02/12/18 12:15pm

HOW THE CITY SKIPPED OUT ON A SUNNYSIDE APARTMENT COMPLEX FOR THE PAST 9 YEARS How does a 24-unit apartment building — one of those 1,000-plus Houston complexes the University of Texas School of Law’s recent study identifies as missing a Certificate of Occupancy — go nearly a decade without having the document? In 2012, public works inspected the Bellfort Townhomes on Bellfort St. between Cullen and Scott and called it a “material risk to the physical safety or health of the building’s tenants.” The building’s owner told an inspector that he’d apply for a Certificate — granted after landlords bring their buildings into compliance with city code — when the city contacted him the next year. But then, public works simply lost track of things. For 3 years starting in 2014, the department had no contact with 4410 Bellfort until it came time for the building’s next inspection last January — which resulted in the same findings as the previous one. Why the lapse? “According to the head of Houston’s Multi-Family Habitability Division, after the Division identified properties without a Certificate in the first round of inspections, the Division’s practice was to close the property’s inspection file as long as the owner submitted an application for a Certificate of Occupancy,” write researchers Heather K. Way and Carol Fraser, “even if the owner never successfully obtained the Certificate.” At least one group made sure to stay in touch with the city, though: “During this three-year period, tenants and nearby residents called 311 at least eight times to report sewage overflow issues at the property.” [UT School of Law Entrepreneurship and Community Clinic; previously on Swamplot] Photo of Bellfort Townhomes: Swamplot inbox  

02/08/18 4:00pm

UT STUDY: HOUSTON SUFFERING FROM EPIDEMIC OF DILAPIDATED APARTMENTS A new study from the University of Texas School of Law says that Houston is full of deteriorating apartments, has weak building standards, does a bad job enforcing its own rules, responds slowly to residents who seek help with unsafe homes, fails to keep track of its own building data, and struggles to communicate clearly between departments overseeing different aspects of safety. Houston has the third highest number of occupied apartments in any U.S. city — but of all the complexes in the city, nearly a third are missing Certificates of Occupancy, according to the researchers. The yellow dots on the map above indicate the 1,000-plus multifamily structures that lack the document, which certifies that a building has passed a basic inspection for structural, electrical, mechanical, and plumbing issues. On top of that, the city only employs 2 health inspectors to check for sanitation problems like bedbugs, rodents, mold, and sewage leaks inside Houston’s 320,000 occupied rental units. “In summary,” says the study, “the City of Houston is operating a largely dysfunctional system for addressing tenant safety that appears to have little or no oversight by city leaders.” [UT School of Law Entrepreneurship and Community Clinic; more info] Map of multifamily properties without Certificates of Occupancy as of July 2017: Texas Low Income Housing Information Service

02/07/18 1:00pm

Been a while since your last Kirby Dr. drive? Here’s a look over developer Thor Equities’s collected works — dubbed the Kirby Collection — now standing tall between Colquitt and W. Main. The complex just north of Richmond began rising back in 2015 on the site of Cafe Express and a set of bars carved out of the former Settegast Kopf funeral home. A few pioneers have already settled in the 25-story ribbed apartment tower, shown on the left in the photo above. A boxier 13-floor office building rises at the south end of the block, on the right.

On the complex’s Kirby-fronting side, you can see where street-level shops will move into the Collection’s 65,000 sq. ft. of retail space, north of its ringed entrance court:

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In the Upper Kirby Air
01/18/18 4:00pm

Excavators are now moving dirt around on the corner of Kirby and oak-lined Steel St. where a 39-story apartment tower dubbed Hanover River Oaks is planned. Hanover bought a 1.6-acre portion of the former Kirby Court Apartments along Steel St. in 2016; funding issues had left the project in limbo for most of the prior year. The photo above, taken from the highrise at 2727 Kirby, looks southwest past the corner tower of the Gables West Ave apartments to show a portion of the crater where the new apartment tower is now under construction.

Although the project has a Kirby Dr. address, the building won’t actually front the street. Instead, it will sit behind Becks Prime at the corner of Kirby and Kipling (partly visible in the bottom left of the image above). Earlier renderings showed a new standalone restaurant building fronting Kirby just south of Becks Prime. West of the drive-thru restaurant zone, an entrance driveway for the apartment will run between Kipling and Steel.

