Houston city officials are taking several approaches to improve areas with high concentrations of older apartment complexes. It began with a new law that requires owners of apartments with higher than average crime rates to pay for improved security measures. Special Assistant to the Mayor David Mincberg says next the city is launching the "Better Neighborhoods" program that gives grants to apartment owners to significantly renovate their property.
"The city is committed to putting in enough money to make a real difference in the renovation and rehab of these projects."
Two areas of the city will be targeted the Fondren southwest area and the Hobby area around Broadway. Mincberg says the goal is to rehab 2,000 units in 2007 and expand to four-thousand units in the following year.
"I think you see a lot of projects that are very run down. You see low occupancies and you see a number of projects that are boarded up. What I envision in two years is we are going to see new elevations on those buildings, we are going to see them cleaned up and we are going to see places people are proud to call home."
Apartments built between 1975 and 1996 will be eligible for the upgrades. Mincberg says the oil bust of the 80's lead to the current condition of a great number of apartment complexes. The 70's and 80's saw a boom in apartment construction. After the oil bust, a number of those projects ended in foreclosure.
"And as that happened none of the institutions wanted to put any money into the upkeep of those projects. They spiraled down hill more and more as time went on."
Apartment complexes that enter the program will have to meet several requirements. Houston Apartment Association President Jerry Winograd says the latest program is a positive step, but he says it may be difficult for some to participate because of current mortgage agreements.
"First you have to have a property that someone is willing to go forward and take on the restrictions. If they have current debt on it, it's not that easy to pay off the current debt if its on a 10 year loan or a 8 year remaining. The prepayment penalties are such that it's going to be very difficult. I think over time if its put into effect, I think over time its going to have a great impact I don't think you will see anything in the near term."
City officials hope to improve 75,000 apartments during the next six to eight years. Next on the list, city officials are looking into the possibility of stricter inspections of complexes to make sure the livability of apartments is maintained. Capella Tucker, Houston Public Radio News.