City of Houston considers new ordinance for halfway houses

- Back in 2004 we uncovered a boarding house in a southeast side neighborhood that was home to a number of mentally ill people and two sex offenders. At the time, the city could do nothing to close it down.

Unlicensed group homes and halfway houses have been an issue for Houston for more than three decades. Part of the reason is no zoning.

“Part of it frankly is because TDCJ is allowed to do this under what I would call 'a cloak of secrecy' because nobody knew they were doing this,” said crime victims advocate Andy Kahan.

The state’s prison system calls them alternative housing facilities. This one at 1607 Airline is home to 21 parolees. In 2007, Harris County had 67 of these alternative housing facilities. Now there’s 118 of them. Compare that to Dallas with 32, Austin with 31, and Fort Worth with 11. San Antonio has only 3.

“When you add those numbers up, it doesn’t even come remotely close to how many we have in the greater Houston area,” Kahan said.

“Now it’s to the point where we need to do something. We need to be proactive,” said District A city council member Brenda Stardig.

Stardig proposed a city ordinance that, if passed, will require these alternative housing facilities, homeless shelters and pop up group homes to register with the city and make everyone aware of who is living there.

“And the public and the neighbors know who is in their community,” said Stardig.

“We take people from the society of prison and put them back and make them members of society and that’s a big difference,” said Tony Vanderbur who oversees a faith-based alternative housing facility at 11606 Ashworth.

Sixteen parolees live there including Scott Kimes who was convicted of capital murder in Nueces County.

Vanderbur says some regulation is needed, but he fears the proposed ordinance is overreaching.

“Police are going to have oversweeping authority to be able to walk in here anytime, walk through the house, see what inmates have got,” Vanderbur said. “They can’t do that at a private residence.”  

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