S. Dallas apartments mired in squalor
Lawsuit and bankruptcy delay work on derelict complex
08:53 PM CST on Saturday, November 25, 2006
No towering palm trees sway over the South Dallas apartment complex that was, until recently, known as Summer Breeze.
There is no stylish swimming pool, no wrought-iron fence, no pastel-colored buildings.
About 60 of the 230 units are occupied at the Summer Breeze complex, which Dallas officials say is a haven for crackheads and thieves.
At times, there isn’t even gas or water. It looks and feels nothing like Miami – an atmosphere developers promised was coming 18 months ago.
“I can’t sit around here all winter,” said resident Flossie Crane, who was without both water and gas one recent morning. “This is November. [I’m] gonna freeze to death.”
Most of the two-story beige units that line several blocks of Hatcher and Southland streets in the shadows of S.M. Wright Freeway are boarded up, abandoned and stripped by thieves of their most valuable parts. A 2005 plan by a real estate investment firm to create a “vacation resort, right at home,” complete with Miami “pizzazz” never materialized. And a 2-year-old city lawsuit filed against a previous owner over dozens of code violations is still pending with little progress.
Among the code violations cited in the city’s lawsuit: failure to keep doors and windows securely closed; failure to provide and maintain railings for balconies; holes, cracks and other defects in stairs, porches, steps and balconies; and standing water and flooding on the premises.
“The Property is dilapidated, substandard, unfit for human habitation and a hazard to the public health, safety, and welfare, and constitutes an urban nuisance,” the suit alleges. “This Property cannot be repaired without substantial reconstruction.”
The real estate investment firm that promised a “Miami-fied” complex is Hilton Head Properties Inc., based in Dallas, according to its Web site.
In a May 2005 news release still posted on the Web site, Hilton Head announced it had “begun a major renovation of the project, estimated to cost approximately $2 million, with the goal of creating a unique environment in affordable housing.”
The firm also promised central air and heat systems and new cabinetry, water heaters and ceiling fans.
As with past owners, residents said, it appeared for a brief time that renovations were being made. They soon ceased, however, and the “Miami-fied” look never materialized. A Hilton Head subsidiary that operated the complex declared bankruptcy in fall 2005, and the parent firm sold the property this month.
Michael Davis, Hilton Head’s chief financial officer, said he recently started at the company and was not aware of the specific plans for the site. He blamed constant thefts and the resulting increase in insurance rates for the project’s failure. The subsidiary company filed bankruptcy, he said, to properly manage debts inherited from a previous owner.
“Basically, we’re a real estate investment company, and we had an offer on the company, and to protect our investors we sold it,” Mr. Davis said.
The property’s new owners, Southland Terrace Apts. LP, aren’t saying much about their plans for the buildings, most of which were built in 1926, according to the Dallas Central Appraisal District Web site. Ron Almeida, a partner with Southland, said in a written statement that his company is beginning the long process of cleaning up and familiarizing itself with residents.
“Once we have achieved at least normal operating procedures, we will then be able to discuss our future plans for the property,” he said. “It is our initial goal to create a clean, well-managed, comfortable place for our residents to call home.”
Clara Davis, hired by Hilton Head as property manager about a year ago and retained by Southland, said it’s no easy feat keeping up with all the problems at the property, where about 60 of 230 units are occupied and rent generally runs between $300 and $650. Increased police presence and a neighborhood watch group might help, she said.
“It’s tough, it’s hard, it’s nerve racking,” she said. “And I go to bed crying many nights.”
After working with a company that promised much and did little, Ms. Davis said she is optimistic the new owners are genuinely interested in improving the property.
The many vacant units on the property are an invitation to drug users and the homeless, particularly in the colder months, police said.
“The crackheads go in there. That’s where they smoke,” said Senior Cpl. James Bristo. “The vandalism goes into the theft of copper and sometimes just breaking in to smoke.”
Longtime residents – some of whom have lived there nearly 40 years – recall a time when the complex was a thriving, tight-knit community. It has the potential to be such a place again, they say.
“They need to fix them up so families can live in them,” 20-year-resident Donna Green, 59, said of the many vacant units. “These used to be beautiful.”
After 31 years at the complex, Ms. Crane, 76, has learned to adapt to whatever the next day brings. As she prepared to deal with a day without water or gas, a cockroach scrambled across her kitchen stove.
The city attorney’s office was investigating Ms. Crane’s reported problems as of Wednesday. It appeared the water and gas issue was confined to only a few units in her building, and officials were working with the property management to address it, said Greg McGhee, assistant city attorney.
Mr. McGhee said that the city hasn’t taken additional action against the complex because the problem with the utilities appears confined to only one building there.
Ms. Crane has to fill her green bucket with water from a neighbor’s hose or use gallon jugs delivered by her granddaughter from Pleasant Grove for her drinking and bathing water.
“It’s been terrible for the past couple years,” she said wearily. “I’m going to have to get out of here.”