GALVESTON — Tenants spent this week moving from an apartment home after the city learned they were living in a structure that officials condemned in March.

A Galveston Housing Authority representative and a city councilwoman said they’d be interested in learning whether measures could be implemented to ensure low-income residents aren’t living in housing unfit for habitation.

Victor Anderson, 56, and Lee Jessing, 61, a Vietnam War veteran, said they were among the tenants told just before Thanksgiving to move from 2828 Ave. Q 1/2.

Anderson, whose rent was paid by a Galveston Housing Authority voucher, and Jessing said they also had to move from the home in March. Jessing said he returned to the house about four months ago.

The building was condemned March 20 because of fire, sewage and electrical issues, city of Galveston spokeswoman Elizabeth Rogers said.

Electrical and plumbing permits were pulled and the power was restored in April to allow for service work. In May, the property manager requested an inspection, and the city found the units vacant. A city compliance officer ordered the smoke and fire detectors to be hard wired because it was a commercial property, Rogers said.

“The property manager at that time said they had to get bids and she would get back with them,” Rogers said. “In the meantime, it appears the tenants were moved into the property, unauthorized by the city.”

Anderson’s residence passed a housing authority inspection in January, but Anderson called a case manager on Oct. 24, requesting an inspection because there was no power, said Mona Purgason, the authority’s deputy executive director.

The landlord didn’t meet a 24-hour deadline to restore electricity, so the authority stopped paying for the unit and gave Anderson a voucher to find alternative housing. The authority doesn’t fund moving expenses, Purgason said.

The authority was unaware the city condemned the house, Purgason said.

On Nov. 15, a tenant called the city, reporting the electrical breakers clicking off, Rogers said.

“This is when the city discovered they had rented out the apartments and that the property was occupied,” Rogers said. “The electrical inspector and compliance officer informed them that they must move, due to the wiring not being to code.”

The new property manager went to the city’s planning department that day and stated she was unaware the property had been condemned, Rogers said. The city’s compliance officer and electrical inspector met with the owner on Nov. 19 to discuss issues and concerns, Rogers said.

The Galveston Central Appraisal District lists the owner as Omri Shafran since 2007.

Shafran told The Daily News he had met all the city’s requirements and paid to move the tenants to another of his properties.

“The city gave me one week to vacate the property, and I did it within three days,” Shafran said. “It’s a much better property.”

Shafran said he hired a contractor and paid $5,000 to have the apartment home meet city code.

“I did whatever the city told (me) to do,” Shafran said. “I didn’t cut any corners.”

Cody Michael, who attends Central Baptist Church, was at the house Monday, helping Jessing move. Michael said he was not affiliated with the owner but was just helping a fellow church member.

Jessing and Anderson complained their landlord wanted to increase their rent for the new dwellings. Shafran said paying more for an upgraded dwelling was optional.

Mark Grandich is an attorney with Lone Star Legal Aid, a nonprofit law firm that provides free legal representation for low-income Texans.

“If they have leases that are in place, and they can’t live there, they do have claims for breach of contract against the landlord for money they have to pay extra in rent,” Grandich said. 

Shafran said he’s assessing the feasibility of making repairs or whether he’ll board up the property for eventual demolishment.

Meanwhile, Purgason and Galveston City Councilwoman Cornelia Harris Banks said they would be interested in finding ways to ensure tenants don’t meet similar fates.

“I can speak for the GHA and the board,” Purgason said. “If something can be done to make discovery of something like this, then we’re all for it.”

Banks said the issue was a three-way street. Tenants, code enforcement and landlords should somehow work together to ensure residents receive appropriate housing.

Contact Reporter Chris Paschenko at 409-683-5241 or chris.paschenko@galvnews.com.

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(23) comments

Bernard Galvez

So if I'm understanding this correctly, it took months for COG to discover that they were issuing vouchers for rent on a property that COG had condemned (?) And the condemned property had no signage on the door or elsewhere indicating the condemned status.And, to top if off, the supposed vicims are slated to receive extra money on top of their free vouchers? What's wrong with this picture? Or better, what's right???

J. Shaffer

I would bet there WAS a sign and it was taken down.
What would you have us do with these 'supposed victims'?

I suppose that vet who fought for our country should just be put on the street, huh, Ave P.

Quite One

A new word, demolishment? How about demolition, Chris.[wink]

Donnie Kelemen

And GHA is going to oversee additional units? Crazy.

Ellen Morrison

I find it interesting that instead of fixing what looks to be a nice, historic building, the owner would rather demolish it. That doesn't seem appropriate for our historic neighborhoods. Such a waste.

Zen Sailor

A significant number of passive landlords treat their substandard properties like cash cows that we pay for, yet they put nothing back in.....the threat of demolition is just a bush-league form of stalling...an easy scam when the right hand doesn't know or care what the left hand is doing.

Bill Hynek

Omri Shafran, Omri Shafran, where have I heard that name before? Oh yea, back at the peak of the boom years, actually at the begining of the decline, he picked up a lot of properties from Joe Murphy that I think later on he had to default on. Apparently not all, he must have kept the choice pieces of section 8 for himself.

