First Things First

For the first time in years, Angela Shaw feels more secure living at the Waterview Park Apartments at the University of Texas at Dallas. But Shaw says poor maintenance remains a major problem at Waterview, the nation's largest private dorm.

"They always try fixing things, but you can't fix it when it's broken," says Shaw, a senior biology major. "I had to call three times before they replaced the washer and dryer."

Shaw is not alone. Many Waterview residents say UTD officials have strengthened security significantly--particularly regarding rape--but have yet to address repairs despite widespread problems.

UTD President David E. Daniel says that will soon change.

"A first-quality residential housing experience is our top priority," he says.

Daniel says that, in 2006, UTD will increase its spending on maintenance for Waterview by several hundred thousand dollars.

The changes represent a dramatic departure for Waterview. In April, the Dallas Observer reported in "The Dorm from Hell" that for years, many residents at Waterview endured black mold, broken toilets, violent crime, poor security and inadequate maintenance.

Daniel, who took over as UTD president in June, has tackled security first. He's authorized hiring seven new police officers. He's approved the installation of additional lighting and call boxes. And, says UTD Assistant Police Chief Debra Marable, the university recently created a Sexual Assault Response Team that provides escorts to students seven days a week between 6 p.m. and 2 a.m.

"In the case of a crisis, SART helps with contacts with counseling and health centers and addresses issues on campus," Marable says.

But housing conditions and poor maintenance remain a major problem. An independent panel that investigated the Observer's findings surveyed some 500 Waterview residents and found more than half had problems. In its final report, the Presidential Advisory Commission on Residential Housing said many of Waterview's problems resulted from officials who put more emphasis on making money than providing decent housing.

Daniel promises to change this. The university plans to hire its first-ever housing director in early 2006. Once this is done, Daniel says, UTD will inspect Waterview's 1,238 apartments and begin making the necessary repairs.

"I remember what it was like from five years ago, and I saw it progressively get worse, but now it is good," says Natalie Smith, a Waterview resident. "I mean, before I wouldn't put my dog in those living conditions."