09/20/17 4:00pm

THE MANY DILAPIDATED PROPERTIES OF SCOTT WIZIG Writer Rachel Monroe catches up on the real estate empire of Scott Wizig, whose extensive operation scoops up properties at tax sales — and lets you know about it by means of those often hand-scrawled bandit signs offering them for seemingly sympathetic terms. Using a scrambled web of LLCs, Monroe explains, the Bellaire resident became the biggest private owner of derelict houses in Baltimore: “Wizig wouldn’t speak with me for months. When he finally agreed to, he didn’t want to discuss how he profits from buying up distressed properties. By the time we spoke, he was trying to rid himself of his Baltimore properties, just as he’d done before in Buffalo. He presented his work as a form of charity: In his view, he helps the city by selling homes and providing financing to people who otherwise couldn’t afford them. (The Houston Press has reported on his company’s sales of legally uninhabitable houses to undocumented immigrants.) He donates to local minority youth groups and hosted a book signing last year for Martin Luther King III and Representative John Lewis. . . . It’s true that in Baltimore, unlike in Buffalo, Wizig focused on selling his properties to other investors rather than renting them out to low-income tenants. But to those who live next to his unmaintained properties, the precise shading of his business model offers little comfort.” [The New Republic] Photo of 5441 Ridge Wind Ln., for sale in Quail Ridge: Wizig’s SWE Homes

09/20/17 1:30pm

HOW IT CAME TO PASS THAT HUNDREDS OF FAMILIES PURCHASED HOMES INSIDE HOUSTON’S RESERVOIRS Many of the flooding victims upstream of Addicks and Barker dams learned for the first time that their homes were inside government-designated reservoirs only after rains from Harvey flooded their neighborhoods, reports Naomi Martin. How had they come to live there? “The corps didn’t feel the need to acquire all the land at the time the reservoirs were built, [the Army Corps of Engineers’ Richard] Long said, because that land was nothing but rice farms and fields where cattle grazed. It didn’t stay that way. In 1997, developers came before Fort Bend County government for approval to put subdivisions on the pastures. Aware of the flood risk to the area, the county was in a bind. It didn’t have the authority to prohibit development or establish zoning rules, said County Judge Robert Hebert, who has been in office since 2003. So the county insisted, ‘over great objection’ by developers, on including a warning on the plat, Hebert said. The county, he said, ‘felt it was a defect on the land that should be pointed out.'” The warning appeared as a small note on the plat document establishing some later Fort Bend County subdivisions, but equivalent declarations were absent on documents establishing nearby Harris County subdivisions. [Dallas Morning News] Aerial view of flooding in Canyon Gate, Cinco Ranch: Michael Fry

09/20/17 12:00pm

It’s coming a little late for many homes in Meyerland, but excavation crews are once again at work widening the segment of Brays Bayou just downstream of that flooded neighborhood. Work on the segment between Buffalo Speedway and S. Rice Ave. began this past summer. The widening is a part of the decade-plus-old Project Brays, begun before but accelerated as a result of flooding during Tropical Storm Allison in 2001.

Water levels on the bayou have returned to a manageable level; this photo, sent in by a Swamplot reader, shows an excavator at work on its south bank just west of the inlet between Timberside Dr. and Bevlyn Dr.

Photo: Swamplot inbox

Braeswood Place
09/19/17 4:45pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: DISASTER EVICTION DISASTERS “This just brings into focus how landlord tenant law is totally inefficient when it comes to natural disasters. When a landlord cannot repair the leasehold in a timely manner, they have no choice but to terminate the leases. While it certainly makes sense that you would want to free people from having to pay rent on a residence that was not habitable, the unintended consequence is that people are uprooted from their community and scattered about the city with little chance of returning to their homes. Likewise, landlords are forced to empty out their premises and pray that they will be able to fill up their building once renovations are completed. Why not give the landlord the option to obtain temporary housing for tenants and keep the lease in place. When repairs are complete, the tenants can move back in without worrying about breaking a lease and do not have to compete with other tenants for space. Tenants could keep their address, which is very helpful for getting credit.” [Old School, commenting on Residents of 2100 Memorial Senior Highrise Now Have 5 Days To Move Out of Their ‘Uninhabitable’ Apartments] Photo of fire-safety warning sticker at 2100 Memorial: Swamplot inbox

09/19/17 3:15pm

The 2 very different videos above give a taste of what the last few weeks have been like in Nottingham Forest, the Memorial neighborhood along the north side of Buffalo Bayou between Dairy Ashford and Kirkwood south of Memorial Dr. Nottingham Forest filled with water after Hurricane Harvey — and releases of water from the oversubscribed Addicks and Barker reservoirs. The first video, taken by Swamplot reader Gatewood Brown from a GoPro mounted on a kayak, shows portions of the neighborhood underwater during rescue operations 3 days after Houston was first hit by the storm. The second video was taken yesterday by reader Kyle Steck, using a mobile phone he carried while biking hands-free through Nottingham Forest’s now dry but extensively garbage-lined streets.

