The Problem with Apartments

The city of Houston is offering grants to fix up apartment complexes. The idea is that some run-down complexes could receive hundreds of thousands of dollars to renovate and bring the projects up to standard. But as Houston Public Radio's Laurie Johnson reports, people who live near the complexes are skeptical this will make a difference.

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The Apartments to Standards initiative is offering $20 million worth of grant money to apartment complex owners and developers. David Mencberg, who runs the program for the city of Houston, says the grant winners will receive as much as $10,000-$25,000 per apartment unit.

"It's intended to make a substantial difference in what the apartments look like at the end of the day."

Mencberg presented the plan to a community group in the Fondren/Southwest area, where the grant money will be targeted. Complexes between 10 and 35 years old are eligible. At the end of the presentation, several people brought up concerns that the initiative will not take care of the much older, dilapidated housing projects. Kerry Chambers is the president of the Cattails Homeowners Association, which is off of W. Bellfort.

"My main concern is the eyesore and the high crime. Just this past weekend it was on the news about ten people shooting out down at Sandpiper and W. Bellfort, which is right down the street from here. So if we're going to have gangland wars, something definitely has to be done down there to come and demolish and tear these apartment units down so that those people that are concerned with safety could pass through there safely."

Chambers says this initiative will ignore the very oldest and poorest complexes, which means they'll degenerate even further. Mencberg says the city simply cannot invest grant money in those complexes because it wouldn't be financially feasible to do so, which leaves it up to the owners to decide what to do with those properties.

"Those owners or those financial institutions are going to have to make very difficult financial decisions as to what they want to do with it. But it was our feeling that we would not be doing this neighborhood or any other neighborhood a favor by putting money into an old, dilapidated project and buying five more years of life when perhaps the best decision maybe, is that it's obsolete."

Several people in the audience raised similar concerns and many were of the opinion that this initiative is well-meaning but won't make much difference. Mencberg did say the city is exploring the possibility of purchasing some vacated properties to tear down the units and create parks or flood mitigation zones. Laurie Johnson, Houston Public Radio News.

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