February 11, 2012

S.H.A.P.E. Community Center's property sold in auction to collect unpaid debt

A well-known Houston community center has been auctioned off in a dispute over unpaid dept.

The S.H.A.P.E. Community Center stands for "Self Help for African People through Education," and it's been a staple in Houston's African American community for decades. Now, its future is in doubt over an unpaid bill involving a photocopier. So what went wrong here?

The bottom line is that the auction happened because Texas law allows it; property that isn't homestead can be sold to satisfy any judgment not paid, and that's what happened in the case.

For more than 40 years, the S.H.A.P.E. center has served southeast Houston.

"It's a place of refuge. It's a place where we come to interact with each other and share ideas, share comments," S.H.A.P.E. Community Center supporter Eugene Floyd said.

The center was born of the Civil Rights Movement and became more than a place to get a hot meal or learn about computers.

"I volunteer my time here at the S.H.A.P.E. and it keeps me positive so therefore, I volunteer all my time here," volunteer Dwight Jenkins said.

But the future of the center is now uncertain because the three properties owned by S.H.A.P.E. were sold at auction for $8,000 and a judge subsequently put an injunction on the sale.

"S.H.A.P.E. center ain't going nowhere. We're gonna be here -- 43 years and counting -- we're gonna be here. When you're doing the right thing, you don't have to worry about going anywhere," founder Deloyd Parker said.

S.H.A.P.E. fell behind on payments for a photocopier. That debt went to court, where a judge ordered the center to pay the debt plus fees and interest. A company called National Judgment Recovery Center then bought the debt, and when S.H.A.P.E. couldn't pay the $80,000 owed, its assets were sold at an auction.

"We're going to keep doing what we're doing, nothing changes. And anything else, you can talk to our attorneys. I'm sure they will be able to answer any questions," Parker said.

An attorney for the debt buyer says that they routinely settle with debtors without going to auction and that now the matter is out of their hands. Now, the community center's future hangs in the balance.

We called the attorneys for both S.H.A.P.E. and the company that originally filed a lawsuit against them a couple of them. Neither returned our calls seeking comment.

Right now, the situation is out of the hands of the community center, the National Judgment Recovery Center and whoever bought the property at the auction. Only a judge can make a decision on the property later this month.

An injunction was filed on February 1 and the property was sold four days later. Harris County Pct. 4 Constable May Walker, whose office manages that auction, said they didn't find out about the injunction until the sale had already taken place and there was nothing they could do at that point.