Proposed migrant shelter in Houston will now only house children over 16, officials say

HOUSTON – A proposed migrant shelter in downtown Houston can move forward after the company seeking to operate it changed the parameters for people who will be held there, officials announced Thursday.

Southwest Key started seeking permission last year to open the detention facility at an old women's shelter at 419 Emancipation Ave. City leaders said the original plan called for unaccompanied minors from of all ages to be housed at the facility.

According to a lawsuit filed by the company in September, city officials had originally granted the required permits. However, city leaders said in July that the residential use permit, which covers hotels, motels or shelters, wasn’t sufficient because of the ages of the planned occupants. Unaccompanied minors required an institutional use permit, officials said.

“I opposed the original Southwest Key plan because it sought to house children ages 0 to 17 who had been separated from their parents,” Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said in a written statement. “The initial application for a certificate of occupancy did not satisfy the city’s regulatory requirements and was inconsistent with our values of keeping families together. My objection was and always will be about the children.”

Turner said that the revised plan on who will be housed at the shelter allows the facility to operate with a residential use permit. But the mayor stopped short of saying he supported the facility.

"I'm not going to say that I'm comfortable with it. If they're meeting our regulatory requirements, whether I like it or don't like it, it is what it is," Mayor Turner told Channel 2 News.

That new permit will only be issued after the necessary repairs are made to the facility, Turner said. He said a January inspection found locks on windows that double as emergency escapes, missing fire sprinkler heads and minor electrical and plumbing problems.

According to Southwest Key, the teens will be held at the facility until either a suitable relative or another adult assumes responsibility for them or they are deported.

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