Houston is a city of renters – and a University of Texas study has found that the city’s system for regulating apartment living conditions is dysfunctional.
Heather Way, director of the Entrepreneurship and Community Development Clinic at the UT Law School, is one of the head researchers behind the study. She says the situation in Houston is a “dangerous apartment epidemic“.
“The Houston Police Department puts out this list of high crime properties and there is one property where every 1.3 days on average a major crime is committed in that apartment community,” Way says. “We mapped where these properties are. They are heavily concentrated in communities of color. So it’s African American and Hispanic tenants that are living in these really high crime properties that are impacted.”
Poor apartment conditions are a reality for many neighborhoods throughout Houston, which has the third largest number of rental units in the country.
Problems like sewage overflows, collapsing ceilings, molding units, and rat infestations are among the conditions that affect tenants’ safety, as well as their physical and mental health, according to Way.
“In one of the properties that we looked at, tenants had called in for sewage overflows inside and outside the units,” she says. “One tenant called 311 to report that she couldn’t even leave her front door without having to walk through sewage, and it took the city five weeks to go out and inspect their unit.”
The major focus of the UT report was to look at apartment safety programs that Houston adopted around 10 years ago, following tragic incidents involving children who died due to deteriorating apartment conditions.
“Houston has five different departments that have a hand in apartment safety,” Way says, “which is very problematic, because tenants’ calls, we found, get shuffled from one department to another, because it’s unclear who has oversight over certain issues, and it results in longer delays.”
Way’s team says the city could benefit from a tenant advocacy group to provide education to renters about their rights and help them advocate with their landlords and at the City Hall. They also recommend more aggressive tenant codes enforcement.
Written by Cesar Edmund Lopez-Linares.