A recent rendering from architecture firm Solomon Cordwell Buenz views the tower from southeast of 2727 Kirby:

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Hanover River Oaks
11/17/17 2:00pm

MOSAIC SOUTH TOWER ONLY NOW GOING BY HANOVER HERMANN PARK The 29-story, 394-unit glass apartment building at 5927 Almeda Rd. known as the Mosaic South Tower, and before that the Montage, and before that the south tower of the Mosaic, shall henceforth (or until it sells again, probably) be known as the Hanover Hermann Park. (It’s pictured at right in the above photo.) Last week PGIM, the real estate division of Prudential Financial, bought the building, which fronts Hermann Park and backs up to 288 — along with the retail portion of the building’s gone-condo identical twin immediately to the north, still known not-at-all-confusingly as the Mosaic on Hermann Park. The seller was Winthrop Realty Liquidating Trust, which (in case it’s not obvious from that company’s name) is in the process of selling off every property it owns. In case the name change wouldn’t be enough of a clue, a note sent last week to residents by the seller indicates that the building will now be managed by the Hanover Company. [Previously on Swamplot] Photo: elnina, via Swamplot Flickr pool

11/14/17 2:45pm

Site work has begun on the block of Birdsall St. just north of Memorial Dr., where demolition of the 2-story buildings comprising the former 57 Off Memorial apartments was finished up a couple of weeks ago. The photo above, sent to Swamplot by photographer Sonya Cuellar, shows a view of 160 Birdsall St. looking east in its current naked condition; Birdsall in the foreground and Venice St. on the right. The vacated portion of the Malone St. block beyond is also part of the project.

Going up in place of the 120 apartment units knocked out by the excavators: Jonathan Farb’s new City Place Memorial Park apartments, which renderings show would follow the pattern of Farb’s City Place Midtown apartments, only taller because the garages will be underneath and with more prominent cornices and balconies: 4 wood-framed stories will sit on top of 2-level concrete parking garages fitted with courtyard swimming pools on their decks. It’ll have 264 units in 2 separate buildings.

Photo: Sonya Cuellar. Rendering: Farb Homes/Wallace Garcia Wilson Architects

Farb Homes
11/02/17 12:45pm

2100 MEMORIAL’S EVICTION ORDER, COMPLETELY TRANSFORMED A statement from the Houston Housing Authority yesterday says it “is making every effort to comply” with a judge’s temporary restraining order issued last week ordering the public agency to fix the fire-safety systems at the 14-story 2100 Memorial senior living apartment complex, test the building’s electrical transformers, and replace them if necessary. Judge Daryl Moore also prohibited the authority from terminating the leases of any of its tenants without demonstrating better cause than it has. An estimated 80 percent of the former Holiday Inn’s residents have already moved out. [Houston Chronicle; more; previously on SwamplotPhoto: Realtor.com  

10/24/17 12:45pm

Not too much in the way of timelapse settings, drone footage, pulsating but string-infused soundtracks, supertitles, or accompanying sound effects appears to have been spared in the making of this video ode to the Arch-Con crane assembly now hovering over the southeast corner of Washington Ave and S. Heights Blvd. That’s the location of the planned H-E-B Market with the office space and 5-story apartment building on top of it soon to be known as the first phase of Midway’s Buffalo Heights development, on the northwest corner of the former Memorial Heights apartments.

Video: Midway Companies

Going Vertical
09/25/17 4:30pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: BEHIND THE ‘EVERYBODY OUT’ ORDER AT 2100 MEMORIAL “I’ve volunteered there and can tell you the entire ‘sub-basement’ electrical/fire control room was completely submerged. I assume that entities receiving government rent subsidies must meet current NEC (nat’l elect code) standards on renovations/repairs. . . . Thus, if entire elect/fire control room is gutted/replaced then all rooms’ receptacles, fixtures, elevators, laundries . . . etc. must be replaced to meet current NEC also. I doubt you can ‘scab on’ new equipment to decades old equipment on a major renovations. Would you trust it? You can’t make this type of systemic overhaul while residents stay in their unflooded upper floor apts. Unfortunately, for their safety they must be moved ASAP. The existing lights and limited A/C are being run off of generators. You can’t run a hi-rise indefinitely on generators. God forbid a fire breaks out or an elevator fails due to faulty electrical system. Help is needed now finding affordable & safe housing, transport, and followup assistance. Hard enough in ‘normal’ times but that much more difficult post-Harvey.” [Steve, commenting on Residents of 2100 Memorial Senior Highrise Now Have 5 Days To Move Out of Their ‘Uninhabitable’ Apartments] Photo: 2100 Memorial

