A group of residents from two dilapidated apartment complexes accused the Houston Housing Authority and its partner agencies Monday of placing them in unsafe living conditions and ignoring concerns as their landlords’ pushed to evict nearly 250 tenants.
About a dozen residents from the Cabo San Lucas and The Redford apartment complexes on the city’s southeast side protested outside the Houston Housing Authority’s headquarters, demanding to be resettled in safer conditions. The demonstration came several weeks after a judge dismissed more than 100 eviction cases filed by the former owner of Cabo San Lucas, a push that drew criticism from local housing advocates.
The tenants delivered a letter to housing officials with multiple requests, including priority in relocation to safer housing, visits from Houston Housing Authority staff to Cabo San Lucas and The Redford, and an in-person meeting with department leaders to discuss potential solutions.
The letter also details what the tenants say are ongoing issues at the apartment communities. They include sexual and physical assaults by apartment staff; eviction notices delivered to residents receiving rental assistance; mold and pest infestations; broken appliances and air-conditioning units; and frequent water and electricity shutoffs.
“I’ve become a victim of this place,” said The Redford resident Samantha Moody. “It’s just sad how everyone dropped the ball. All these organizations dropped the ball for everyone.”
The demonstrating tenants said they receive housing assistance from agencies that partner with the Houston Housing Authority and were placed at the two apartment complexes in the past two or three years.
The residents said local housing officials knew about deplorable conditions at the two complexes, but complaints to the authority went unanswered. In some instances, caseworkers have stopped showing up to the properties out of fear for their safety, the residents said.
In a statement, Houston Housing Authority officials said they are concerned about the reported conditions at Cabo San Lucas and The Redford and “are committed to assisting our clients to ensure their units are inspected and meet the quality standard of habitable and sanitary conditions.”
The officials also said they have worked to rehouse tenants who have been wrongfully evicted.
“When our clients have encountered such challenges in the past, HHA has rapidly responded to ensure our clients needs were met immediately and without delay,” the statement read.
“HHA remains committed to its clients and will continue to work diligently to mitigate any wrongful evictions and remove them from unacceptable living arrangements. Our primary focus is on finding housing solutions that benefit both our clients and the communities we serve.”
For the past 11 years, the Houston region’s approach to homelessness has been to house people as quickly as possible. More than 100 organizations coordinate through an initiative known as The Way Home, which the Coalition for the Homeless of Houston/Harris County leads.
But the approach doesn’t work when people are placed in unsafe conditions and forced to deal with unscrupulous landlords, said Julia Orduña, a regional director with the affordable housing nonprofit Texas Housers. Orduña has accused management at Cabo San Lucas and The Redford of pocketing money from vouchers or other types of rental aid and wrongfully evicting residents.
A spokesperson for The Coalition for the Homeless of Houston/Harris County said they would be reaching out to their partners to get more information to help residents of Cabo San Lucas and The Redford.
The spokesperson also said an inspection is done to ensure apartments meet minimum quality standards before someone is moved into a housing program under The Way Home umbrella.
“This would mean at the time the clients moved in, their units passed inspection,” the spokesperson said. “It’s possible that with new owners, new management, or for other reasons, the properties deteriorated over time or had less resources invested in them.”
The two complexes, located about a mile apart, have faced scrutiny for poor living conditions under their former owner, Dallas-area real estate firm Applesway Investment Group. The company lost five properties, including Cabo San Lucas and The Redford, to foreclosure earlier this year.
Amid the foreclosure proceedings, an Applesway subsidiary tried to oust about 120 residents in August. However, a judge dismissed all of the cases due to confusion over whether Applesway still owned Cabo San Lucas.
“It’s insane. The things I’m going through, I should not be going through,” said Lorraine Abamore, a three-year resident of Cabo San Lucas who was served with an eviction notice in August. “I should not be enduring this when I’m 68 years old with physical disabilities and a son with special needs. We need some type of drastic action to accommodate us.”
Meanwhile, Redford Owner LLC, a subsidiary of the New York real estate firm Fundamental Partners, filed about 125 eviction cases between mid-August and late September. A justice of the peace ruled in the company’s favor on some cases, while Redford Owner LLC dropped some of its evictions. About 40 of the cases are scheduled to be heard later this month.
Fundamental Partners did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.
Monday’s demonstration lasted about 30 minutes. Kenneth Coles, the Houston Housing Authority’s interim vice president of housing choice vouchers, talked with tenants and housing advocates on the steps of the authority building.
The group of tenants is asking the housing authority and the city of Houston to investigate and potentially condemn the apartment communities as uninhabitable. The tenants want the authority to respond to their concerns by Oct. 10 and provide potential meeting dates.
“Now, many of us have lost our housing programs as a result of living in these apartments, or our programs have expired while we grappled with these conditions — all of which leaves us facing homelessness once again with no options for new programs to enroll in or affordable housing to access,” the tenants wrote in their letter.