A realtor who cut his teeth cleaning up and rebuilding faded developments on his home turf in the Third Ward last week was granted a two-year extension by the state to oversee a formerly gang-plagued condo complex in Sharpstown.
Known as the Le Promenade Townhomes, now changed to The Gardens at Bissonnet, the complex had been troubled for years by poor fiscal management, gang activity and violence, particularly from the La Primera Gang, according to court documents. The gang's identity was even linked to the condos' address at 7400 Bissonnet.
The Houston Chronicle described the situation in 2012:
Officials say the complex has been able to fall through the cracks because they are individually owned condominiums, and thus not governed by the city's 2006 multi-family ordinance. Yet one man owns 75 percent - 154 units - in effect, operating as its de facto owner.
Guo Ping Li, 60, began purchasing units through his company, Huali Investment Inc., in 1998. Li, who is in China, could not be reached. In 2009, he was given deferred adjudication for discharging petroleum hydrocarbon into a storm drain outside the complex.
Homeowners faced up to $10,000 in civil penalties in a nuisance abatement lawsuit filed against them, but the county was able to come to a temporary agreement soon afterwards.
Then came Gerald Womack, who was appointed as receiver of the property last March. Womack built a reputation rehabbing troubled properties in the Third Ward. "The sad thing is these people have nowhere else to go for what they're paying," Womack said. "It is an affordable-housing issue, an issue that related to families on a limited income. Families that want to live in decent housing," he said. Womack had helped breathe life into apartment complexes in Houston before that had fallen prey to slum lords and gangs.
One of the first things he did was tighten up security and control access to the complex, which included hiring two off-duty law enforcement officers and two security guards to patrol the grounds. He also helped the condo homeowners association balance the books and get maintenance fees from homeowners.
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From the time Womack was appointed, said the county attorney's office, violent crime reported by the Houston Police Department has dropped from a high of one violent incident a month to just four in the last year.
"It's an extraordinary remedy," said Robert Soard, a spokesman for Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan. "It gave the proper protection for the homeowners who lived there. It took away control from the absentee landlord."
"We at least went in and made the residents in that property feel like they had a piece of that community," said Womack, whose time is paid for by revenues from the property owner's association.
But there's still more work to do. Womack will be in control of the development's progress until March 26, 2014. The property, he said, needs a complete overhaul. "There's lots more to do, and we've done our best."