AIDS housing funding survives challenge in Houston city council

Helena Brown

The city funding for four Houston nonprofits providing housing to at-risk populations living with HIV/AIDS survived a challenge from city council member Helena Brown last Wednesday. Under consideration by the council were ordinances to dispense almost $2.5 million in federal funds managed by the city to the SRO Housing Corporation, Bering Omega Community Services, Catholic Charities and SEARCH Homeless services.

Brown initially used a parliamentary procedure known as a “tag” to delay the funding for the Houston SRO Housing Corporation and Bering Omega. Any council member may tag an item under consideration, delaying the vote on the item for one week. Brown explained that she objected to government funding of charitable entities:

“I spoke last week on this very issue on grant funds and the idea that we are, you know, fighting with other entities and other governments for grant funds that really isn’t there. The federal government is in a worse condition than the city of Houston and to continue to try to milk the system where there’s no milk, is just, I mean, we’re fighting with our brothers, as I said last week, to get credit for who is going to push a friend over the cliff… We need to continue to look at the private sector and the business sector. Because even, I attended this event where this wonderful speaker was talking about the generosity of Americans and 80% of donations to nonprofits come from private individuals, not even corporations, and we need to continue to rely on that right now because the government right now, we’re broke – we need to face that reality.”

Other council members spoke passionately of the need for continued funding, arguing that by assisting people living with HIV/AIDS in achieving independence, particularly those who are homeless or at risk of homelessness,  the programs added to the tax based and help insure long-term stability.

“We don’t live in a perfect a world,” said freshman council member Mike Laster (the first out gay man to serve on the Houston City Council). “These organizations do their very best to raise money to care for the people among us, but they still need to reach out to entities that have that kind of capital, and by the grace of God this city and this government as an entity has some of that capitol, and I’m very proud that we’re able to provide those kind of services to some of my community members.”

Council member Wanda Adams, who serves as chair of the council’s Housing and Community Development Committee, also spoke in favor of continuing funding. Council member Ellen Cohen, whose district contains both SRO Housing and Bering Omega, spoke of how her life had personally been touched by AIDS:

“One of the first young men to pass away in New York City was a cousin of mine of something [then] called a very rare form on pneumonia… which we now realize was not. So I understand the need for these kinds of services. On a personal note I worked with Bering and I know all the fine work that they do, I’m addressing all the items but I’m particularly addressing [the Bering Omega funding] and feel it’s absolutely critical that we provide the kind of funding items, and that we are, in fact, our brother’s and our sister’s keepers.

After Laster asked Mayor Annise Parker the procedure for overriding a tag Brown removed her tag, but raised a new concern about HIV/AIDS housing, saying that her office had requested a list of the owners of apartment units where those receiving rental assistance lived. City Attorney David Feldman explained to Brown that federal law prohibits making public information that could be used to identify people receiving assistance through the housing program. Feldman said that, in his legal opinion, revealing the names of the owners of the apartments would violate federal law. Brown said that she was concerned that their might be a “conflict of interest” with apartment owners that needed to be investigated, claiming that as the reason for her tag.

Brown eventually removed her tag, rather than have it overturned. All four ordinances providing funding passed with only Brown voting “nay.”

—  admin

Defining Homes: First Impressions

Steven McFarland, below, and his company The Make Ready Group can prep any house before it hits the market. The company also offers services to customers just in need of home services but not necessarily selling their homes.

The Make Ready Group takes care of all those finishing touches before your house goes on the market — and more

By Rich Lopez

Apartment dwellers are all too familiar with the dreaded make ready preparations when moving out. Whether it’s making sure the baseboards are pristine or the oven actually works, everything has to be in tiptop shape for that next renter.

Apply that idea to that home about to go on sell and the task grows exponentially. But don’t fret — this is where The Make Ready Group can step in.

“We focus on the whole make ready aspect of helping Realtors out,” says founder Steven McFarland.

So basically, someone can do all this for you. That in itself can be a much needed relief from the already stressful duty of selling a home. But McFarland reminds that the property owner remains completely accountable for the house and any issues it may have — especially if it’s to sit vacant while on the market.

