Residents, advocates, council members debate alternative homes for parolees at Houston public safety meeting

Members of the media gather outside the Harris County Court House to cover the trial of Yolanda Saldivar Monday, Oct. 9, 1995, in Houston. Saldivar is charged with the murder of Tejano music star Selena. Jury selection started Monday. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

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A recent report shows there are 99 of what the city of Houston considers as ‘alternative homes’ dotted around Harris County, all intended for the purpose of housing parolees.

According to KTRK, these houses are populated by parolees who committed felonies and are serving out the remainder of their sentence at the facility.

The homes are state-approved, and their locations are reportedly difficult to come by, but the report found there are more of them in Harris County than anywhere else in Texas.

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“We didn’t have any way of regulating it. I mean, how else do you explain the difference between 118 in Harris County and 3 in Bexar County,” victim’s advocate Andy Kahan said in an interview with KTRK.

An effort is now being made by concerned residents of the neighborhoods hosting this alternative housing to make them register with the city and adhere to certain criteria previously not in place.

At a recent public safety meeting, restrictions, including adherence to building code requirements, housing one person per 200 square feet and not building any alternative houses within 1,000 feet of schools and parks, came up for discussion.

Advocates for these houses and creating effective safety restrictions say they provide a place for people to stay where they can become stable, get on their feet and avoid recidivism – returning to jail.

They say the 1,000-foot requirement in particular would make it harder for people interested in reentering society to access public resources and transportation.

The Texas Criminal Justice Coalition also opposes the distance requirement, saying reentry housing in particular shouldn’t be subject to the provision:

“These programs provide a critical service to the community,”a statement from the Coalition reads in part. “Helping returning citizens to gain skills and remove barriers to effective reentry. These programs must be in areas that are close to jobs, and easily accessible by bus routes.”

The previous distance requirement stood at 500 feet, and some existing houses could be grandfathered in under that requirement, according to KTRK.

People on both sides of the issue spoke at the city’s public safety meeting earlier this week, with some relating stories of alternative homes helping them get back on their feet and others still expressing concern for how parolees can “operate outside their restrictions” with little oversight.

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