Was This Disaster Necessary?

A citizen at Allen Parkway Village

Although HACH had de facto abandoned its responsibilites to the residents, some officials of of HUD were still monitoring the situation. One of Elbert Wynn's last acts as a HUD offical was his attempt to set up programs to acclimate the Vietnamese residents to life in America. Today, among the handful of remaining residents, there are still Vietnamese who, after a decade in the shadows of downtown Houston, must use an interpreter to communicate in English.

And that is some of what went wrong with Allen Parkway Village. The whole story may never be told. As this is written, HACH is negotiating with Secretary Cisneros of HUD for permission to abolish APV. Current HACH plans call for 150 units to be modernized and remain public housing, and the rest to be demolished and sold. A recent appraisal of the remaining 800-odd apartments and support buildings gave the property a raw-land value of fifteen million dollars. To comply with the public-housing privitazation requirements first laid down by the Reagan administration, the Residents' Council will have a sixty-day head start on the private sector to come up with $15 million.

Please quickly calculate the odds on a handful of public-housing residents coming up with that kind of money -- and at least another $15 to begin restoring the long-neglected buildings.

An impossible sum to one group, of course, is pocket change to another. If the privitization plan goes through, please do not be too surprised to discover that a corporation (with close ties to the Board of Commisioners of the Housing Authority of the City of Houston, of course) has wound up with a nice piece of property near downtown.

There is one small physical difficulty in demolishing APV, and in that physical difficulty lies a solution which gives the powerful what they want and the poor the righteous justice they deserve.

Unlike the pork-barrel public-housing highrises of the Great Society, APV was intelligently designed. Built for defense workers during the Second World War, the patriotic will-power that went into its construction is still evident. A decade and a half after being abandoned by the city, these are still some of the structurally soundest buildings in Houston. These dwellings are fireproof; a fire in one room will scarcely blister the paint on the other side of the wall. During my last walk through the project I located only one structural crack despite fifteen or more years of neglect. This place was built to last; it's going to be a monster to tear down.

I'm thinking about explosives here, specifically, an air strike. Here's my Fantastical and Satisfyingly Gruesome Proposal:

Let's wait until the next batch of local bankers and politicians who come to the attention of the Department of Justice are up for sentencing. Let's ask the judge to give them a choice between telling everything they know about HACH and APV, or being in maximum-security population until, as Joseph Wambaugh puts it, they can carry six armadillos and a bowling ball with no hands.

And when we know the deeds of every elected official, every bureaucrat, every developer and banker whose greed, incompetence and selfishness contributed to the misery, the despair, the waste of money and lives that has been the final chapter of Allen Parkway Village, we gather those guilty individuals on the site. And when they are all there, among the oak trees and old buildings, down swoop the the Tomcats.

I can supply the names of a few people who would pay to stand on the Sabine Street Bridge with a walkie-talkie and ground-guide the Tomcats in.

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