City of Houston says progress to resume on Freedmen's Town historic row houses this summer

Lileana Pearson Image
Thursday, July 13, 2023
Project to save Freedmen's Town to continue this summer, city says
The City of Houston said the project to renovate the historic row houses in the Freedmen's Town area will continue this summer.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- In the shadow of condos and apartments, you would never know these are an important part of Houston's history.

"Everything in this community was done by free men and women, and that's one of the gems we want people to know," Charonda Johnson, Freedmen's Town Association vice president, said.

Johnson said these homes deserve to have their history honored, and neighbors deserve to not have crime magnets across the road.

"I'm hopeful and optimistic because these structures, with no care, no concern, have stood for 100 years. We had Harvey, Ike, the tax flood. We had all those things, and this community is still standing strong," Johnson said.

The Houston Department of Neighborhoods said all but one property was found to be in violation of city code for overgrown lawns, trash pile-up, and unsecured buildings.

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The department told ABC13 it notified the owners and a final inspection will be done next Monday.

If the violations aren't corrected, the city will secure and clean up the properties, and a lien for the cost of cleanup will be placed on the property.

"It's abysmal," neighbor Megone Trewick said.

Trewick lives across the road and said she has been calling 311 and asking other city agencies for more than two years to do something. She's aggravated it's taken this long.

"I've filed well over, about two scores, more than 40 reports. In fact, my husband has also filed reports, and to no avail. Nobody cares," Trewick said.

Eyewitness News also learned that in 2019, Neil Dikeman of Old Growth Ventures bought these row homes on Victor Street to restore and rent as single-family homes.

Over the phone on Wednesday, Dikeman told ABC13 he started what should have been a couple of months-long renovation and immediately ran into an issue.

At the same time Dikeman took the Victor Street homes, he also bought three row homes a few blocks away on Robin Street.

The Robin Street houses used to be nestled in a gap among the Victor Street homes.

Dikeman said he can't continue the project until the three homes get moved back and that move has required years of fighting red tape.

Dikeman said on Wednesday, a long last progress is about to happen. He said last month all the paperwork and permits have been cleared and he can at last move the homes back.

Now, he is waiting on the parks department to trim trees and CenterPoint to move power lines.

When asked when CenterPoint would move the lines, a spokes person said, "As they are working to relocate the historic homes, CenterPoint Energy has been collaborating with the City of Houston and the house-moving company. We have reviewed the route for proper company clearances to move the requested power lines. Once final arrangements have been made, including the temporary removal of the telecommunications facilities, we will coordinate with the moving company on timeline to perform the requested work based on their project schedule."

We are waiting to hear back from the Parks Department on the tree trimming.

The mayor's office, which started a Freedemen's Town conservancy group, said it expects the homes to be moved this summer.

SEE ALSO: Bricks of Freedmen's Town symbolizes community's legacy of strength and resilience

Dikeman said after the move, it should take 90 days to renovate the more intact houses and about 100 days for the more intense projects.

That's good news for residents, but they're frustrated the properties were allowed to get to this state.

"To stop, and then to leave it to go to shambles, to leave us in the mess that was created here? That is unconscionable," Trewick said.

The city notified Dikeman the lawns needed to be cut, trash picked up, and homes secured, or the city would do it and place a lien on the property.

Dikeman says he's working to get the properties back into order.

When asked why they had been allowed to get into such bad shape, he said he's put in work to keep the row in order but it has been a losing battle against people who want to break in and camp out in the empty properties.

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