At Dallas' Town Creek Condos, Poor Residents Are Getting Kicked to the Curb for Christmas

The eviction notice that started it all.
The eviction notice that started it all.
Amy Silverstein

Just in time for the holidays, the people left at a run-down apartment complex in Lake Highlands have been hearing a lot of different things about whether they have to pack their bags and get out, and when. The week before Thanksgiving, the occupants of the Town Creek Condos were told via a letter on the door that they were being evicted and had to move in three days or face a judge. But just before the deadline, they got an apology letter on their door, saying they could stay longer and even get financial help if and when they do decide to move.

Now, though, residents are hearing that they need to be out by December 15 and say the property manager has stopped returning their calls.

"I told her to give me after Christmas because I can't get out like this, we're living from paycheck to paycheck," says Karen King, a 58-year-old woman who has lived at the complex for the past six years. Since last speaking with the manager about staying longer at the beginning of the month, King has heard from other residents that they needed to get out 10 days before Christmas. When King tried to call the property manager herself to confirm the dates and see about getting the money offered, she said no one returned her calls. "They're not going by that paper [the apology letter], what they're saying," she says.

Over the past five years or so, the Town Creek Condos have fallen into disrepair, residents say, thanks to an absentee landlord. Finally, on November 14, residents received a notice on the door that the building had been sold to a new company called Dana Paramita, the Buddhist expression for "giving." The business is owned by a philanthropist and developer named Ari Nessel, and his acquisition of the property might have sounded like good news, until the eviction notices came on each resident's door shortly after.

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"Dear Resident(s): Demand for possession is hereby made," the letter began. It was left and signed by Rena Hansen, a woman who works for the property management company charged with running the building under the new owner. "You are herby given notice to vacate the dwelling on or before midnight, the 21st day of November, 2014, which is at least three days from the delivery of this notice....Your failure to move out then will result in appropriate legal action by us before the Justice of the Peace. "

See also: Dallas Hero Decides Against Illegally Evicting Poor a Week Before Thanksgiving

The short-notice evictions notices appeared to be illegal and quickly made rounds in the news media. Finally, after a few days of bad press, Nessel sent an apology letter to residents that that offered a slight defense of the three-day notices, saying they'd been reviewed by a Justice of the Peace, but also promised the residents unspecified extra time and even some financial help. "We recognize our absence of communication when we sent the notice, as well as our lack of empathy," the second letter reads. Even better, the letter promises that residents will get compensated for moving costs. "We want to work with you to determine your situation and help you find other housing, if necessary...We will also assist with application fees, security deposits and moving costs for residents who are current on their leases." The letter earned Nessel a favorable write-up in The Dallas Morning News.

"Everything's going to be done most on a case by case basis," he told Unfair Park a few weeks ago, speaking about the charity he was offering residents. "We will work with them if they have an interest in moving."

This weekend, however, people left at the apartment were growing suspicious of that offer. The letter came with instructions to call Hansen's office phone number. "She's been avoiding our phone calls," says Cassie Mezie, who has been at the complex for a little over a year and has tried calling too.

"She [the property manager] said if we need a little bit more time just to let her know, but how are we going to get in contact with her if she won't answer the phone?" says another resident.

Some people at the complex, resident King says, have felonies on their records and will need more time to find a home willing to accept them. Others were on Section 8 and other forms of government assistance. Sitting outside in a daze on Saturday was an elderly woman named Diana Oglesby, who said that she ended up at the complex after a social worker sent her there from a nursing home, where she had been recovering from a broken hip. The last time Oglesby saw the new woman she believed to be in charge of the building, she remembers the woman yelling at her that she had to be out by December 15. She's not sure of the details of how she'll move out or where she'll go. She thinks her sister will come with a moving truck and take care of everything.

Hansen hasn't yet answered messages left for her. Allison Griffin, a spokesman for Nessel, got in touch with us and confirmed that a chunk of the residents will in fact have to move out by December 15. The residents that ask for financial help will still be getting it, Griffin said, just not until after they find a place to live.

"I think the monies are being paid directly to the properties where people are going," Griffin said. Looking at her notes over the phone, she confirmed that the residents Karen King and Cassie Mezie would get extra time and be able to stay until the end of the year. She also confirmed that King was eligible to receive the extra financial assistance promised. "As soon as she [King] has another place to live, then Nessel will take care of any costs associated with that," Griffin said.

She couldn't confirm or explain why King wasn't hearing any of this directly from the property manager. Part of the delay in communication, Griffin said, may be that Hansen is the only person on the property assisting the residents. "She's the only person dealing individually, one-on-one, with each of these residents, making sure that they are taken care of," Griffin said. The woman is doing the job all by herself so that "there's no confusion and no mixed messages," Griffin said. But talk to the people of Town Creek and confusion, it seems, is all that's left.

Send your story tips to the author, Amy Silverstein.

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