While there are many scenic views along the White Oak Bayou Hike and Bike trail, the former Oakbrook Apartments at 5353 DeSoto St. is not one of them. Bikers and pedestrians have become accustomed to the boarded up windows, tall grass and general dereliction, but perhaps change is on the horizon.
The 222-unit, 18 building complex, which according to HCAD was built in 1980 as low income housing, has been abandoned for at least five years. The apartments were recently mentioned by a Leader reader concerned about Houston Housing Authority development at the former Pinemont Park and Ride who wondered why “HHA abandoned the vacant housing and land located a few miles away off Antoine [at] DeSoto? HHA should utilize the land and property that is already in their possession.”
The problem is that the city doesn’t have them anymore. Until 2012, the apartments were owned by City Apartment Inc. out of Roslyn, NY. In 2013, they were offered for sale and acquired by Fertile Real Estate, LLC.
Fertile Real Estate LLC filed as a Domestic Limited Liability Company in the State of Texas in September of 2013. The registered agent on file for this company is Jianzhen Zhang. The other principals are Fangzhen Wu, Jianzhen Zhang from Houston TX, Jiyu Wu, Chi Lianlian from Houston TX, Chi Rongxing from Houston TX, and Ruixue Hu.
Representatives from Fertile Real Estate could not be reached for comment with regard to their plans for the complex, but Alvin Wright with the Houston Public Works department can confirm that the property is in discussions with city legal.
“It was never was declared a dangerous building as the owners keep it secure,” said Wright.
Oakbrook does have quite the paper trail with the city. The Department of Neighborhoods Inspections & Public Service division has recorded more than 70 project numbers on 5353 Desoto relating to several different units in the complex and dating back to year 2005.
Most recently, after a December 2014 inspection of the vacant property, the owner was notified to abate weeds and graffiti and an extension was granted to the owner to abate.
According to the Houston Police Department’s calls for service, officers regularly patrol the area. The most serious crime on recent record was an assault on the complex grounds in May of 2013.
If the Near Northwest Management District had their way, the property would be demolished. In the “Fight Against Blight” section on their website, the NNMD said that “Oakbrook needs to be demolished so their vacant properties in the flood plain do not continue being a source of vagrants and drug usage.”
In January of 2014, Roksan Okan-Vick, executive director of the Houston Parks Board, told The Leader that when the property was for sale the Houston Parks Board did try to acquire it with help from the city, but said the price was too high, especially for a property which is in the flood plain.
In 2015, HCAD appraised the property at $1,688,375, up from $1,069,987 the previous year.
Roksan Okan-Vick said that the apartments might be a candidate for acquisition in the future, although the Parks Board keeps any negotiations close to the vest – lest “speculators get ahead of us.”
“We acquire first what we need for connectivity,” said Okan-Vick, “but we also try to pinpoint what would be other nice parcels of land to acquire in the future.”
With connectivity on the White Oak Bayou trail from Antoine to Alabonson scheduled to be complete by Memorial Day, the hike and bike traffic by the apartments will only increase.
And that’s a good thing according to Okan-Vick.
“We’re finding that the more women and children use these trails, the safer people perceive them to be,” she said.
She also encourages the public to communicate any non-emergency concerns that they may have to 311.
“We have maintenance crews out on the trails, who are on the lookout for suspicious behavior, but we always like to add to our eyes and ears,” she said.