Last week, I posted about the Houston Housing Authority, which is dead set on charging 61 tenants (or forcing them to pay third parties) about $3,400 each to regain access to their material possessions, now sealed inside the Bellerive Apartments after a fire. The money is needed for asbestos abatement; otherwise, the Authority says it is too hazardous to let tenants back into the property.
A point of contention (which even drew a rare response from the local Hearst daily) was that I had confused the HHA with the City of Houston’s Housing and Community Development Department. Technically that’s correct, although it’s an easy mistake to make, when one considers that the HHA board is appointed by the Mayor.
That is a point which did not escape the tenants of Bellerive either, as today they showed up en masse at the city council meeting to appeal to Mayor White and the council. From KHOU:
Last week, the displaced residents said they wanted their things back, but they just can’t afford the $3,400 price. That’s what the Houston Housing Authority says it will cost to clean each of the estimated 61 contaminated units.
“If they don’t want to clean it, let us get our equipment out. That’s all we’re asking,” tenant Fred Anderson said.
I wish KHOU had been a little more precise in either the prior article or this one, as they seem to contradict each other on a key point: What is the $3,400 supposed to clean? The tenants’ possessions, or the units themselves? Given that a TV station has to place a premium on words, they might simply be saying “61 contaminated units” as a shorthand for “the tenants’ possessions in 61 contaminated units.”
Either way, the Mayor was quick to make all the politically correct sounds without actually committing to do anything. The council may be a bit more action-oriented.
Councilmembers were discussing whether to hold a special staff meeting to try to come up with a solution that will both protect the city and meet the tenants’ concerns.
One option is having the tenants sign some sort of waiver before retrieving their things.
Yet another sign that the HHA (not a city department) is not all that independent if the council can “suggest” that their staff meet with…whom, exactly? Housing and Community Development? The city’s Legal Department? The HHA almost has to have its own legal staff, which means the City and the not-a-city-department could end up having a difference of opinion in that meeting. Ironically it could end up with the HHA’s legal staff trying to protect the city and the City Legal Department trying to convince them to compromise.
Side issue worth noting: the council can only suggest, not order. All departments are under the direct control of the Mayor, and the HHA board, as previously noted, is appointed by the Mayor. In the end, everyone can posture, but only one posture matters, and that’s Bill White’s.
Meanwhile, I still want to know exactly who is going to be doing the cleaning, and how they got selected for the job. Then I want to know why the HHA apparently never anticipated this problem, especially if they knew in advance (as they must have) that the building had asbestos.