Southwest Key Says It Has 41 Days To Open Its Immigrant Kids Center on Emancipation, Otherwise It Won’t Have the Money To Open At All

In a lawsuit it filed Friday against the City of Houston, the government contractor tasked with housing thousands of child immigrants across Texas, Arizona, and California says it’s got until October 28 to open the building it leased at 419 Emancipation Ave. — now preemptively dubbed Casa Sunzal — otherwise the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement will pull its funding for the planned facility.

The nonprofit’s biggest beef with the city (and in particular the Mayor, who grinned in June at the idea of a permitting “slow-walk” for the center) is that the compound shouldn’t be classified as a detention facility but rather a residential one. Yes, the company says in its filing, “children are verbally discouraged from leaving,” the campus, but they “are not physically restrained if they try to.” 240 kids ages “0 to 17,” were originally slated to shack up in the compound, according to the Chronicle’s Lomi Kriel. The majority of them — Southwest Key says now — would be minors that crossed the border by themselves, as opposed to those separated from their parents upon arrival in the U.S.


Having already inked a 10-year lease on the former Star of Hope homeless shelter, earned some residential permits for it, and purportedly installed furnishings and equipment inside, Southwest Key is asking the city to pay the $3.3 million it’s sunk into the center, plus $5.3 million on top to account for other costs it’ll suffer — like losing out on future government contracts due to a bad rap for seeing them through.

Photo of 419 Emancipation Ave.: LoopNet

Casa Sunzal

9 Comment

  • These centers are going to be burning through piles of cash and pocketing so much taxpayers money that it’d be really dumb for Houston not to let the center open. I’d be surprised if the centers ever get financially audited.
    This is america, nothing wrong with selling your soul.

  • @joel …. your post exemplifies exactly why we shouldn’t allow them to open.

  • Is it a “beef with the city” or a perversion of truth to claim these children are “residents” and not “in detention”? Truly, autocrats of many stripes will approve of this definitional sleight-of-hand.

  • “You don’t even pay taxes!”

  • Definition of irony is when you have a semi-permanent youth detention center on a street named “Emancipation” Avenue. Next in line for the irony train is the homeless who are now “emancipated” from this shelter back to the streets and all of those trappings (Hep-A, crime, trash, policing and monitoring). Now I know why there is a tent city set up underneath 59 freeway I get to explain to my 6 year old when we go to Astros’ games.

    The fine people of this plan were also so kind as to make sure they set up a facility these kids CAN leave but are strongly urged not to — as they are forced to be in eye shot of a professional soccer and baseball stadium.

    Not lost on me as a citizen of this city is we have decided instead of using this facility to deal with homelessness in our own backyard, we have decided instead to lease this for a federal government pet project to scare off future kids from coming to America. So now I can also park in lot C for a game and have an even MORE awkward dialogue with my kid about how he’s going to enjoy ballpark food a block away where hundreds of other kids live in a not-really prison and never see their parents. Or a game.

    Does this sound reasonable, ethical, or beneficial to anybody who really love this city?

  • “we have decided instead to lease this for a federal government pet project to scare off future kids from coming to America”
    When you say “we” I understand you to mean the Houston developer David Denenburg, owner of the building licensed as “419 Hope Partners LLC”, who leased the building to an unnamed entity and permitted that entity to lease to Southwest Key, the entity now suing the COH for “slow-walking” their efforts to profit from warehousing children. Several protests by the Free Los Ninos Coalition have been carried out at Denenburg’s home challenging his decision to permit the lease. Important to acknowledge that this decision came about by certain named people making a poor moral choice, while others are standing in resistance to that choice.

  • In all fairness the part of the COH code that governs changes of occupancy is pretty well buried in the amendments to the IBC. It actually takes the place of an appendix for tsunami generated flood hazards – which apparently don’t happen in Houston.
    I’m willing to bet the designers missed this when they initially applied for the permit / and then opened a huge can of worms because of it. Not to mention the building was designed as a warehouse, used for residential, and is now going to become institutional: which means a lot more stringent requirements.

  • Juvenile detention center is more like it. The kids are under 24 hour supervision and kept until they turn 18 or are reunited with their family in their country. (Rarely) when they manage to run away. The center calls immigration (Ice) on the runaways do they can get deported once they get caught. They should not be given their permits. We gave enough jails already.