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Sunnyside

The Green blues

First there was this.

City Controller Ronald Green

City Controller Ron Green, Houston’s top elected money manager and self-described watchdog, is seeking leniency for a five-time convicted felon and contractor who masterminded an elaborate real estate and forgery scam targeting the city’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Green is asking a judge for probation for his friend and former next-door neighbor Dwayne K. Jordon, a rogue developer who pleaded guilty to felony theft. According to indictments, Jordon pilfered 23 Houston properties from different owners and then duped unsuspecting buyers into purchasing homes built on stolen ground.

The ex-con contractor and the city controller have known each other about five years, the same period, according to a Houston Chronicle review of dozens of court records and related real estate documents, that Jordon carried out the series of land thefts, mortgage frauds and deed scams.

Harris County prosecutors want a 25-year sentence for Jordon, who has a long string of prior convictions, including kidnapping, armed robbery and illegal possession of drugs and firearms. Along with a business partner, Jordon executed the contracting scheme by forging deeds of sale on mostly vacant properties and profiting from his illegally built homes, indictments say.

Green – who owes $112,000 to the IRS and nearly lost his house to foreclosure in 2006 – has described the 46-year-old Jordon as a hardworking businessman who renovated Green’s own home. In fact, Jordon’s contract for the renovations helped Green get a new $508,000 home loan in 2008.

Acting as a character witness, Green told a judge in March that Jordon raised money to buy turkeys for the poor, performed high quality construction and “worked very hard to really try to change the face of that Sunnyside community in which he lives.”

Then there was this.

Elected Justice of the Peace Hilary Harmon Green repeatedly ordered the eviction of tenants and relatives on behalf of a five-time felon even though she and her husband, City Controller Ron Green, both had financial and personal ties to the home builder.

In one case involving Dwayne K. Jordon – a convicted thief who has admitted to repeatedly pilfering people’s properties for his residential construction projects – Green evicted Jordon’s own uncle despite a dispute over whether Jordon held ownership of the family home.

That ruling, which later was overturned by a county court, came in 2009 – the same year Green’s husband, a lawyer, was paid an undisclosed amount of money to advise Jordon on his criminal case, meet with a Harris County prosecutor and recommend a defense attorney.

Through her clerk, Hilary Green refused to comment on why she did not recuse herself from more than a dozen matters involving Jordon, who has been her neighbor, her home renovation contractor and for whom her husband has served as a character witness in the pending real estate criminal case.

[…]

Ethically, Hilary Green should have recused herself on legal cases involving Jordon because of her other associations with him, said Lillian Hardwick, an Austin attorney and expert in judicial conduct who co-authored the authoritative Handbook of Texas Lawyer and Judicial Ethics.

We don’t get much of either Green’s side of these stories, so it’s a little premature to judge them. Still, they don’t look good, and to have two bad stories in the space of a week, that’s going to leave a mark. Campos suggested after the first story came out that it put Ronald Green in a vulnerable position not just for a future Mayoral campaign but even potentially for re-election in 2013. I think it’s a little early for such speculation, but if there are more shoes to drop, then that certainly becomes possible. We’ll see if this is it or not.

Ike rebuilding funds finally coming

About time.

More than 3½ years after Hurricane Ike, a high-ranking federal housing official and Mayor Annise Parker announced Wednesday that $151 million in federal disaster relief money is on the way to four areas of Houston to rebuild or repair homes and apartments.

“It’s about time we get this taken care of,” Parker said. “Because of the enormous devastation caused by Hurricane Ike, there’s still too many Houstonians and whole neighborhoods that are reeling from the impact.”

Houston housing officials scattered the previous $87 million in Ike housing money from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development across the city. This time, they have chosen to channel the money to Acres Homes, Independence Heights, a northeast Houston crescent centered around the Fifth Ward, and Sunnyside/South Park/South Union in hopes of contributing to neighborhood redevelopment, as well as fixing individual homes.

Residents of those neighborhoods, assembled under the aegis of the Texas Organizing Project (TOP), which advocates for low-income people, have protested at City Hall about the pace of relief.

The federal money was allocated to the state.

“The state has been slow on that (passing the money to Houston) in the past,” said Mercedes Marquez, a HUD assistant secretary who attended the announcement. She said, though, that since last summer, when the state put the General Land Office in charge of Ike funding, the pace has “dramatically improved.”

