From KERA News:
A plague of gnats and flies swarm across Deborah Shelton’s apartment. Shelton points to sticky strips hanging from her ceiling that are covered with trapped insects.
“I’ve tried to spray them, they fly everywhere,” Shelton said.
Shelton is one of many residents of the Arterra Apartments in southern Dallas who say they live with holes in their floors and walls, dangerous electrical problems and bug infestations.
The City of Dallas’ community prosecutor is investigating the apartment complex’s living conditions. City code compliance officials and the fire department have been involved, according the city council member for the area.
Inside her apartment, Shelton points to the mold all around her bathroom and a cracked bathtub that appears to be sinking into the floor. Some of her kitchen appliances are malfunctioning, she says, and many of her electrical outlets don’t work.
“All those wiring that’s plugged in at my television they shoot fire. And at my kitchen, they have blown out my microwave and my stove,” Shelton said.
Shelton is not alone. Several residents told KERA about unsafe and unhealthy housing conditions at the apartment complex.
In addition to horrific conditions, some have been told that the apartment managers are no longer taking housing assistance vouchers. Others have received notices to move out. Shelton, who is disabled, has lived at the Arterra Apartments for five years and relies on a housing voucher to pay for part of her nearly $900 rent.
If the complex stops taking her voucher, she’d have to leave. She’s been trying to get answers from the new property managers, but she says she was met with a door-to-the-face.
“They’ve barred me from the office from telling them anything… They’ve been taking pictures of my door. [And they say] ‘I am going to have the police watching you.’ I don’t care. I will call them for you,” she said.
Shelton said the property managers are intimidating vulnerable residents who have no other place to go.
If residents like Shelton are pushed out, the tenants who rely on vouchers to pay their rent are likely to struggle to find a place to live. Dallas’ tight housing market has few apartments that are affordable to people with very low incomes.
And many people struggle to find landlords willing to take housing vouchers.
Texas law does not bar landlords from discriminating against voucher holders.
KERA contacted complex’s management team for comment, but did not get a response.
History of problems
Arterra Apartments are located in Mayor Pro Tem Carolyn King Arnold’s district, about four miles west of Lemmon Lake Park.
She’s been hearing from tenants about problems for months and said it’s not clear who actually owns the property.
“They’ll send the manager, but they won’t send the owner. And so basically, we’re not engaged in a long conversation with the manager because the manager cannot make legal decisions that affect his property,” Arnold said. “The owner seems to be reluctant to come forth.”
The property has a history of problems going back years, she said, and has changed names at least three times.
It was formerly called Oasis Gardens.
Then it was named The Loop at 2755.
Now, it’s the Arterra Apartments.
The Dallas Central Appraisal District lists a nondescript shell company as the owner, called 2755 E Ledbetter Hive Partners LLC. Arnold said the complex has been sold in recent months.
Last spring, Arnold went out to the complex after tenants reached out and reported a gas leak. Last year, a gas leak at a nearby apartment complex caused an explosion that seriously injured firefighters.
Arnold said it was clear the apartment management had failed to notify tenants about the problem and how long it would take to fix it. One tenant, a young man, said he couldn’t heat milk to feed his baby.
The manager on site exhibited a “nonchalant attitude” toward the tenant’s concerns, Arnold said, “not showing the compassion that they need to show for those…tenants.”
Since then, she’s heard complaints from tenants about the condition of the property, health and safety violations, and other issues. Tenants who are elderly or have mobility challenges have told her that broken and missing sidewalks make it hard for them to get around.
A safe and healthy place to live?
City ordinances and state and federal laws require landlords to provide residents with a safe and healthy place to live, and they must ensure their properties are accessible to people with disabilities. Arnold said the owner must also abide by protections for housing voucher holders.
If they don’t, she said, the city will step in. Code compliance and the fire department have already been involved at the property, she said, and the city can sue the apartment’s owner if tenants’ rights are being violated.
“Until that owner meets those requirements — and immediately — our next step is to act on behalf of those individuals who have reached out to us. And they are really reaching out aggressively, especially those individuals who have received some notification of evictions,” Arnold said.
Arterra resident Shalondra Gabriel is desperate. She said no matter how much she cleans, bugs still crawl out from her walls. She’s tired of waiting for management to do something about it.
Gabriel said management says they’re going to do something, but then “do nothing.
“But I feel like if they go to court, then I feel like they will do the right thing. If not they have to suffer the consequences,” Gabriel said.