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Houston Fails to Inspect, Endangers Lives
Wednesday, 16 May 2007

Thousands of Houston buildings at risk for fire, collapse
11 News Investigates discovered thousands of local places not passing those inspections and not obtaining a certificate that makes them legal. And while the building owners aren't fixing the problems, city inspectors often do little or no follow up; putting Houstonians at risk...11 News Investigates obtained city records showing more than 20,000 buildings in Houston have gone more than five years without passing the required inspections. So who’s not minding the store? Houston’s Code Enforcement division in the Department of Public Works. “At the very least ot looks like an agency that has operated with gross incompetence,” Texas Watch spokesman Alex Winslow said. Texas Watch is a government watchdog group. “It’s unconscionable, it is irresponsible and the people of Houston deserve much better,” he said.

Thousands of Houston buildings at risk for fire, collapse
Tuesday, May 15, 2007
By Mark Greenblatt / 11 News Investigates

Back ground The story behind the story 
View Video Report: Mark Greenblatt's 11 News report
View with Windows Media: Mark Greenblatt's 11 News report

11 News has found thousands of Houston buildings are at greater risk for fire or collapse.

11 News Investigates fought for nine months to get this information: fought with city attorneys and officials who didn’t want 11 News to have it.

It’s a matter of life and death.

It was a day in late March as the smoke curled into the sky and nearly 120 firefighters tried to save a Houston mid-rise and the lives trapped in its flames.

Lives like those of Shana Ellis, Marvin Wells and Jeanette Hargrove.

She never made it out.

“My heart was broken when I saw the fire,” her husband Willie said. “I was screaming my wife’s name.”

She never made it out to her husband or their 16-year-old daughter.

“I came home and watched the news, and everything was going through my head,” Porsche said.

But father and daughter are both disturbed by something 11 News discovered.

“I don’t want my wife and the other victims of that fire death to be in vain,” Hargrove said.

Before anyone lives or works in a building, the buildings have to pass a vital life safety inspection and obtain a certificate of occupancy.

But 11 News Investigates discovered thousands of local places not passing those inspections and not obtaining a certificate that makes them legal. And while the building owners aren't fixing the problems, city inspectors often do little or no follow up; putting Houstonians at risk.

Take the mid-rise fire: On one fifth-floor unit, documents show it needed repairs to exit lights, hadn’t passed an electrical inspection. And more: It turns out this unit was the very unit the fire began.

What’s more? At least 17 other units here never passed inspection either, with one getting by for 15 years.

For Hargrove, it’s hard news.

“I don’t like that at all,” he said.

His message to everyone responsible: “The should have everything up to code … it doesn’t sit well. When you know that if you don’t do your job, somebody’s life is at risk – that should be enough.”

KHOU-TV

The HISD food warehouse has had electrical and structural problems for the past 10 years.

But guess what?

11 News Investigates obtained city records showing more than 20,000 buildings in Houston have gone more than five years without passing the required inspections.

So who’s not minding the store? Houston’s Code Enforcement division in the Department of Public Works.

“At the very least ot looks like an agency that has operated with gross incompetence,” Texas Watch spokesman Alex Winslow said.

Texas Watch is a government watchdog group.

“It’s unconscionable, it is irresponsible and the people of Houston deserve much better,” he said.

What’s he talking about? It’s not just commercial and private buildings that are affected, but schools too, where inspections can help prevent collapses like the one at Houston Gardens Elementary.

Yet in the Houston Independent School District, 163 schools don’t have a certificate of occupancy, but still have children attending there today.

Schools such as River Oaks Elementary, Cullen Middle and Waltrip High School.

11 News: “We’re talking about people’s lives, in some cases, on the line, would you agree?”

Andy Icken: “Yes we are.”

Icken is the new deputy director of Public Works.

“It wouldn’t make sense for us to have a building code if we didn’t think it was important,” Icken said.

So what about another HISD building? A food warehouse has piled up life-safety violations for electrical and structural problems for the past 10 years, conditions employees are forced to work around.

11 News: “Does anything about the way that transpired over 10 years concern you?”

AI: “Yes it does; it went on too long — no question it went on too long. We should have pulled the plug.”

And so the warehouse was finally red tagged and given 10 days to shape up or close down.

And what about the the mid-rise?

11 News: “Should the city have followed up on that unit?”

AI: “I believe we should have. I think that’s a fair critique.”

But there’s an irony to the story: Buildings like one run by the city Health Department with a leaking roof and a rotted or termite-infested structure.

Or even Public Works buildings, city of Houston properties that have not passed the life safety inspection.

AI: “And that’s being corrected.”

11 News: “How does that make you feel?”

AI: “We need to improve that.”

http://www.khou.com/news/defenders/investigate/stories/khou070514_ac_buildingsafety.6b995209.html

 Video link: http://www.khou.com/sharedcontent/video/makeASX.php?title=www.khou.com/greenblatt_070514.wmv&adurl=adcontent/Khou/CosmeticSurgeryIO440604.wmv

 
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