HOUSTON - Demonstrators packed the lawn of a senior living community Saturday that was recently purchased by a state representative. They’re claiming residents are being pushed out by rising rents and efforts to bring in new tenants.
With picket signs and a bullhorn in hand, a crowd of about 30 people yelled in unison outside the front office building of the Pleasant Village Apartments in east Houston.
"Not on our watch," they chanted, led by Democratic Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee.
Supporters and residents of the Pleasantville neighborhood say they're fighting for their senior citizens.
"I heard they’re moving them out because they want to raise the rent, so they are evicting the ones they figure can’t afford the rent," says resident Paul Randle.
Pleasantville is known as the first master-planned community for middle-class Blacks in the United States. Its senior living, Pleasant Village Apartments, was sold in summer 2021 to APTPV, LLC, a company owned by Republican Texas House Representative Gary Gates.
Since the buyout, the affordable- housing complex started offering units to new, non-senior residents who reportedly pay full price.
"The sale of the property isn’t as much an issue as the plans to increase the rent on residents who make minimal money, generally on social security," says Bridgette Murray, President of the Pleasantville Super Neighborhood Council. "There are individuals also on disability, and they are having a hard time with the idea of displacement and finding conditions that would be comparable to what they have now."
Protestors gathered outside the apartments complaining that residents in their 80s and 90s are facing higher rents while they can hardly afford medicine and groceries.
"From all accounts, it’s no longer a senior complex," says Mary Fontenot, President of the Pleasantville Civic League. "We are raising rent. We are getting rid of the seniors. That was the message."
She says one resident was told her rent would increase to $900 per month by management.
"We’ll hold your rent for at least a year, but on January 2023, your rent will go up," Fontenot notes the resident has since relocated.
The group also claims three legal evictions have already taken place, one with a man who was in the hospital.
FOX 26 reached out to Craig Murphy, spokesperson for Gary Gates who says rate increases are possible with any property, but for the Pleasant Village seniors, they're only rumors.
"The rent wasn't raised. It's the same rent they've been paying since before Gary Gates owned it," says Murphy.
He says the evicted hospitalized resident was adjusted to a move-out after management found out he was in long-term hospital care. Murphy says the two other evictions were dropped after they helped residents get COVID relief funds.
He also says Gates is bringing in new, non-senior residents to offset a $200,000 tax bill that could increase as Gates pays out of pocket for updates to the property which include carpeting and A/C upgrades.
"The reason it was sold is because the charitable organization that owned the apartments couldn’t afford the repairs that were needed," says Murphy, referring to the previous owners, Texas Interfaith Ministries. "If local authorities want to waive the taxes they weren't charging the previous owners but now charge Gates, that would be the easiest way to lower rates."
Protestors say they’ve received mixed messages about the ratio of seniors to "other" tenants, and they're fighting to keep Pleasant Village a seniors-only community. Their complaints of gentrification were backed by threats of a lawsuit from Democratic Texas House Member Harold V. Dutton Jr. who represents District 142 where the community sits.
However, Gates's rep says the protest is politically convenient and suspects things may quiet down after Gates’s meeting with local leaders scheduled for March 2nd, the day after the 2022 Texas Primary election.