Board of Scrooges

No better holiday fun than evicting the poor from their hovels

So here is how Dallas ushers in the holiday. Last week an obscure city board meeting in the bowels of City Hall stretched the meaning of available city ordinances in order to evict poor people from an East Dallas mobile home park that has existed since the 1940s.

And why would they do a thing like that?

One of several reasons cited by Delores G. Wolf, the attorney seeking the closing of the park, was that expensive renovations have been made recently to nearby Tenison Golf Course: It's a possible turn-off for golfers, she said, to look through the foliage surrounding the 9th hole and catch glimpses of poor people.

Susan Graham, a nurse, came here several years ago to live with and look after her elderly father at the Ash Creek Mobile Home Park. A nearby gated community wants the mobile homes gone.
Susan Graham, a nurse, came here several years ago to live with and look after her elderly father at the Ash Creek Mobile Home Park. A nearby gated community wants the mobile homes gone.

Please don't laugh. It's not funny.

The night before the board meeting, I strolled the Ash Creek Mobile Home Park with residents Bill Ashe and Susan Graham. Both know exactly where the pressure is coming from. Ashe pointed backward over his shoulder to the high bluff above the railroad tracks, as if unwilling to look up there himself. I did look up and saw pinched little peaks of McMansions poking above the treetops.

"Ever since they built out to that last street in the gated community up there," he said, "now they can see us. So they want us gone."

Ah, the mortification of the mini-aristocrats. What will it do to their reputations if visitors from other regions notice that by going to the very last street in the gated community, entering a house, climbing to the attic, throwing open the sash like St. Nick and craning one's neck, one can see the poor?

The "Enclave at White Rock" has been around for six years. Ash Creek Mobile Home Park has existed for 60 years on Highland Road midway between Interstate 30 and White Rock Lake, five miles northeast of downtown. It was annexed into the city as a mobile home park in 1952, when its zoning status was automatically "grandfathered"--deemed legal forever.

But never say forever when dealing with the city. Those laws are no longer operational.

The mobile home park anchors one end of a quirky little lost universe, a hobbit world of handmade cottages, miniature ranchettes and artists' studios along Barbaree Boulevard, San Cristobal and San Leandro. In the late 1950s and early '60s, people started hanging eccentric little houses on the hillsides running down to Ash Creek. A diverse ethnic mix and cycles of decay and renovation have left an artistic stamp on the area, somewhere between the Monterrey Peninsula and the alleys of Juarez.

It's an odd colony, cool in its own laissez-faire, bon-temps, idiosyncratic way, far more layered and sophisticated than anything a developer could ever dream up. But five years ago the march of the puffed-up houses began--empty boxes too big for their britches, bristling with cast rock and fake timbers, houses that blow out their cheeks and turn purple until somebody takes them seriously enough to buy.

Somebody does. Lots of people. Now the puffed-up houses peer over the bluff above the Ash Creek Mobile Home Park, and they do not like what their squinty little eyes can see.

The morning before the official hearing of the obscure board in the bowels of City Hall, I managed to clamber aboard an official city van for a tour of the mobile home park. The City of Dallas Board of Adjustment is a "quasi-judicial body," as it enjoys reminding you, and it must not under any circumstance be subjected to undue influence. I, of course, am undue. I was warned not to speak to the board aboard its official van.

They whispered amongst themselves in the front while I and others rode in silence on the back benches. I eavesdropped, of course. There was some excitement and titillation, I gathered, because the chairman of the Board of Adjustment has resigned. The members wonder if perhaps one of them might be named chairman!

When we rolled through the mobile home park, they grew grave and quiet. Most of the trailers are old and tumble-down with homemade plywood additions, missing porch steps and angles less than plumb. Or more. Most have sunk on their knees and taken a seat forever, too decrepit ever to be mobile again.

But there were holiday decorations everywhere, lawn ornaments, lattice arches, dogs on leashes. People watched us balefully from the sides of the lanes because they knew exactly what was going on. Standing between trailers was Julia Hernandez, who had told me the night before: "One thing important for me is the school. The Alex Sanger is a very good school. It has academy excellence. If I move, my children can lose good education. And I think it is not fair. It changes the opportunity for my kids."

The real appeal of the Ash Creek Mobile Home Park is simple: $192 a month. After buying one of the mobile homes for a few grand, a person or a family can live here for two bills a month. Where else can you do that? Just about nowhere, which is just about where many of these people will wind up.

Willie Ramirez, a single man, told me the night before: "A lot of people here have a low income, maybe $500 a month. They want these people to be homeless?"

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