Tenants see improvements at Houston apartment complex, but call for more long-term solutions

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Thursday, September 1, 2022
Apartment strike team working, but still much to do, advocates say
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An apartment complex in poor living conditions is seeing improvements after a city of Houston strike team came in to turn things around. But advocates say it might not be enough to address issues long-term.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Tenants living at the Timber Ridge Apartments are finally seeing some maintenance and repairs at their complex, after voicing their concerns about deplorable living conditions to the city council in July with advocates from the Texas Organizing Project (TOP).

Jenny Robles is one of the residents who is fed up. She and her family have been living at the complex for three years and she says the laundry list of issues includes rat and bug infestations, squatters, overflowing garbage, lack of utilities, faulty appliances, busted mail rooms, and a crumbling foundation.

"I don't feel safe and I don't feel like we are getting dignified living conditions. I have shared my complaints to the leasing office many times in different ways. They always tell me they are working on it, but we don't see any changes," Robles told ABC13 in Spanish. "I feel powerless, because I can't provide a safe home for kids. I feel that it's my fault because I'm low-income."

Mayor Sylvester Turner ultimately inspected and toured the complex himself with other city leaders on July 26, leading to the formation of a strike team, and gave property managers a 30-day deadline to get their act together or face legal action.

READ ALSO: Houston mayor visits apartment complex in poor condition after residents go off at city hall

This week marked that deadline and since then, tenants and advocates say they've seen significant improvements. But they want to see a more tangible solution from the city.

"I would say it's a small victory. But we need a long-term plan to deal with housing here, not just a 30-day plan. We need a plan to deal with this because this is an ongoing problem that is happening all over Houston," Oscar Thomas, a community organizer for the Texas Organizing Project's Housing Justice Committee, said. "We're encouraged because we know the biggest victory lies on the other side of these small victories."

Councilmember Letitita Plummer agrees. She's been pushing her Apartment Inspection Reform (AIR) ordinance for the past year now, which would add eight more dedicated health inspectors in the city. Currently, there are only two. The program would be funded by a $250 fine collected from apartment complexes with multiple violations.

"We are always chasing the issue. We need to get in front of the issue and stop being reactive to everything. We cannot keep doing that. It's time to hold landlords accountable, because there's no enforcement," Plummer said. "How many times do our constituents need to take off work and come to our city council meetings? How many times do we need to be on the news? How many times do we need to be told by activist organizations like TOP about how bad this problem is?"

READ ALSO: More apartment inspections proposed after hundreds of complaints

Plummer says the mayor's strike team is a great start, but she doesn't believe they'll be able to tackle all 2,500 complexes throughout the city with tenant complaints. She's frustrated because she says the initiative is in limbo and she has to wait until mid-September before she can meet with Mayor Turner.

"A lot of these apartment complexes were built in the 1950s, so when they were damaged by Hurricane Harvey, they just dropped down tremendously in terms of habitability," said Plummer. "It's affecting Black and brown communities. It's affecting poor Black and brown communities. It's hugely impacting our Hispanic population, because many of them are undocumented."

The mayor's office shared the following statement with ABC13:

"After tenants from the Timber Ridge Apartments spoke about their concerns at the July 26 Council meeting, the City of Houston took swift action by investigating their complaints on July 27 and ordered the complex to address the issues raised at the Council meeting and other immediate safety concerns at the property. City officials from various departments reinspected the property on August 10 to ensure timely action by Timber Ridge and continue to perform follow-up inspections working in collaboration with Timber Ridge.

On July 29, Mayor Turner created the Multifamily Task Force, including senior leadership from the Mayor's Office, Houston Public Works, Houston Health Department, Houston Fire Department, Houston Police Department, and the City Attorney's Office. This team meets weekly to address elevated concerns against multifamily developments in violation of city ordinances."

The statement did not address inquiries about Plummer's ordinance.

Robles said she's thankful they're finally seeing repairs and maintenance at her complex, but hopes to see a more substantial policy from city leaders to keep property managers and landlords accountable.

"I want changes. I want positive changes," she said in Spanish.

For more information on the process under state law to request repairs, visit the city's website to access Council Member Plummer's informational document. More resources can also be accessed on her Apartment Inspections Reform (AIR) page.

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