Houston, TX – Late Friday, Lone Star Legal Aid attorneys Mark Grandich and Rich Tomlinson filed a lawsuit on behalf of 3 residents living at 2100 Memorial Drive. The Houston Housing Authority (HHA), owns the high-rise, which is the home of 198 senior citizens. The lawsuit seeks to block the HHA from canceling all of the leases of the elderly residents living there. The petition states that the residents’ apartments “suffered little, or no, damage from Hurricane Harvey.”
In the immediate aftermath of Harvey’s torrential rainfall, like thousands of other Houstonians, the elderly residents at 2100 Memorial briefly lost power. Then they lost functionality of the building’s water pump. During those days, with the elevator out of service, friends, family, and health care providers went up and down stairwells in the 14 story building, delivering everything the residents needed, including food, healthcare, and water buckets to flush the toilets. Thankfully, nobody lived on the flooded first floor.
Within a few days, the flood water receded from the first floor, functionality of the building’s water pump was restored, and residents could use the elevator again, allowing them to come and go. Life was returning to normal.
The peace of mind that the residents regained in the days after Harvey was rocked on September 18, 2017. That night, 25 days after the storm hit, every resident discovered that Notices to Vacate (NTV) had been placed on their front doors. According to the NTV, the damage to each apartment from Hurricane Harvey was so extensive that each apartment was deemed “totally unusable for residential purposes…” Even worse, the residents were given only 5 days to leave. They couldn’t understand why; their apartments suffered minimal damage, if any.
The residents don’t want their lives disrupted; they want to remain in their homes. They don’t have a place to go – Houston is overflowing with tenants searching for affordable rentals. Many of the residents at 2100 Memorial need units that are equipped for disabilities. If they are forced to leave, they will also be separated from their friends and neighbors, a vital part of their support network. Helen Malveaux, an attorney experienced in fair housing issues, voiced her concern for the residents, citing studies where other natural disasters completely uprooted populations from their homes. Those studies show that the disruption in the lives of elderly persons can have long reaching negative effects, including a reduction in cognitive function.
Grandich and Tomlinson are fighting to preserve the rights of the residents to dispute HHA’s conclusion that the apartments are totally unusable for residential purposes. They contend that HHA is violating the due process rights of the residents and that every resident has the right to a hearing to contest the decision to force them out. The hearing is crucial because it will allow the residents the opportunity to challenge the factual basis for HHA’s decision. “This is the type of problem that made me want to be a legal aid lawyer; being able to help people who are vulnerable against the misuse of power,” said Grandich, the lead attorney on the case. Because he and Tomlinson filed this suit, the HHA will have to produce the facts that support its decision.