Miracle on Marilla Street

Someone at City Hall cares about community

It's also one reason I was on the edge of my seat with my fingers dug in the cushion. Things don't fall to poor people very often at City Hall. I just wrote about another instance in which the city council, except for the mayor, voted to toss thousands of poor and working-class tenants out of an apartment complex on Northwest Highway to help a developer make a buck ("Looters," May 18).

I have come to know some of the trailer park people--Bill Ashe, for example, a wonderful East Dallas eccentric, smart as hell and open-hearted, and some of the families who live there.

Some of them pay less than $200 a month in rent. It's what they can afford. You know, where do we think people live if they work and earn less than $1,000 a month?

Ash Creek Mobile Home Community: Now all they'll have to worry about is tornados.
Tom Jenkins
Ash Creek Mobile Home Community: Now all they'll have to worry about is tornados.

The other key player here is Crossett, the owner. All afternoon long before the plan commission, Crossett was called to the microphone again and again where he was verbally flayed by a succession of commissioners, who blamed him for allowing the trailer park to decay over the years.

Crossett stood with shoulders slumped and took it. A couple of times he spoke up, objecting that he had addressed every code complaint and citation of any kind the city had given him. Every time he spoke, I cringed, because I knew that if he told the truth, the whole deal might collapse. Luckily, he knew it too.

The commissioners were taking strips of hide off him because they needed a villain in this scenario, and the villain could not be the Enclave or the F.R.I. Crossett had to be the bad guy--the greedy absentee landlord from Austin who would go on forever exploiting his poor tenants if City Hall didn't whip him into shape.

What I knew was that Crossett doesn't make a dime off the trailer park. It was his father's business and then his mother's when she became a widow. Yeah, it's his on paper, but his mother runs it, and it is her sole source of income.

Is he blameless for allowing his mother's business to get down at the heel? No. He doesn't claim to be. But is he a greedy absentee bloodsucker? Hey, anybody who thinks that hasn't yet been in the position of trying to conduct a life, a business and a family while having elderly parents in another city.

The other thing was this: Crossett and his mother could make a killing right now by kicking out all the trailer park people and selling the land to a developer. Testimony before the Board of Adjustment last year showed that people were begging him to sell. But he and his mother feel loyalty to their tenants.

I asked him before last week's meeting why he was spending lawyer money, to say nothing of blood, sweat and tears, to keep this property as a trailer park, when he could just sell it, put the money in CDs and be better off.

"Why are we doing this?" he said. "We have 50 families there that they're trying to kick out on the street. These people have no place to go, no place to live. Our average rent in the mobile home park is $192 a month. You tell me what you can rent for $192 a month anywhere. These people can't afford to go anywhere else."

I said: "But you're a property owner. Why should you care at all what their problems are?"

Crossett said: "Why should I not care?"

Here was the dilemma and the source of my nail-biting suspense. Vinson, the lawyer, had given the commission a brilliantly crafted compromise. They could vote for the temporary-use permit and not create a big gaping precedent-setting hole in the surrounding zoning.

But politically, Crossett had to take a whipping. And if he did not take it--if he bit back one time--then it was my sense that the whole thing could collapse in a heartbeat. The commissioners would say to themselves, "We're not going to vote against the rich people and give this guy new zoning rights if he's not willing to eat some dirt over it."

He took it. Every lick. All afternoon.

They voted unanimously to grant the new permit.

This still must go to the city council. A simple majority vote of the council could knock it all apart.

But I don't think so. I think what we saw was a better face of our city. And, lo and behold, wonder of wonders...

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