Here’s the Mayor’s press release about this. The way that federal funds for Ike recovery have been disbursed has been controversial from the beginning. Here’s a Houston Tomorrow story from January 2010 that gives some of the details. I don’t want to look back at all that, I want to look forward, and when I do what I see is a tremendous opportunity for the city to help revitalize some historic neighborhoods that really need the help. I hope infrastructure improvements, whether through these funds or through the startup of Rebuild Houston, are a major component. In addition to contributing to the real estate recovery in Houston, if we do this right we can make some low-cost and underpopulated parts of town more attractive to developers, and thus draw people looking for housing closer in and inside city limits instead of the far-flung suburbs. There’s so much potential for good here, but job one is helping out the residents in these neighborhoods who have waited far too long for the assistance they’ve been owed. Let’s take care of them and go from there.

Old neighborhoods, new faces

Really interesting story about the changing faces of a couple of Houston’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

There are now almost as many Latino residents as African-Americans in Independence Heights. At the same time, there are fewer African-American children there and in other historic black neighborhoods, even when the number of African-American adults has grown.

“There’s a lot of chitter-chatter about what that means,” said Roynell Young, a former All-Pro cornerback who runs a charter school in Sunnyside. “What I do know is, you take what you have and grow it. It’s the quality of what you produce that is important.”

Decades after segregation faded in public schools and workplaces, residential neighborhoods have been slower to change. Even as people moved away from historically black neighborhoods, churches and other institutions kept them at the center of civic engagement.

But neighborhoods, like the people who inhabit them, don’t stand still.

“We are born, we grow up, we get old,” said Sheri L. Smith, who teaches urban planning at Texas Southern University. “Communities do the same thing.”

Longtime residents may resist change. “But if you move out, someone else moves in, and they’re not responsible for your memories,” she said.

I met a couple of people over the weekend who had just moved here from Brooklyn. When I told them I was from Staten Island, one of them asked me which neighborhood. I actually had to think about it for a second before I answered, because it had been so long since anyone had asked me that question. My neighborhood on Staten Island – West Brighton, for the record – and most of the neighborhoods around it were like Sunnyside and Independence Heights when I was a kid in that they stayed the same for a long time. People lived their whole lives there, and knew who everybody was. Both my father’s parents lived in the same ZIP code till the day they died. I’m not certain, but I’d bet the same was true of my mother’s father, and outside of a couple of years at the end when she was in an assisted living facility in Seattle near her son, the same was probably true of her mother. It was true for my parents until 1999, when they moved west.

It’s not true any more, at least in my family as all us kids settled elsewhere. Through various reconnections I’ve made on Facebook, I know there’s still some of my old friends there, but many have left. I suspect some of it is generational – people nowadays are more accustomed to the idea of moving away – and some of it is just how society in general is these days – modern careers are much less conducive to staying in one place forever. I haven’t been back to Staten Island in over a decade, so I can’t say for myself how much it has changed since I stopped visiting regularly. I definitely plan to take the girls to visit there in the next few years, and we’ll see how I perceive it from the perspective of fatherhood and connecting to my roots. I suspect it will be a very different experience.

On a side note, I will say that the place in Texas that is most strongly reminiscent of Staten Island to me is Galveston. Island communities, where the boundaries are clearly demarcated and there’s a big difference between being born there and not being born there, are just different. Paul Burka wrote a story about his ancestral home town awhile back for Texas Monthly, and I remember thinking as I read it that someone could write a very similar story about mine. Maybe some day I will.

Anyway, I didn’t mean to get all nostalgic on you, but that’s what this story triggered in me. It’s worth your time to read even if it’s not likely to have the same effect on you. Greg has more.

City scores another SOB victory

That makes two, and counting.

Houston won a major victory Thursday in its efforts to stamp out sex-related businesses that operate near neighborhoods or turn a blind eye to criminal activity in their facilities.

The city won a unanimous verdict against the El Rondo Motor Lodge, at 8016 Livingston in Sunnyside, in its first attempt to confront in court what Mayor Bill White has called “hot sheet” motels. Police and nearby residents testified throughout the trial, which began Monday, that the hotel was a haven for prostitution, one where condoms were sold at check-in and rooms rented by the hour.

“I am so happy, I don’t know what to do,” said James Nash, pastor of the St. Paul Baptist Church, three blocks from the hotel. “This thing has been a problem for years, one I had approached the owners about myself….We don’t want to put people out of business, but we don’t want this kind of business in our community.”

I have my qualms about the city’s war on strip clubs, but they don’t apply to this. The more the city’s focus is on this kind of business, the better as far as I’m concerned. Houston Politics and Miya have more.