Sweetheart Deal

How does Virginia McGuire make a profit in the nonprofit business of creating affordable housing? Simple. She pays her husband.

"Would you take that deal?" Barker says. "Where in Dallas have you ever been offered a rent reduction?"

Ted Barker says he was more than happy to cooperate when one of the complex's property managers asked him to spread word of the rent offer to his friends. Barker did not know it then, but he and his brother Hal were about to begin a nasty feud with the McGuires that continues to this day. Even now, Ted Barker is angry that he was so easily duped.

"They destroyed a marvelous community," Ted Barker says. "They screwed my friends."

Virginia McGuire, whose tiny nonprofit is using government money to buy apartment complexes, says she can provide affordable housing and pay her husband's company hundreds of thousands of dollars, too.
Mark Graham
Virginia McGuire, whose tiny nonprofit is using government money to buy apartment complexes, says she can provide affordable housing and pay her husband's company hundreds of thousands of dollars, too.
Former tenants Hal Barker, left, and Ted Barker, standing outside the Williams Run apartments, say they felt compelled to dig into the details of the complex's sale. "They destroyed a marvelous community," Ted says.
Mark Graham
Former tenants Hal Barker, left, and Ted Barker, standing outside the Williams Run apartments, say they felt compelled to dig into the details of the complex's sale. "They destroyed a marvelous community," Ted says.

Virginia McGuire has a similarly testy reaction when the subject of the Barkers comes up.

"I wish I could silence them as critics," she says.


Back in the summer of 2000, the Barker brothers were fairly well-known among the more sociable residents of Williams Run, in part because they were always around.

Single and 56, Ted was the complex's self-anointed watchdog. During the day, he would lounge around the pool, and at night, he kept his eyes open for any suspicious behavior, which he frequently reported to the police. Hal, 54 and also single, could usually be found at his home computer, where he operates the Korean War Project--a Web site he created that has become the primary tool Korean War veterans use to communicate with each other.

The nonprofit venture, which Ted also works on, has attracted favorable national press, but Hal's best-known project is the Korean War Memorial--a monument he helped get erected on the Mall in Washington, D.C., on July 27, 1995. Over in the celebrity columns, Hal also made news when he publicly challenged Clint Eastwood about a historically inaccurate element of his 1986 movie Heartbreak Ridge. The story is one small example of the extreme lengths to which Hal will go when he is drawn into an issue.

Seated on his living room floor, encircled by a pile of Green Bridge-related documents, Hal explains that Eastwood's character was originally cast as a Marinewho had won the Medal of Honor at Heartbreak Ridge--a Korean War battle that was fought by the Army. When he heard about the error, Hal, whose father won a medal for his bravery during that battle, began a campaign that ended in Eastwood agreeing to reshoot portions of the film.

A stocky man whose blue eyes hide behind a pair of large, outdated glasses, Hal explains that he suffers from occasional bouts of obsessive-compulsive behavior, which are triggered when he comes across a perceived injustice. He says he has learned to prevent these episodes by living as a hermit. He might have been isolated, but he heard about the promise of a rent break--something the Barker brothers could have used, given their lack of full-time jobs.

Hal says he believed there was truth to the rumors that Williams Run was for sale, despite the reassurances otherwise. So he logged onto his computer and began searching the Internet for any references to Williams Run. It wasn't long before he found out who was buying the property and how. The minutes of the state bond review panel's meetings are posted on the Web.

The information sparked one of Hal's episodes, and before long, he was filing dozens of requests for public documents relating to the bond transaction.

"Once I found out what was going on, it was impossible to stop," Hal says.

Together, the Barker brothers decided to act. They formed a tenants association and began sharing with neighbors the information Hal was collecting.

Back then, Williams Run was made up of middle-income singles and childless couples who liked living there for its modest rents--about $650 for a one-bedroom apartment. It was one of the most reasonable rentals near White Rock Lake, a choice neighborhood increasingly dominated by new, high-end apartment complexes.

"When I went there to rent, they told me this is mostly a singles apartment complex. We hung out by the pool and the hot tub," says former resident Debra Heffelfinger, who was making $12 an hour when she moved there in June 1998. "My apartment was great. The rent was $605 a month, and it was perfect for me. It was affordable housing."

Heffelfinger, like most of her neighbors, had never heard of chodos, much less the arcane requirements of tax-exempt bond financing. To her and others, the gossip conjured up nasty images of failed public housing projects. As news of the sale spread, some tenants decided to move.

If the tenants' fears were exaggerated, Green Bridge has only itself to blame: The first written notice tenants received confirming the property's sale was contained in a brief memo inviting them to a "meet and greet" session with Green Bridge representatives on October 21, 2000.

By the time the meeting started, the tenants were highly suspicious of Virginia McGuire, who appeared along with a few of her associates. The tenants wanted specific answers to their questions, chiefly, whether the property was being turned into public housing. Instead, they got a presentation about how they would benefit from lower rents and a new array of social service programs, particularly after-school programs for kids. The presentation only cemented the residents' fears.

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