The senior living situation

This story hit me in a couple of ways.

Ever since the power went out Thursday night from the devastating storm that hit Houston, Brian Cotten has been living on water and peanut-butter sandwiches in his sweltering apartment at a senior living center in the Heights.

“We were trying to help each other as best we could,” said Cotten, who lives with 230 residents at the Houston Heights Towers on 19th Street and serves as president of the community’s resident council.

For two days, no one at the city was aware of the residents’ plight. Cotten was worried about his neighbors, many of whom are on oxygen or use wheelchairs. The building’s landlord, the nonprofit Housing Corporation, had few employees on hand during the outage.

Cotten finally called the city’s Office of Emergency Management on Saturday to request help. City Councilmember Abbie Kamin said she was alarmed by what she saw when she arrived at the facility later that day.

“I pulled up, and an ambulance was already here because somebody was overheated,” said Kamin, who believes the landlord should have done more to make sure residents had what they needed during the Houston power outage.

On Sunday, Mayor John Whitmire harshly criticized the managers of the Heights Towers and other senior-living communities in Houston, alleging that residents had been “abandoned” during the power outage.

“It is outrageous,” said Whitmire, who specifically mentioned the Towers and another facility, Independence Hall, during a news briefing. Most troubling, the mayor added, is that there could be horror stories that the city doesn’t even know about.

“Are there facilities across Houston that no one’s been able to contact?” Whitmire asked. “We’re only able to fix what we know about.”


Kamin said she’s primarily concerned about what appears to be a lack of emergency planning for the nonprofit’s senior communities in the Heights, which provide housing for hundreds of low-income residents.

The councilmember contacted the nonprofit’s vice president and chief operating officer, Linda Holder, and wasn’t satisfied with her responses.

“‘I asked, ‘What is your emergency response (plan)?’” Kamin recalled. The answer: “‘We don’t have one.’” A message with Holder wasn’t returned Sunday.

“I said, ‘We’re gonna focus on getting y’all what you need right now. But we will be having some very serious conversations after this,’” Kamin said. “They keep claiming it’s a quote unquote, ‘independent living facility.’ I believe most of these residents are in wheelchairs or are amputees. There are individuals who are blind.”

The Fire Department had to be called Saturday night when a generator stopped working and a resident was trapped in an elevator.

“We had, at one point, like, four or five ladder trucks here,” said Kamin, who visited the facility with Fire Chief Samuel Peña.

My in-laws looked at this place in the past. My parents live in an independent living facility in the Portland area, which is a nice community that has had many problems relating to food service and maintenance and security that all boil down to their ownership looking for ways to cut costs without taking the effect of those cuts on their residents into consideration. My heart goes out to the folks at the Heights Tower and the onsite maintenance staff there who did heroes’ work trying to fix the problems caused by the storm.

As the story notes, while nursing homes are licensed by the state, there are no license requirements for independent living facilities like Heights Tower. I’m sure there’s a good argument to be made that reducing such regulatory burdens allows for the greater supply of such facilities, which are absolutely needed as the boomer population gets ever older. But there’s also a cost to that approach, as seen here. Having an emergency response plan, which would allow for better and more efficient coordination with the city when the need arises, is a good start. Whether there should be more federal or state oversight is a matter for another day, but it’s clear from this experience that what we’d always been doing isn’t the right approach. I look forward to seeing the city’s response down the line.

UPDATE: Here’s a second independent living facility that had issues in the aftermath of the storm; I only saw that story after I drafted this post. Residents complain that they were abandoned by building management after the power went out, the building management disputes that, Mayor Whitmire is involved. Again, I am interested to see what the city does about this sort of situation going forward.

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4 Responses to The senior living situation

  1. Bayard Rustin says:

    It appears as though Independence Hall is managed by Creative Property Management Company. Ostensibly a nonprofit, Independence Hall’s 990 showed $289K in salaries in 2022. So, I’m wondering if the property management company dropped the ball on the residents of this complex. I’m wondering too if the onsite people were low-paid and given all the responsibility with none of the resources. Almost like private equity where the big shots reap huge rewards and everyone else is left holding the bag.

  2. Meme says:

    As someone used to say, “It’s hell to be poor.” So, who is going to pay for extra services that may be needed once every few years?

    People pay or get what they can afford.

  3. Jason Hochman says:

    I was wondering why there were so many fire engines were out there on Saturday.

  4. Pingback: More on the senior living situation | Off the Kuff

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