09/25/17 12:15pm

2100 MEMORIAL LAWSUIT: LET THESE PEOPLE STAY Three tenants of the Sixth Ward senior housing facility known as 2100 Memorial filed suit against the Houston Housing Authority on Friday, a day before Saturday’s unenforced deadline for all residents to leave the building. Acting for the tenants, Lone Star Legal Aid claims the agency violated the rights of the building’s residents by failing to hold a hearing in which tenants could contest the decision. The agency has not given residents “any evidence to support any of the allegations of unreasonable danger which rendered the apartments uninhabitable,” the lawsuit claims. Although the building’s first floor flooded, the tenants’ apartments suffered “little, or no, damage” from the storms, the lawsuit states. Lone Star Legal Aid claims the lawsuit means the HHA will now have to “produce the facts that support its decision.” [Lone Star Legal Aid; KHOU; previously on Swamplot] Photo: Realtor.com  

09/22/17 11:00am

A spokesperson for the Houston Housing Authority tells Swamplot the city agency is not and will not be enforcing the previously announced 5-day deadline for all residents of 2100 Memorial to move out with their belongings. A notice delivered earlier this week by the building’s owner, an affiliate organization of the agency, to all 188 residents of the low-income-housing-tax-credit senior living facility labeled the structure “totally unusable for residential purposes due to health and safety reasons” after it was discovered that floodwaters had damaged the 14-story former Holiday Inn’s fire, electrical, and water systems.

The move-out deadline has not been altered, but the agency says it “understands it will take time to pack and move so they are working closely with the residents to help move in an orderly fashion.”

The photo at top shows the setup for a well-attended emergency meeting held yesterday afternoon on the second level of the building’s parking garage. At the meeting the HHA’s Board of Commissioners approved a $250,000 loan to the building’s management for relocation expenses, which it will then ask FEMA to cover. The funds will provide movers at no cost to residents to help them relocate their belongings to available residences in “Greater Houston” it has identified: 230 tax-credit units with similar rules to those governing 2100 Memorial — or 250 affordable housing units of other types.

Residents who have already hired their own movers, the spokesperson says, will be reimbursed. The agency says displaced residents will be given preference in returning to the building when it can be determined to be safe.

Photos: Swamplot inbox (meeting setup) Realtor.com (building)

Sixth Ward Exodus
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

09/18/17 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
09/15/17 12:30pm

Residents of the 79 apartments in the Hogg Palace Lofts are expecting air conditioning in their units to be restored sometime today — for the first time since power went out early on the morning of August 27th. At a meeting earlier this week, attorneys for and representatives of the Randall Davis Company told tenants of the 8-story building at 401 Louisiana St. that they were aiming for Friday for the AC to be turned on, though could not guarantee it — but that work would continue over the weekend if it couldn’t.

A somewhat parallel sequence of events played out after the promised trailer-mounted Aggreko 1 MW generator pictured above was parked along Preston St. in front of the building last Friday; difficulties in connecting it to the electrical system — including a hunt for the unknown owner of a white BMW parked in a tenant spot in the parking garage that stood in the way of a hook-up — delayed the restoration of electrical power until Monday.

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Power to the People
09/08/17 11:15am

Today’s the day a 48-ft.-long trailer-mounted 1MW Aggreko generator is expected to park on the Louisiana St. side of the Hogg Palace Lofts, a Randall Davis Companies rep tells residents. The goal: Power restored in all 79 units by the end of the day. But generator power won’t be going to elevators, corridors, or the building’s retail tenants (which include the Pad Thai restaurant on Louisiana). Those areas will have to wait until replacement electrical equipment arrives and is installed to restore permanent power in the building. References to a series of so-far-unsuccessful efforts to repair existing equipment are included in a series of emails sent to residents by the building’s management over the last 2 weeks.

The 8-story building at the corner of Louisiana and Preston has been without power since around 8 am on August 27th. “What we as tenants have been able to piece together is sub-level parking levels of the Lyric Center and the new Lyric Center garage became flooded as the bayou took a short cut down Prairie and took a left on Louisiana,” a tenant tells Swamplot. Water coursed into those parking garages down entrance ramps, then “made it under the street through vaults or conduits or whatever into the basement of the Hogg where it shorted out the electrical equipment.”

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Harvey Outages