Buildings in Freedmen's Town could be headed to auction block

Miya Shay Image
Saturday, February 6, 2016
Freedmen's Town
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Cornerstone of Freedmen's Town could be auctioned off, Miya Shay has the details.

HOUSTON (KTRK) -- They are simple buildings: wood siding, peeling paint, and air conditions in the windows. Yes, the two homes at the corner of Robin and Wilson in Freedmen's Town are in dire need of repair. However, to Darrell J Patterson, the two buildings that make up the Freedmen's Town Association headquarters are alive and thriving in spirit.

"We have a church meet here, we have Cub Scouts, this is one of the last things they have left in this area," said Patterson, who lives in one of the buildings as a full time security volunteer.

On Wednesday of this week, the Freedmen's Town Association lost a tax judgement against the building in court. Lawyers for Harris County said the association has amassed almost $30,000 dollars in back property taxes. Technically, if the taxes aren't paid in the next 30 days, the buildings could be sold at a public auction.

Patterson, though, does not believe the organization owes any back taxes. "Not if you're non-profit tax exempt community based organization, and have a tax exempt certificate from the IRS," he says.

The county Tax Assessor's office says not all non-profits are exempt from paying property taxes. Each case is unique, depending on the IRS status of the organization and the type of property in question. In Freedmen's Town's case, the county wasn't aware of the routine lawsuit filed by its contracted collecting agency until Eyewitness News called. It is now looking into the issue.

That development is frustrating for Dorris Ellis, a member of the Freedman's Town Preservation Coalition.

"The coalition is trying to preserve what is left, and there's not much left," said Ellis, who has spent a lot of time trying to preserve the bricks in the area laid down by freed slaves more than one hundred years ago. The building battle is a fairly new development.

Ellis says the Freedmen's Town Association can either pay the taxes or continue to fight. They would need outside help regardless.

"I think we have to want to do it. I think the will of Houston must say we appreciate all the history of our city," said Ellis.

The court judgement is just two days old, and in reality, few people other than Patterson and Ellis know about the back taxes problem. Both agreed they might consider contacting their local elected officials next, to see if there is anything that can be done.

"One option is to pay $28,000 dollars, the other option is to appeal," said Patterson, who admits he is unsure what is the best net step. For now, he is at a loss. The hope though, is that once people in the community know that this corner of Freedmen's Town could go on the auction block, a solution will be found.