Houston Community Comes Together to Make A Difference at Haverstock Hills Apartments

In the book of Isaiah 61:2-3, the prophet Isaiah professes that God called him to “comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion – to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.”

Isaiah knew he had been called by God to make a difference in the lives of others who had been plagued by tragedy and despair.

Over the last several months, several community leaders, organizations, elected officials and entities have taken it upon themselves to operate in that same spirit, by making a difference in the lives of people who reside in a historically beleaguered Houston area, who have been seeking to recover from a recent major tragedy.

Back on March 26th, Haverstock Hills Apartments, located in the 5600 block of Aldine Bender Road, became the scene of a life-altering act that ended with Gary Rusher, 31, and Christopher Beatty, 33, being fatally shot and four other people, including former contestant on “America’s Next Top Model” Brandy Rusher, being injured by a high-powered assault rifle.

According to investigators, an earlier argument that stemmed from a woman complaining about some men sitting on the stairs that led to her apartment, reached its tipping point, when two people pulled up to the Haverstock Hills Apartments in a vehicle to confront the men.

Investigators say that 35-year-old Kenneth E. Jones and his brother Harvey Jones, 34, arrived at the apartment complex, pulled out an assault rifle from the vehicle he pulled up in, and began shooting the gun into the crowd of people at the apartment complex. Authorities immediately arrested Kenneth Jones’ brother, Jeremy Jones, 28, and charged him in connection with the shooting, but eventually dropped the charges after realizing it was a case of mistaken identity.

Harvey Jones, who was allegedly with Kenneth Jones at the complex, was charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, but Kenneth had left the city before being charged in connection with the shooting. The Gulf Coast Violent Offenders and Fugitive Task Force gave a tip to Jacksonville law enforcement based on information they received that led to his arrest. Kenneth was arrested at a Florida residence May 10, and charged with capital murder. Kenneth is now sitting in Harris County Jail, after being extradited from Jacksonville, Florida.

Although the alleged shooter has been captured, the residents and families are still in need of healing from this traumatic experience, seeking to figure out how they will continue to live in an apartment complex that has a notorious and checkered past littered with violence.

Between January 2015 and June 2016, records show that the Harris County Sheriff’s Office was called to Haverstock Hills a staggering 476 times.

Residents who live in Haverstock Hills held a rally on March 28th, to demand change and express their concerns about issues, especially the excessive criminal and violent activity, and the lack of security they felt has always been ignored by the ownership. Attendees at the rally highlighted recent shootings and killings within the past year that have left them concerned.

Even after the shooting on March 26th, and the rally on March 28th, Harris County deputies found themselves investigating a stabbing near the Haverstock Hills Apartments on May 18, where someone was stabbed around 9 o’clock in the evening. The families of the two shooting victims at Haverstock Hills on March 26th have even filed a lawsuit against the apartment complex, claiming in the 35-page court document that the owners of the apartment complex failed to provide adequate security on the premises, and citing a long history of violence at the property, as well as malfunctioning security equipment as evidence of negligence. The families are seeking damages in the amount of $1 million or more according to the documents in the lawsuit.

In order to proactively seek to bring about change, U.S. Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee; U.S. Congressman Gene Green; Equality Community Housing Corporation (ECHC), the owners of the Haverstock Hills apartment complex; representatives from the Harris County District Attorney’s Office; the Harris County Sheriff’s Office; and others recently came together to reinstate their previously established coalition for the purposes of elevating and enhancing the crime prevention initiatives that had already been implemented within the apartment complex.

“Haverstock resident participation and involvement in the safety and improved quality of life is crucial to the success of these efforts,” said U.S. Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee.

Though safety efforts are still underway and crime is down tremendously since the injunction, the recent fatal shooting has led these individuals to collectively inform the public of their ongoing efforts towards creating a sustainably safe environment for Haverstock residents in order to prevent one incident from derailing or distorting the safety measures they have put into place.

“Service calls for law enforcement dropped 67 percent within one year of us implementing an injunction that banned gang members from the complex, which was a critical component in cutting down communal crime,” said Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg. “We’re working together because there is a lot of good happening there, and it is our job to shine the light on that good and encourage more of it as often as we can.”

In addition to the gang injunction established by the collaborative group, the Paggi Community Center was built in order to provide residents with various programming tailored towards subjects such as youth empowerment, job readiness and financial literacy.

Within the past year alone, the community has witnessed a positive impact from the on-site programming:

  • Adult program participation has increased by more than 10 percent
  • 170 residents have obtained higher education
  • 141 residents have received health and nutrition assistance
  • 67 residents have obtained a job, promotion and/or raise

“We’re building a community with sustainable safety measures in place,” said Rep. Green, the congressional representative for the district where Haverstock Hills is located. “We don’t want the progress we’ve made to get lost in translation due to former misconceptions surrounding the area.”

The coalition has been meeting consistently and remaining just as aggressive and vigilant as they were during the initial phases of their collaboration, and as a result, safety improvements such as increasing on-site security and installing additional on-site security cameras have already been put into motion.

“Our resident’s well-being and overall quality of life remains our top priority, which is the core reason for us collaborating with city officials and local leaders,” said Flynann Janisse, president and executive director of Equality Community Housing Corporation (ECHC). “We know our collaborative efforts will tremendously increase, strengthen and help solidify our continuous efforts to create a more permanent resolution.”

Joint efforts are not only geared towards helping Haverstock Hills’ residents, but are also fixated on giving the public an accurate portrayal of the implemented programs and activities uplifting the community. Haverstock residents will work with members of the coalition during an upcoming on-site resident’s forum to further develop their tangible plan of action for increasing community safety and to connect residents to helpful community resources.

Another community effort to change the culture in and around Haverstock Hills, recently took place on May 20th, when over 100 Houstonians volunteered alongside members of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated (AKA), Omicron Tau Omega Chapter at the apartment complex to refresh, restore and renew the community playgrounds and senior citizen garden. The organization selected Haverstock as the beneficiary for their “AKA 1908 Playground Project,” a global initiative established by the sorority to restore 1,908 playgrounds.

Community partners such as TD Auto Finance Houston participated by pressure washing and priming the complex a day before several other volunteers and supporting organizations pitched in by repainting the basketball court, sodding the senior garden, and re-mulching the playground area on the following day. The AKAs and Haverstock management headed the initiative that garnered support from almost every part of the city.

“Words cannot express the depth of our gratitude for each individual who dedicated their time to our Haverstock community this weekend,” said Janisse of ECHC. “We are always successful and have a great turnout when the community at large is involved, and this time was no different.”

Participating organizations such as Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Xi Eta Lambda Chapter, Emerging 100 of Houston, Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Mu Mu Nu Chapter and ninth-grade students from Nimitz High School’s art and engineering departments were scattered throughout the complex doing their part to help. From sanding playground equipment to installing new community benches, all organizations were equally involved in the cleaning process of the complex and were excited to simply put a smile on the residents’ faces.

“We want to help enrich the quality of life for the residents and provide the children with an inviting place to play,” said Kenyetta Bolling, Playground Project Co-Chair of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated, Omicron Tau Omega Chapter. “Waking up bright and early to paint, clean and make repairs, was all worth it. We went into this project with a mentality of unity and community camaraderie, and we were able to achieve that and so much more.”

The Forward Times will continue to monitor the situation at Haverstock Hills Apartments to see if the violence is curbed, and will also keep its readers up-to-date on the capital murder case involving Kenneth E. Jones and the lawsuit against Haverstock Hills filed by the families of the two young men who were fatally shot at the apartment complex.