Videos: Gatewood Brown; Kyle Steck

Before and After
09/19/17 11:30am

A notice sent yesterday to all tenants of the 2100 Memorial senior-living facility just west of Downtown declares that the 14-story former Holiday Inn has been rendered “totally unusable for residential purposes” in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. All 198 elderly residents have been given 5 days to remove themselves and their belongings from their apartments.

The building is a tax-credit property of the Houston Housing Authority that includes both low-income and market-rate units. The notice, which came from V.J. Memorial Corp., a nonprofit entity owned by the authority, states that the company only recently learned that the building’s electrical and fire control systems were compromised by the flooding.

“Due to the damage and health & safety reasons, the building is uninhabitable and we must exercise our right under your lease to terminate the lease effective September 23, 2017,” reads the notice, a copy of which was obtained by Swamplot. A separate lease termination document sent in by a reader declares that “the damage to the Apartment is so extensive the Apartment has become as a practical matter totally unusable for residential purposes due to health and safety reasons. Furthermore, the damage could cause health and safety hazards to you and your family, if you returned to live in the Apartment in its present condition.” Residents have until 5 pm on the 23rd to get out: “If you do not remove your personal possessions by that time. we will be forced to remove your possessions and store them at a cost to you,” the document states.

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Everybody Out
09/18/17 3:00pm

The District at Washington Apartments at the corner of T.C. Jester and Schuler in Cottage Grove now feature apron-like attachments of plastic sheeting meant to provide cover to select masonry-stucco intersections on the façade. The reader who sent the photos to Swamplot says the tarps have been up for a few weeks now, and that repair work appears to be underway:

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Flashing News
09/18/17 1:00pm

Popular yet again in Houston: The DID NOT FLOOD sign topper. Here’s a new one spotted by wandering photographer Joshua House in front of the Covington Builders 4-story townhome development at 3821 N. Braeswood Blvd., one block north of Brays Bayou and a couple blocks east of Stella Link.

Where have you spotted signs like these in Harvey’s aftermath? Please send pics and coordinates to us. Swamplot wants to know what DID NOT FLOOD.

Photo: Joshua House

Above It All
09/18/17 11:15am

The retreat of floodwaters has revealed the extent of the silt that Harvey-triggered flooding deposited along Buffalo Bayou. A beachgoing reader sends Swamplot these pics of the new dust-colored landscapes that have taken shape along Buffalo Bayou Park and adjacent former green spaces.

The silt-covered bench shown above sits across Buffalo Bayou from the Houston Police Officers Memorial, near Glenwood Cemetery. Here’s a view from further back:

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Silt Deposits
09/15/17 4:45pm

POLLO TROPICAL SUNSET Citing “limited awareness” of the brand, the corporate parent of Pollo Tropical has decided not to reopen the last 2 remaining Houston-area locations of the Caribbean chicken fast-food chain after they were both damaged by floodwaters from Hurricane Harvey. Gone for good: the Pollo Tropical on Westheimer Rd. just west of Eldridge and the other at 11400 Broadway just east of Kirby Dr. in Pearland (pictured here). Three other Houston-area Pollo Tropicals closed in April. Fiesta Restaurant Group, which also owns the Taco Cabana chain, said in a release that it was also closing all 4 locations in San Antonio but might reopen as many as 2 of the shuttered restaurants in the region as Taco Cabanas. [BusinessWire; Houston Press] Photo: Fernando C.

09/15/17 3:00pm

Entire episodes of TLC’s long-running reality TV series The Little Couple were devoted to the construction, outfitting, and decor of the 2-story home at 2802 Fairhope St. in Knollwood Village to accommodate the particular requirements — and dimensions — of the growing family of its owners, Dr. Jen Arnold and Bill Klein. The home has been shown off in magazine features, too (see the above video from People). Since the end of the show’s last season the couple has moved to Florida, however, and as of last week the home is up for sale. But here’s some news that might come as a disappointment to the show’s many fans — some of whom have chosen to show up on the home’s doorstep and leave notes for its stars: The home has already been renovated, and many of those little touches the couple so greatly appreciated (the custom-lower-height countertops in the kitchen, for example) have been replaced.

Non-fans or average-sized house shoppers just looking for a place to live, however, will probably appreciate the renovations just completed by Blackwell Design, which included raising all the shower heads; reworking the kitchen and bathrooms with standard-height counters; elevating the outdoor BBQ, and raising the cabinets in the laundry room and the vanity in the master closet. There’s also a new custom pantry in the kitchen.

Here’s a quick tour of the new interior:

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