AP NEWS

Humble-area resident, 70, avoids eviction with deal to move home 100 feet

May 5, 2019

As the clock in the courtroom ticked past 8:15 a.m., Shirley Crew, 70, closed her eyes and tapped her toes, giving herself a rest during the battle to avoid being evicted from her Humble-area home Thursday.

Crew has lived for more than 60 years in the one-story house at 8842 ½ FM 1960, and says she has been paying taxes on the property since her mother willed it to her in 1997. But she learned earlier this year that she might not own the land on which the house sat, and then one day saw an eviction notice stuck on her front door.

Crew was originally scheduled to be evicted on April 10, but after she and supporters took their case to local officials, Harris County commissioners agreed to delay the eviction to allow something to be worked out. With time running out for Crew, her attorney filed a restraining owner against the purchaser of her property and several nearby parcels to prevent Crew from being evicted Thursday. A judge was to consider that request Thursday morning.

Then at 10 a.m., Eraka Childs, the attorney representing Crew, gathered everyone — Crew, family members and media — to a conference room right outside of the courtroom. Childs said that a settlement had been reached with the purchaser that would allow Crew to keep her home. She just has to move it 100 feet to the west — to a 0.2 acre tract that turns out to be the one that she actually owns, according to a metes and bounds description dated June 1986 that Childs provided.

She will have one month to move her home, which rests on bricks, to the new plot.

“I feel relieved,” Crew said afterward. “I think that it will be no problem moving.”

Attorneys also determined that while Crew was staying current on her property taxes, she was paying them on the wrong land — a third parcel across FM 1960 from her home.

Standing on the steps of the Harris County Civil Courthouse, Crew said that neither she nor anyone else knew who owned the land that in fact is hers. But she recalled going there as a young girl with her father years to pump water from the well or build a fire on certain nights.

Childs said the next steps will be to determine precisely where Crew’s land begins and ends — she’s retained EIC Surveing Co. for that job, which will take about two weeks — as well as hire a moving company.

Hossein Toghani, the Houston-based investor who owns Crew’s land, was not present at the hearing. His attorney, Luis Suarez, said the settlement was positive for both parties.

“Fighting in the courthouse seldom is worth the effort, anguish, sweat and tears,” he said. “It’s best to settle and be able to continue with your activities and not hurt anybody else, not be hurt yourself.”

The day before

Crew’s family and friends were relieved that the long struggle appeared to be coming to an end.

A day earlier, family friend Melissa Smith, 49, went to check on Crew after work. Crew’s son Steve Perkins, daughter-in-law Charlecia Johnson and community activist Renee Jefferson Smith were already there.

Melissa Smith said that Crew had gone through too much for her age. And she didn’t know that Crew had had surgery to get a defibrillator implanted earlier in the day.

“I know stress, and I know blood pressure, so (we need to) combat that,” Melissa Smith said.

Crew had said the defibrillator’s purpose was to raise her particularly low heart rate, which she attributed to all of the stress surrounding possible eviction.

“Gotta have some faith — that’s what you taught me,” Perkins, 33, said to his mother.

As they chatted, Crew would occasionally laugh or briefly wince from the sting of the scar from the surgery.

“I’ve lived in this community all my life and see things like this happen time and time again,” said Renee Jefferson, 40. The activist sprung into action after Johnson, 30, communicated with her and described the situation, beginning with Toghani’s purchase of Crew’s land at an auction without her knowledge and immediate move to evict her.

Crew did not want to leave the only home she’s ever really know, which sits in the shade of a tall tree and backs up to some woods

“(This house) means something to me,” Crew said while looking over many decades-old items in her living room. “Those are (my mother’s) dishes over there. She worked hard, I’m sure, during slavery time to get them. The china cabinet, it was something that I wanted. She bought it.”

Crew’s voice then broke as she thought about the prospect of seeing nothing in her dwelling. “I’m sorry, I’m trying to be strong for him,” she said, referring to her grown son Perkins.

Johnson, on behalf of Perkins, set up a GoFundMe page on April 2 to offset potential legal fees. As of Thursday, the page had raised around $2,460 toward a $7,000 goal.

On new land

Crew’s story is not unique, Childs said. She said longtime residents in The Heights and Fourth Ward often see developers buy up land near their homes and face displacement.

But Childs was glad that her client will not be forced to move.

Perkins said is happy that he can now see the next step, a solution to work toward. He will assist his mother with the move.

But first Crew and her family and friends will need to clear trees from the parcel that she does own.

“We’re gonna work on trying to get some volunteers for this” and to move Crew’s furniture, Renee Jefferson said.

Johnson acknowledged that Crew still faces challenges. Although she is happy that Crew will only have to move, the effort will still require funding that is a challenge for her mother-in-law to gather by herself.

“Yesterday we were at the point of ‘Stuff on the street, being put out, where is she gonna go?’” she said. “The money from GoFundMe, up until this point, has given her the ability to retain the attorney. The GoFundMe is really saving everything that’s been going on.”

For her part, Crew feels a sense of relief. She said that just as her mother left the house to her, she plans to leave her house for her son.

“I love him — I love him to death,” she said, almost whispering. “He helped me, telling me to ’quit worrying, quit worrying and everything is gonna be all right. It is all right now. It may even be better. 100% better.”

Crew then walked away from the courthouse, with Johnson and Perkins accompanying her. Daylight revealed, on her face, an absence of anxiety.

nguyen.le@chron.com