Houston moving to tear down abandoned buildings

February 8, 2010 4:25:07 PM PST
Signs of progress just two weeks after Eyewitness News reporter Ted Oberg took an In Focus look at the huge backlog of dangerous, abandoned buildings in the city of Houston. Houston Mayor Annise Parker pledged to double the number of dangerous buildings the city takes down in her first year in office. We were there as the worst building in the bunch finally came down.

It was a long time coming, but two weeks after we highlighted the dangerous condition of the home a block from a day care, two blocks from a school, it's coming down.

We first saw the building on a tour of the southeast side with Sheri Strong, a city neighborhood protection inspector, who called it, "One of the worst. I would have to say it's definitely one of the worst."

Then people were getting into the home to drink and eat and have sex.

"Maybe we have more faith and belief in the city council and the government," said resident Richard McKinney.

The city's chief of neighborhood protection, Houston Police Department Assistant Chief Mark Curran, took one look and made the decision to tear it down immediately. On Monday, crews took it down to the slab.

"It was the only decision to make," said Curran.

It took 16 years of city work and ultimately some attention from us to get the building torn down and Houston's mayor vows to make the system more efficient as neighborhood protection tries to tackle the 9,010 buildings in its database.

"There are hundreds and thousands more like this that we need to deal with," said Curran.

In this case, the owner's address was actually a vacant apartment and that slowed the demolition process down. But even when an owner can be found, the process doesn't work quickly.

"For 20 years that I know of and possibly before then, this building's been an eyesore and a blight and a disgrace to our community," said Linda Caeppert, Reveille Park Place resident.

Neighborhood protection's been trying to get an apartment complex taken care of since at least 2003. It's on Park Place on the city's south side and the city's given the owner of this place more than one last chance to get it fixed.

"But you have to understand my situation," said Rodolfo Yannarella, the property's owner.

He says he's out of money and the city's engineer says the building's out of time. It's dangerous and beyond repair. There may be locks on the gates, but, according to the city, vagrants are getting in. The pool's been green and full of stank, stagnant water for years. The pool gate was wide open. Inside the buildings, the city says drywall is missing, the floor is rotting and the roof is damaged.

Finally, last Thursday the city ordered it demolished by early March. The owner says he doesn't have the money to do it and wants to appeal, so the wait will likely go on.

Since our first report two weeks ago, Mayor Parker freed up money to hire eight more neighborhood protection inspectors, but that may not be enough. An outside consultant recently warned the city that without major change within neighborhood protection, the group is fighting a losing battle and may never make progress.