Low-Rent Landlord Alex Stolarski is City Hall's Fall Guy

Wow. Have I got a story for you! Headline: Ancient riddle solved! Dallas city officials join with local newspaper to discover root cause of crime.

Apartment owners!

Amazing. All these eons, moral thinkers and criminologists have been sorting through possible explanations.

Poor impulse control. Socio-economic disadvantage. Chromosomal mishap. Old Nick. Just bad-assedness. And all along it was the damn apartment building owners.

On January 9, three days after the shooting death of a revered Dallas police officer—on the day of his memorial service, in fact, when the city's heart was open and bleeding—The Dallas Morning News stood before its altar in long editorial robes, figuratively speaking, and delivered this epitaph:

"Nothing will change," the newspaper intoned on its editorial page, "unless City Hall dedicates itself to a new mindset of zero tolerance for these properties where criminals have no qualms about brazenly setting up shop, terrorizing residents and shooting anyone who gets in their way."

Dispelling all ambiguity, the editorial named names: "This disgusting situation is reinforced by a political system that lends support to scofflaw apartment owners. Alex Stolarski, whose Oakwood Place apartments were the scene of Tuesday's shootout, seemed to have no problem making $5,000 donations to the political campaign of Mayor Pro Tem Elba Garcia.

"But when it comes to spending the money necessary to keep his property up to code, Stolarski has a history of coming up short."

The day before the editorial ran, the paper had provided evidence on its news pages: "City Manager Mary Suhm said Stolarski does fix problems when the city brings them to his attention, but she suggested he hasn't actively improved the property."

The story quoted Suhm as saying: "That's kind of walking a line that does not improve the quality of life in the community."

I have a problem with that. I have a problem with what Suhm said and a huge problem with what the Morning News said.

It's all a lie. It's a straight-up lie—a vicious slander of an honest businessman and involved citizen. As far as I can tell, Stolarski does everything humanly possible to combat crime in his buildings. He is also not a nobody. I don't think it's OK to savage people who happen to be unknown, but Stolarski happens to be known. He has a reputation, and it's good. All anybody had to do to find out was lift a finger, make a couple calls.

Bad enough is the cheap, maudlin exploitation of a terrible death. But this is even worse than that. It goes deeper. This whole line of thinking is a flabby moral self-deception.

You know what really does contribute to tragedies like the recent death of Senior Corporal Norman Smith? City officials and editorial writers who continue to say crap like this. They enable the moral conditions that will produce more cop killings, more crime.

Crime will be reduced when more people start acting better. People don't act bad because of their building owners.

Exactly how dumb do we have to get about this before we take a smart pill?

Crimes do happen at Stolarski's Oakwood Place apartments, at the intersection of Interstate 45 and Loop 12 in southern Dallas. Lots of crimes. In four years of records, I found 330 police calls at the address. But wait! That makes Stolarski's complex an oasis of calm, relative to the neighborhood.

Oakwood's rate of crimes per 100 occupants is one-third that of surrounding apartment complexes. One-third! Why? Because Stolarski has invested millions of dollars in upgrading the complex, especially in crime-fighting security measures.

Spurred by the death of Officer Smith, the Dallas City Council recently passed a crack-down measure for apartment owners, requiring them to conduct criminal background checks on potential tenants, hold monthly crime watch meetings, remove pay phones and allow police to enforce trespassing laws.

Stolarski has been doing all of that for years. He says after buying the 206-unit complex in 2000, he carried out a $6.6 million rehabilitation, which included repair of the brick exterior, new aluminum-frame windows, a new iron security fence with card-operated gates, all new central air and heat, all new wiring, all new plumbing, new paint and texture on the inside, new cabinets, new appliances, new tile floors in bathrooms and kitchens, new carpets.

Stolarski received state tax credits which required him to provide one afternoon of social services per week for kids in the complex. He provides four afternoons of computer training, supervised activities and help with homework.

He was required to hold rents at prescribed maximum levels. He maintains his rents at rates 19 to 26 percent lower than the required maximums.

Morning News reporters Steve Thompson and Rudolph Bush wrote, "...records from the city's Code Compliance Department show that Oakwood Place has a lengthy history of citations."

But what does that mean? For the year 2008, I found records of 19 visits to Oakwood Place by code inspectors. But if you look all the way across the page to the column called, "Status/Comments," 13 of those were summarized as "No violation found."

So do those 13 count as "citations"?

Five more of the 19 were shown as "notice of violation." These included problems noted as "burned structure," "plumbing," "hole in floor." All five were shown as "abated" or taken care of soon afterward.

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