Scapegoats

Miller, city council want to blame landlords for crime

I think Fish is being bounced for speaking up at the company Crime Watch meeting. What do you think? I mean, if you had a 75-cent bet riding on it?

In fact, Fish's non-renewal seems to have been part of a general anti-Crime Watch crackdown at Celery Stalk. Two weeks after Fish got his non-renewal letter, Charlie Haney, the other guy who spoke up at the meeting, received a letter from Jessica Flynn, a manager at Celery Stalk, saying, "If you would like, you may move, and we will release you from your lease contract."

How friendly.

Flynn's letter to Haney ordered him to stop walking around the complex at night with a flashlight and to stop contacting Mid-America personnel about problems after hours. "We have been told that you plan to distribute a flyer to all the residents regarding crime," the letter said. "Do not distribute flyers of any sort on the property. If a flyer is found, this would be considered solicitation, which we do not allow and could result in fines and eviction."

Otherwise, great work on the Crime Watch, Charlie!

OK, let's pause here and breathe deeply. Obviously I think Fish and Haney are being treated shabbily and that the effort of Mid-America to support a Crime Watch at the Celery Stalk Apartments is a big fat joke.

But we might also reflect on some other realities: Jim Schutze is not now nor has he ever been in the apartment business. Jim Schutze has little idea what business realities Mid-America may be dealing with at Celery Stalk, especially how desperately Mid-America may need to fill apartments with warm bodies, however glued and tattooed those bodies may be at the moment of lease signature.

I did call Gerald Henigsman, executive vice president of the Apartment Association of Greater Dallas, who told me that this is one of the toughest Dallas apartment markets that owners have faced in a long time, maybe ever.

"This is probably the worst we've had," Henigsman said. "For sure it's the worst since '89, '90. And it may be even worse than that. You don't have the same issues you had back then with overbuilding in the Sunbelt. Now it's pure occupancy, with all the loss of jobs and everything. This is a real tough market."

So along come the mayor and the city council with a plan to fob off their own law enforcement responsibilities on apartment owners. Great idea. I looked up the briefing documents the council was given on this plan, and I noticed a note at the end: "Estimated Revenue: $530,969."

Revenue? Half a million bucks from Crime Watch? No, the half-million smackers is what our hungry City Hall hopes to glean for itself from another part of the ordinance greatly increasing fines on apartment complex owners for failing more than 15 percent of a sweeping code compliance examination. And, of course, this piece of public good works will be handled by that department of city government most recently in the news because it got caught with its employees off drinking in saloons or getting laid or whatever and then forging fake code citations to cover their time.

We're sic'ing Code Compliance on the apartment owners? I could just as easily see us paying the apartment owners a consulting fee to tell us how to non-renew the whole Code Enforcement Department. I wish we could send Code Enforcement a letter saying, "If you would like, you may move."

Henigsman said the apartment industry in Dallas has worked successfully with Dallas police in the past on addressing crime problems. But he was offended by some of the language used to justify the new ordinance. "They made a lot of hay over these statistics," Henigsman said. "Twenty-five percent of crime occurs in apartments. If you look at what they laid out, if 60 percent of people live in rental housing, and only 25 percent of crime occurs there, where does the other 75 percent happen?

"Look at residential break-ins. If 36 percent occur in apartments, you know what that says? The rest of them are occurring in single-family homes. But all you saw was apartments, apartments, apartments."

I told Henigsman that in the last couple of years I have sniffed a certain sentiment on the council to the effect that apartments are evil.

He didn't disagree. "Certainly there is a feeling out there that is being fueled, that apartments are causing a great deal of the crime."

If somewhere between half and 60 percent of the people in this city live in apartments and suffer from crime problems, why would we demonize them for it? And what are we doing trying to suck half a million bucks out of an industry that's already on the financial razor's edge, especially with fines levied by the Municipal Department of Whoopee? Here's an idea: Why doesn't City Hall do something to actually help?

Go back to Russell Fish for a minute. He has a simple suggestion. Forget about trying to force apartment owners to fight crime. "It's not possible to mandate stuff like that," he says.

Instead, make sure that any citizen can get complete recent crime statistics for a given apartment complex before signing a lease.

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