HOUSTON – One Houston council member is leading the effort to bring more livable conditions to local tenants and keep landlords accountable.
Councilwoman Letitia Plummer said it all started after COVID-19 when eviction rates were rising.
“The eviction numbers were increasing and so I went door to door with multiple organizations to kind of let them know what their rights were and in that process, I saw how people were living and it was devastating,” Plummer said. “There was one woman who had her baby pen on top of the dresser because she said the rats were so large in her apt she obviously didn’t want anything to happen to her child. Another woman had sewer running through the base of her apartment.”
In June, Plummer put forth an amendment to create some reform to allow the city to create an ordinance to strengthen the current habitability ordinance. She is working on Apartment Inspection Reform or AIR as it has come to be known.
“This ordinance will mandate every single apartment owner that has more than three complaints against them to pay a $250 registration fee,” Plummer said.
That fee would go towards recruiting, training and hiring more inspectors which Plummer said the City of Houston’s Health Department is sorely lacking.
Within the last three years, the city has had more than 4000+ complaints for unlivable conditions at nearly 2000 properties. Just last year there were more than 1700 complains, according to data from 311.
“Currently the Health Department only has two [inspectors], and it’s impossible to chase 2000 apartment owners down when these issues are coming up,” Plummer said.
This ordinance resonates with community advocates like Doris Brown.
“It makes me live in despair because these folks have to endure this after spending their hard-earned money,” Brown said.
Ida Smith left her apartment on Cavalcade Street after she got sick.
“I left because I couldn’t deal with the mold, and I knew they weren’t going to fix it,” Smith said.
She knows her old neighbors are still suffering.
“They don’t deserve to live in these conditions, but what else can they do?” Smith said.
Many she said face intimidation and threats of eviction.
“Even today people are still intimidating folks who don’t have a decent place to live,” Brown said.
The draft still needs to go through committee and legal steps. If passed, Plummer hopes it would take effect as soon as possible.
“Where they live is how they thrive, so if we do not respect those spaces and make sure that they are safe and habitable, then how do we expect our kids to go to school and learn and expect our residents to go to work,” Plummer said.