABC13TedOberg or on Twitter at @tedoberg


Load Comments