Wasn't the 'gay' hotel on 31st his? Wasn't there a beautiful baner flying out side for a year or two proclaiming some fantastic new development? Oh yes, and wasn't he the pitch man for an Israelie/Houston capital investment group that wanted to build a 19 story hotel on the Seawall. And isn't he conncted to that problem apartment complex down on Sealy and 18th is it? Now he's dealing in Section 8 housing treatening to tear it down if he doesn't get his way. My how the mighty have fallen.

Audrey Flowers

And just another reminder of the many many flaws in the voucher system. The only party who benefits from it is the owner of the property.

Heidi Lutz

Just a question for the reporting and editing staff on this one....CAD lists Shafran as the owner on 2828 Avenue Q 1/2. 2828 Avenue Q is owned by someone else.

Island Bred

It seems like Omri makes enough profit to own several broken down rentals, hire a few "property mangers" and not be bothered with what is going on with his own "investments" for the tax breaks he gets for providing affordable housing to americans.

He's just too busy to actually keep anything in good repair, make sure his dwellings are safe or be held accountable for his actions.

Vouchers at thier best!

Evelyn Clark

I have said it before, that the volcher system is no good. The apartment owners are renting these places that are unfit and GHA/ Citty of Galveston are not equiped to check up on these properties .. The owners take your Voulchers and then refuse to keep apartments in shape for humans to live in. PH is run by tha goverment and kept liveable. Apartment owners can make a lot of money off GHA for PH people. Stop the Volcher System for private onwers. Please, Please, Please.

Marine One

GHA's problem has always been, and always will be - accountability. They herd PH folks around like cattle, then wash their hands of them. As long as they are being paid federal dollars, they can care less about the human aspect of it. To blame the voucher system, as Evelyn has always done, is wrong. The vouchers work. GHA does not.
TJ, how do even consider code enforcement - the city - get in the middle of tenant-landlord deals? Wrong.
The landlord is cashing federal tax dollars, it's not the citys job to police the landlord. The proper claim you should have made is: Landlord-GHA - tenants need to get it together.
GHA is not the city, and the city is not GHA. Put the blame where it belongs. Square in the middle of GHA's forehead. As usual.

Evelyn Clark

I still say get rid of the slumblords , do not reward them with VOLCHERS.[sad][ban]

Island Bred

It failed CITY code inspection - not GHA inspection. It passed in Jan. Also the only reason they were told to move and the vouchers stopped was because the owner failed to have the lights back on within 24 hours. Had nothing to do with inspections.

All this other stuff is the cities responiblility. City makes code not GHA. Seems to me the city and GHA would have better lines of communication.

So are you saying there should be NO code enforcement in the city of Galveston for rental property? Or is it just voucher slum landlord properties you want excluded from safety and regulatory codes????

What a genius!!!

Marine One

Margarita, can you read, or just spout off? GHA is, has, and always be the overlords of the tenant/landlord agreement. City code enforcement is levied against the owner of said property - the landlord. It is GHA's j.o.b. to require the landlord to keep said property in compliance with city code.
Stay in LaMarque where you reside.

Island Bred

You really are a genius!! [beam]

Island Bred

If you read what I typed you could understand what I said.

Communication. The problem seems to be the code enforcement doesn't notify GHA when a building fails an inspection. Good lord - the city doesn't know who lives there or if it's voucher or not. Guess a clue would be if it can't pass an inspection, it must be GHA.

All this happened due to no follow up by the city - NOT GHA. Nice try there Elmo

Marine One

typical. if ya say it enough you'll believe it.

Kevin Lang

Government is really good at building bureaucratic silos. While code enforcement is the city's job, GHA really should periodically set some eyes on things. There probably should also be periodic monitoring by the fire marshal, too. In subsidized housing, it's pretty likely that residents aren't going to say anything until things get really bad, if then, making it more imperative that there's more than one agency trying to help the landlords stay honest and legal. It would also help if the agencies did more to build non-adversarial relationships with the landlords and residents.

DeeDee2Die4

Teabillies wanted vouchers and a landlord mayor. Congrats! Take a look around town for the worst maintained properties then, look up who owns them. You'll be surprised (not) that 'pillars of the community' own or manage them.

WOW47

This town is full of slumlords....it is shameful....not everyone is on the voucher program - some of us are working and paying our own way...and still have to deal with slum landlords....This is an issue that belongs to the owners of the property - not the city or any other agency....It is irresponsible owners .... look around....this city is full of them!

Ellen Morrison

GHA has the responsibility of inspecting (regularly) the properties that qualify for Section 8. If it can't pass COG, it shouldn't be able to pass GHA. I'd like to see the inspection records for the properties that GHA manages Section 8 vouchers for.

Also, it would be interesting to have the address situation (as pointed out by MsHeidi below) clarified. Some sort of typo, probably, since the landlord is quoted, but it would still be nice to see a correction.

Marine One

Graber Familiy Properties is in ownership of approximately 90 single home section 8 dwellings in the city of Galveston alone. GHA is required by HUD to inspect these dwellings "at least" annually in order to continue pouring tax dollars into them.
That does not happen.
The pecking order for section 8 standards is HUD, GHA then the landlord.

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