Houston Family Forced From Home by Eminent Domain

Story PhotoOscar Trevino Jr. and his ailing mother were forced to give up their property – a property they had owned for some 45 years – or face an eminent domain lawsuit.

Trevino’s properties are located at 2414 and 2416 Shearn… A street that – pretty much – no longer exists.  Shearn has been incorporated into the new Sawyer Heights Village – an outdoor shopping center, located two miles northwest of downtown (just south of I-10 at the Taylor exit).  The center will include a Target, chain restaurants, apparel shops, and banks.  According to the Houston Press, it’s “a dream
come true for nearby Heights residents.”  Trevino does not agree.

Oscar Trevino owns both houses – now located in the parking lot for the shopping center.  In one, he resides with his ailing 70-year-old mother.  The other used to contain the family business.  Oscar, and his eight siblings – who still return at least once a week for a family dinner – grew up in the houses.

These aren’t pretty homes.  They’re marked by peeling paint, window unit air conditioners, and broken steps.  They’re even listed in “poor” or “very poor” condition, and are only appraised at around $75,000 (according to Harris County).  The yards, however, are filled with an assortment of fruit trees.  One – an apple tree – Oscar says he “grew from the seed of an apple I bought at H-E-B.” 

Growing up, Oscar says, Shearn was a sleepy dead-end street that was often overlooked by everyone from passers-by to city services.  According to real estate agent Kelly Williams, the Trevinos are sitting on a gold mine… One of the hottest properties in town.

About two years ago, the Trevinos were first approached about selling their property.  The Trevinos were the only ones in the neighborhood to resist selling their property, and they did so with quiet dignity.  Oscar lived there with his parents, for most of his life.  He simply did not want to give up the home.

Oscar, however, says a broker representing Property Commerce – the builders of the center – shadowed him for months.  Each afternoon Oscar visits his father’s grave site at Hollywood Cemetery.  The broker would follow him, to the cemetery, and to the storefront church where his (Oscar’s) father served as pastor for twenty years.

According to Oscar, the broker used the personal angle, saying things like, “I want to talk to you about your property, you don’t know what you’re passing up. You’re being selfish. Your sister needs a new Suburban.”  Property Commerce states that the broker in question is no longer retained by the company, and this his actions were uncalled for.  “You just don’t do that,” said Chad Moss, a point person for the project.

Eventually, however, the broker threatened an eminent domain lawsuit.  This – plus the strain on their diabetic and ailing mother – was the final straw for the Trevinos.  Seeing no alternative, they begrudgingly accepting the money, though by waiting as long as they did, they may well have been awarded a significantly larger amount than those who left early.  Although the Trevinos won’t disclose the amount they received, guesstimates are around the three quarters of a million dollar mark. 
A pittance, when compared to four and a half decades worth of memories.

Oscar fought to keep the family home, as a reminder of their childhood, and their deceased father.  Oscar had also hoped that the new mall would enable the family’s business to finally take off.  The Trevinos must be out by April 22nd.  It is likely that the houses will be leveled and paved over, almost immediately.

Oscar already has a new home on the north side of town, but he still says he would rather go on living where he was… Even if it was in the middle of a parking lot.

“We fought it till the end,” he said.  “Now they’ll make it into an Applebee’s or a Bennigan’s or whatever.”

In this author’s mind, this is yet another sad case of the abuse of eminent domain.


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4 Comments so far

  1. Steelsun (unregistered) on April 13th, 2006 @ 7:24 am

    Hmm,there was avague threat of ED by a commerical company with no power of ED.
    There is no proof that ED would have been employed or was even being considered by the city.
    The people got alot more $ for the property than the city would have given them if an ED was done.

    Seems to me it’s mostly smoke.

    If anything, the people have a casue of suit against the developer/broker for threatening legal process (i.e. a sort of extrortion), but little elst to complain about.

  2. katya (unregistered) on April 13th, 2006 @ 8:48 am

    We’ve been completely and totally stoked about the new Target, as it will only take us like 2 minutes to get into that parking and burst through those red doors. Now I feel a little less thrilled… that’s pretty rough…

  3. HouDog (unregistered) on April 13th, 2006 @ 9:20 am

    I think the use of eminent domain is often disgusting… there is never an excuse for a business to force a homeowner out for the sake of profit. There is no “public good” in putting up a Target.

    Ten times the worth of their property however, and no actual use of eminent domain, tells me that the Trevino’s were just being greedy and apparently they did have their price.

    This is not a case of eminent domain gone bad… the real cases of abuse leave homeowners with pennies on the dollar and no recourse. As sucky as it is that yet another monolithic company put up yet another income-sucking aberration, they paid the Trevino’s well for their sacrifice.

  4. Blokk (unregistered) on April 13th, 2006 @ 2:06 pm

    A real estate broker can’t invoke ED. As the previous poster said, it seems these people should have employed a lawyer who would have not only informed them of the legal issues surrounding ED and the empty threats of the broker, but also filed a lawsuit on their behalf for the way this company went about their business.

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