“Although the upkeep can be farmed out to an agent, the owners of that property are responsible for everything,” he says. “Sometimes a bank will own a property but they will usually have a property preservation dispatch that covers everything in the home like maintenance, repairs, landscape. Even the structure is maintained.”

The Make Ready Group grew out of working on apartments, but evolved because McFarland was also a Realtor. He began seeing how much time was getting taken up just preparing a home when he could have been selling. Now, he and his company focus solely on homes and specialize in not only preparing a home for the market, but also taking some burden off the agents.

“They really want someone to take over that responsibility,” he says, “And we specialize in that.”

Much like that property preservation crew, the Make Ready Group are the people that will handle the same issues. With McFarland coming from a real estate background, he knows all to well the importance of having a picture perfect house.

“We do anything to a property that needs to be done. Our philosophy is that the land must be maintained,” he says. “The buyer is the consumer and they will buy what they like.”

With Texas having such extreme weather, McFarland warns of certain precautions. The Texas heat is a given, but with major ice and snow storms over the past two years, he says the smallest measures can reduce major catastrophes.

“With the cold weather like we just experienced, you always want to winterize the pipes,” he says. “Drain water from the pipes and heater and make sure the water is secured going into the property. And drip the faucets. Nobody wants the pipes to burst. I’ve seen water pouring out of the ceiling and it just destroys.”

On the flip side, he recommends safety when it comes to heat. As summer gets over 100-degree temperatures, McFarland advises that no matter what, at least two people should tend to the duties should one suffer from heat stroke.

“People tend to insulate the attics in the summer, but it gets so very hot in there,” he says. “So two people are a must. Otherwise, people should really have some good ventilation going through the house and sometimes it’s just as easy as putting a box fan in.”

But one item stands out that a buyer will have much concern over.

“Heating and air is a biggie,” he says. “A place that sits vacant for a long time with the heater or air conditioning off needs to be checked to see if it’s working properly.”

McFarland has advice for the people who opt to do the make ready themselves, because there are those few willing to take it on. With his experience, McFarland immediately knows what to look for that needs his services. But ultimately, the goal is to make the house presentable and he says that can start easily with a new coat of paint, a “royal cleaning,” adjusting doors and patching holes in the wall.

“You want it ready,” he emphasizes. “Nobody can see a flaw when they walk in.”

Just don’t think the company is only for sellers. They provide home services throughout Dallas and have moved beyond the city limits tending to homes in Frisco and Southlake. But McFarland’s also noticed a recent trend in his maintenance orders.

“Oh yeah, you don’t have to be selling the property to use us,” he says. “Even if you have a commercial space, we can do the job. We have individuals with the proper skills for most any job. And we’re familiar with lots of areas around town, but as of late, we’ve definitely been getting more orders from the LGBT community in and around Oak Lawn.”

Sounds like just the right kind of company.

For more information, visit TheMakeReadyGroup.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Feb. 4, 2011.

—  John Wright

Bad press continues for Chevelle Apartments as tenants claim units are too hot in February

A few weeks ago we told you about a tenant who claimed he was threatened with eviction for complaining to management about a leaky roof at the Chevelle Apartments.

Before that, there was this WFAA report last summer about the A/C being out for several days at Chevelle, which is in the heart of Oak Lawn at 2607 Throckmorton.

Now, tenant Stephanie Cook tells KDAF that her apartment has become “dangerously” hot again. But wait, it’s only February. Yes, but it’s warm outside, and the complex has a chilled-water system, which means tenants can’t control the temperature in their units. And they’re afraid to open the windows due to the threat of burglary.

The owner of the complex, Jack Gian, says he has no plans to turn on the A/C anytime soon and is “in shock” over the complaints: “You can’t just flip a switch,” Gian says. “I mean out here it is probably 65 degrees, 70 degrees. It’s wonderful. Maybe their units are a little stuffier than the outside. They should open windows. They should get in the habit of letting the fresh air in. You don’t control your own thermostat, to get what you want when you want. That’s one of the things they’ve got to give up when they move into a property like this.”

—  John Wright