By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Justice of the Peace Cleo Steele lost his patience when, midway through the eviction case, he heard about the state suit. Steele forced a settlement in which Green Bridge agreed to drop its libel case and gave Ted six months to find a new apartment. In return, the Barkers promised to cease making any "comments, threats, allegations or accusations" about Green Bridge.
The allegations of elitism that Williams Run tenants say they heard during the October tenants meeting with Green Bridge's representatives took written form in the corporation's libel complaint.
The Barkers, the lawsuit states, "have exhibited their own selfish viewpoint that just because they are fortunate enough to be able to afford to live at Williams Run without any assistance, those who are less fortunate or elderly should not be given an opportunity to live there as well."
Although the lawsuit didn't go anywhere, McGuire says it was a "very serious" effort to end what she calls a malicious campaign designed to drive off her income-generating tenants.
"They told the residents that we were turning it into public housing, which we were not. The intent...is to have mixed-income people living with people of moderate income, living next to poor people," McGuire says. "And if they don't want to live next to poor people, that's too bad."
But Williams Run is beginning to take on the characteristics typically associated with trouble-plagued public housing projects. The complex has lost many tenants at the higher end of the income mix and filled at least 20 apartments with tenants who receive government housing assistance. Overall, the occupancy rate has dropped from 98 percent to 75 percent.
McGuire blames the Barkers for the high vacancy rate, but some current residents blame McGuire. Under her ownership, they say, there has been a noticeable decline in maintenance and an increase in violent crime.
Their fears are supported by Dallas Police Department data, which show that the number of violent offenses reported at the complex has spiked under Green Bridge's ownership. In 1999 and 2000, for example, police logged one and five assaults, respectively. In 2001, the first full year under Green Bridge's ownership, the number of assaults jumped to 23. Worse, the number of reported robberies jumped from zero in 1999 and 2000 to a hair-raising 21 last year.
Further, McGuire has not installed the after-school programs, the computer lab or any of the other social services she promised to create. Instead, the only programs she could highlight were a new crime-watch group, where manpower expenses are provided by Dallas police, and a collection drive in which the tenants themselves donated school supplies.
When asked to explain why she is not funding social services, McGuire says that the complex is not generating enough revenue for that.
"The property first needs to return some money," McGuire says. "Until we get the occupancy up, then we don't have cash flow. We're doing what we can without the cash flow."
That McGuire is already having a cash shortage is remarkable, given the financial breaks she got from the state when she sealed the deal.
The state law governing the bonds program used in this case clearly indicates that the program is designed for new construction or rehabilitating older structures. For existing apartments, the law states, "at least 15 percent of the costs of acquisition shall be utilized for rehabilitation expenditures."
But Michael Lyttle, the TDHCA spokesman, says the agency waived that requirement for the Green Bridge deal--just as it has for all other bond deals of this kind.
Today, the Barker brothers do not deny McGuire's claim that they are intent on disrupting her business. In fact, they freely admit they are doing whatever they can to shine light on Green Bridge.
"I have an understanding of altruism. I have spent my whole life doing altruistic things," Hal says. "They can do this stuff and make a million and then look me in the face and tell me, 'We're doing good work?'"
In recent months, the Barkers have filed a variety of complaints about the Williams Run transaction with state and county agencies. More recently, Hal spent two hours meeting with officials at the IRS. In their eyes, the McGuires have taken a well-intended program and used it for personal gain.
While the Barkers are convinced the McGuires have violated numerous rules and regulations, there does not appear to be anything illegal about the Williams Run transaction. But the Barkers raise some interesting questions about the way Virginia McGuire reported her business relationships to the IRS on her most recent corporate tax form.
Seated at a conference table inside her sixth-floor Lakewood office suite, she lays her palms on the table and tries to keep them still, but eventually she begins twisting her wedding ring, an emerald the size of a sweet pea.
McGuire is not accustomed to being asked a lot of impertinent questions, particularly ones about her business dealings with her husband.
"I can see you're trying real hard to make something bad go on here, and it's not," McGuire protests.
The issue at hand rests on the table. It is a copy of the 2000 IRS tax return McGuire filed on behalf of Green Bridge.