The historic Houston community of Pleasantville, founded in 1948, holds the distinction of being the first master-planned community for middle class Blacks in the United States. Part of the community is Pleasant Village Apartments, created early on in that community’s history as a high-quality residence for seniors. The complex has maintained that status for decades. However, when Texas Interfaith Ministries sold the property to new ownership in late 2021, its historic purpose was immediately threatened as seniors began receiving eviction notices with word their rent would be potentially doubled and in some cases, tripled.
Mary Fontenot, president of the Pleasantville Historical Society and head of the Pleasantville Civic League, wants to make sure seniors are not evicted, and has sought a conversation with the new owners, APTPV, LLC or the listed property management company, Gatesoco, Inc, but to no avail.
The Defender conducted an exclusive interview with Fontenot and former Pleasant Village resident Juanita Johnson, about their efforts to protect these seniors’ residential status.
DEFENDER: Con you give us some background on this issue?
MARY FONTENOT: Since 1972, Pleasant Village Apartments has always been a residence for seniors, period. A few months ago, a couple bought the complex with the agreement that they would not immediately evict the seniors. But from day one, this new company has been putting eviction notices on people’s doors and they’ve decided it will no longer be a senior complex. They’ll systematically be getting rid of 140 senior citizens simply by raising their rent from $600 for a two bedroom to a little over $900. The eviction notices were a form of intimidation because all the residents are on a fixed income.
DEFENDER: Has there been any communication with the new owners?
MARY FONTENOT: The Pleasantville Historical Society and the Pleasantville Civic League asked them several times via emails, asking them to meet with the community and residents and share what’s going on, what’s the plan for the property? They absolutely refused to meet with us.
DEFENDER: Are residents still receiving eviction notices?
MARY FONTENOT: The new owners didn’t understand that because this facility had functioned as a nonprofit since it opened its doors, they received rent payments from the state because everybody there was on a fixed income. They understand this now, so they’re not getting the eviction notices put on their doors anymore, to my knowledge. Just poor management, poor, poor ownership.
DEFENDER: How have residents taken all this?
MARY FONTENOT: We had three that died. One moved out and was like, “I can’t do this.” The new owners are not communicating with anybody. You’re hitting a brick wall every time you attempt to [NOTE: The Defender left several messages with the owner and property manager, but has not received any return calls]. Then, there’s that fear of the intimidation that they started out the blocks with. The seniors are afraid. They really are. They’ll talk to me, but they are really afraid to openly speak out because they don’t want to be attacked.
DEFENDER: What specifically do you and Pleasant Village residents want?
MARY FONTENOT: To meet with ownership and ask why can’t the facility remain what it’s always been, a center for seniors, and to see if they’ll consider going back to the non-profit option. We want to meet with the owners as a community, because Pleasant Village is part of our Pleasantville community.
DEFENDER: Have any elected officials or individuals outside of your organizations lent their voice to protect these seniors?
MARY FONTENOT: State Rep. Harold Dutton has, and he actually sent them a letter. He’’ll be sending them another letter pretty soon, sharing residents’ requests and concerns. I’m going to reach out to Rev. (James) Dixon with the NAACP and Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee. I’m not leaving any stone unturned. But dear Lord, we need help. We need to shout and scream, “There are so many seniors without nice places to stay. They’re sick, they’re unsafe.” Pleasant Village residents have nice, safe homes, but they’re essentially evicting them, and very arrogantly as heck.
DEFENDER: How can the general public help?
MARY FONTENOT: We need help bringing the owners to the table to talk to the community, and to join us. We’re going to hold a protest in front of the owner’s building [2205 Ave I, #117, Rosenberg, TX 77471, the same address as the listed property management company] to say, “You can’t keep functioning like this.”
DEFENDER: Ms. Johnson, how did you enjoy Pleasant Village before you moved out?
JUANITA JOHNSON: I enjoyed it until they had a management changeover. Another company bought them out.
DEFENDER: What did this new management company do that made you sour on Pleasant Village and want to move out?
JUANITA JOHNSON: Well, they immediately came in and said they were going to raise the rent. And, I did not appreciate that. They couldn’t give me a reason for the increase. They just said they could do it because they could.
DEFENDER: So, no conversation? They were going to do it regardless?
JUANITA JOHNSON: Regardless. And most of those people over there are on a fixed income. And if they’re getting their apartment for $500, $600 a month, how are they going to pay $800 a month for rent or higher? How are they supposed to buy their medicine, groceries and other things?
DEFENDER: Do you see the new owners having a change of heart and changing the way they treat their residents?
JUANITA JOHNSON: No, I don’t see them changing, because I moved out October 31, 2021, and I’m just getting my security deposit back. I only got it back because I sent a demand letter and threatened to take them to small claims court to get my money. There’s no telling how many others are dealing with the same issue. I’m 62, but some of the residents are 80, 90-years-old. They don’t know how to navigate this process. They don’t have access to computers. They don’t have an email address.
DEFENDER: Prayerfully, you’re comfortable in your new place.
JUANITA JOHNSON: I’m comfortable. But, I told some of the Pleasant Village residents, “Even though I’m moved now, I’m still going to do everything in my power to help you guys get something done about this.” They’re over there having heart attacks and strokes and everything else because they worried about where they going to live in a year.
DEFENDER: Any final words, Ms. Fontenot?
MARY FONTENOT: The new owners have evicted several seniors, but it’s a great complex that we have here. Actually, my great-grandmother, Elizabeth Howard, was the first resident there. I can remember growing up and seeing all the seniors there. It was such a phenomenal and well-designed community. They were like garden apartments. Every apartment had their own little garden that they could tend to in the front yard. My mom’s mom, Josephine Gillery, was another resident. They loved their flowers in their gardens. Heck, now the new owners cut off the water and locked the water pipes up.
To help these seniors, contact the Pleasantville Historical Society at 832-797-6803.