By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
"It sounded like they were going to move a bunch of families into these one- and two-bedroom apartments," Heffelfinger says. "It's not that we're against children, but we're single people. We didn't want to live in an apartment complex with a whole bunch of kids."
The residents interrupted the presentation and started firing off questions. Former resident Gina Cotroneo didn't mask her feelings. "I said, 'No offense to anyone, but I've been poor in my life before. I'm not poor now, and I don't want to live near poor people. I want out of my lease,'" Cotroneo says.
A rape victim, Cotroneo says she liked Williams Run because, unlike most apartment complexes, the neighbors knew each other, and she felt safe. She wondered how she could trust the new owners to keep the place orderly if they weren't willing to level with anyone about their plans for the complex.
"I really don't feel that they treated the residents fairly," Cotroneo says. "Just tell the residents the truth and let them make their own decision."
Tensions thickened, and when the meeting was over, the tenants say they remained in the dark.
Today, McGuire says she never intentionally deceived the residents. "I was not buying something that I understood would radically change the makeup of that apartment complex," she says.
But that is not the story McGuire gave state officials.
When she appeared before the Bond Review Board in September--a month before she met with the residents--McGuire said she already was having trouble meeting the requirement that 40 percent of the tenants earn 60 percent of the area's median income or less.
"We have already run across several families that we are going to have to boot out because their incomes are too high," McGuire told the board. "So we're going to be moving the income level of the whole project down significantly by removing some of the higher-income individuals and couples that are there already and then adding some at the 60 percent level."
In fact, just before the tenants' meeting took place, Green Bridge had begun moving tenants out by sending them notice that their leases would not be renewed. It was a policy Green Bridge and the property's Chicago-based owner, CAMCO, tried to conceal from the other tenants.
"Not all of the residents know that non-renewal notices were sent out to some residents, and CAMCO did not want to publicize that info on their behalf," McGuire said in an October 16, 2000, handwritten note she faxed to Brent Stewart, the state housing department official who was overseeing the transaction.
Why the secrecy? Morgan Lindsay, CAMCO's property manager who handled the non-renewal notices, says she was trying to help Green Bridge make the changeover without scaring off any tenants who were qualified to stay under the bond program.
McGuire would not say exactly how many tenants were "booted out," but she notes that the non-renewal notices were properly given 30 days in advance. If the tenants believe they were misled, McGuire says, CAMCO's property manager is to blame.
"Have we made all the right decisions with tenants? Probably not. Have we attempted to? Yeah," McGuire says. "Am I unhappy with some of the decisions the management companies have made? You bet. You bet I am."
Lindsay, however, says she was only following orders.
"The only person that was really guiding us was Ginger McGuire," she says.
In its lawsuit, Green Bridge claimed that the Barkers had maliciously interfered with its operations, in part, by driving off income-generating tenants, causing it financial harm and seriously injuring its "business reputation, good name and standing in the community."
The lawsuit is not the first time the McGuires and their partners have had to defend their business reputation. And the Barkers are not the first tenants who have risen up against them.
Sheila Dixon sits on the tiny balcony of Catherine Warren's apartment inside the Cascade Park apartment complex in Mesquite. The women say the conditions here are drastically better than what they were when Cornerstone Housing Corp. owned the place in the mid-1990s. At the time, Cornerstone's top officers were Jim Edmondson, Mark Culwell and Scott McGuire. Virginia McGuire was a founding director of a subsidiary company Cornerstone created specifically to buy the complex.
"This is excellent compared to what we had. There were cockroaches all around," Dixon says. Warren nods her head in agreement and adds, "We had rats."
The future looked promising to Dixon when she moved to Cascade Park in 1996, shortly after the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development gave Cornerstone the deteriorating property for $10. As part of the giveaway, Cornerstone agreed to reserve a portion of the complex's units for low-income tenants affected by the landmark Walker class-action desegregation lawsuit.
The lawsuit is named for lead plaintiff Debra Walker, who successfully argued that the squalid conditions at public housing projects in Dallas, occupied primarily by African-Americans, constituted racial discrimination. A federal judge ordered Dallas to correct the problem, in part, by finding desegregated housing for the residents in suburbs such as Mesquite.