It has always been strange that a member of the Texas House admits he spends half his time in Crested Butte, the ski town in Colorado. Yet that’s what Republican Gary Gates tells us as he represents part of Fort Bend County in the Houston area.
Stranger still is his habit of getting into trouble in the city of Houston as a “slumlord,” which is the label that Texas Railroad Commission Chairman Wayne Christian (Republican) and Houston City Council Member Robert Gallegos (elected on a non-partisan basis) have publicly applied to Gates.
The freshest pile into which Gates has plowed his skis involves a village-like set of leased homes that was set aside by a non-profit for seniors in Pleasantville, an east Houston subdivision designed for Black homeowners. Needless to say, it has no snow-skiing facilities.
Multiple news organizations in Houston report that Gates’ company, Gatesco — which he says employs 500 people — bought the complex a few months ago for $7.4 million from the non-profit, Inter-Faith Texas.
Gates owns dozens of apartment complexes across Harris County. One was the scene of a notorious double murder in 2021 and others have been the subject of hundreds of 9-1-1 calls and city code violation citations. Early in the pandemic, he drew attention for trying to evict tenants from more than 100 apartment units.
And now? Gates has already filed eviction cases against residents in three of Pleasant Village Apartments dwellings. He said he went forward in two cases to qualify the residents for rental aid from the government.
But Gates unabashedly acknowledges that he plans to hit the tenants with huge monthly rent increases starting next year.
His explanation? Now that the seniors’ village is no longer owned by a non-profit, his overhead is increasing because he has to pay taxes on the property. As he told the Houston Chronicle, it’s “the fact that we’re going to be paying the operational costs the former owner did not have to pay.”
Gates also said he plans to make $1 million in improvements to the properties.
But renters have reason to doubt his fix-up plan.
In the 2021 legislative session, Gates filed a bill aimed at reducing the required amount of repairs landlords must make to vacant apartments before re-renting them. The bill failed.
As Reform Austin reported, Gates has a record of defaults, fines and lawsuits. And while Gate’s thousands of tenants went without heat and safe water during the Big Freeze last year, Gates fled to Florida on his private jet.
It makes sense that Pleasant Village residents like Faye Burnet, 76, who grew up in Pleasantville, are worried about what will happen to them as new Gatesco tenants.
“Everybody is just in limbo, we’re just waiting and waiting to see,” she told the Chronicle. “You’d be scared too. You don’t have to be a senior to have that feeling.”
Gates has acknowledged that he will no longer reserve all of the units for seniors.
He’s getting pushback from Democratic officeholders. U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, state Sen. John Whitmire (and his primary opponent, Molly Cook) and state Rep. Harold Dutton have criticized Gates’ plan while meeting with residents.
“This is the beginning of the end of Pleasantville, and I will not have it,” Jackson Lee told residents. “You have no right to destroy people’s investments. These are their homes, they have raised their children or taken care of grandchildren or are taking care of themselves here.”
According to the Chronicle, Jackson Lee said she has contacted the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development regarding the sale, and hinted at the possibility of lawsuits to block some of Gates’ moves.