On Wednesday, Mike Orren, president and founder of Pegasus News, wrote here that Steve Crossett, the Austin-based landlord of the soon-to-be-closed Ash Creek Mobile Home Park, is the very reason 100 low-income residents are going to be displaced on February 9. Wrote Orren, Crossett "failed to bring his property into compliance over a more than two year period has pocketed the money from the sale of the property without any benefit to the displaced residents." Orren has a far more intimate history with Ash Creek than I: He's a self-described "active member of the Ferguson Road Initiative," which for months has worked to move the low-income enclave on Highland Road, between Interstate 30 and White Rock Lake, out of the neighborhood.
But Crossett, reached in Austin this afternoon, says he has not, in fact, sold the property -- and he further insists he's "never even made a dime" off Ash Creek, claiming that the rent money made from its 100 residents goes instead to his 84-year-old mother, who operated the park till Crossett got involved a year ago. That was around the time the FRI and the city decided they wanted the 60-year-old mobile home park gone.
"I have no choice but to sell it," Crossett says. "Now, I've been approached regularly for years by people wanting to buy it. It's never been for sale before now... I have talked with a couple of developers about them purchasing it. There has been some interest in it, but nobody's come forth with a contract, so right now there's no firm plan."
Crossett says he spent some $100,000 over the last year trying to bring the park up to code, as per the city's lawsuit against him and the park brought on May 5, when the city asked a judge to fine Crossett if he didn't "address code violations such as leaking sewage, exposed electrical wires and rotting porch steps," according to this Dallas Morning News story.
Though he's been portrayed as an absentee landlord who ignored the deterioration of the park till it was too late, Crossett insists he had nothing to do with Ash Creek at all till last year. He says it "was my mother's business" and that there was a local manager who was in charge of day-to-day operations. Crossett says, "When I got involved almost a year ago, I was surprised to see it was as rundown and as ragged as it had become, and over the last year I've worked to bring it up to standards, and I think we made great strides.
"The mobile home park's been there 60 years and never had any code compliance violations till a year ago. All of the sudden there are 500 code violations in the mobile home park that I am personally responsible for. Well, OK, so we take care of them. We go through with their city inspectors, and they pass us. Then, all of the sudden, they say, 'You need to rip out all the new asphalt roads you just put in and lay down new concrete roads and two fire plugs to get up to fire codes.' I just spent $100,000 trying to defend the place, and then the city tells me I need to spend $200,000 more or else they'll shut me down. The fact is, Leo Chaney didn't want us there even if I did that. We're not going to get zoning approval no matter what. Even if I spent $200,000, I still wouldn't have a mobile home park, so I said,'OK, shut it down.'"
Park residents say they weren't entirely happy with the way Crossett's mother, Sue, ran the place; nor were they thrilled with how resident Evelyn Rangel managed it. They'd beg for repairs and wind up having to do their own. "We would have to ask over and over, and if you stayed on 'em you might get it fixed," says Bill Ashe. Nonetheless, Ashe says, Crossett "deserved a chance to bring it up to code, and they came after him with a ferocity no one could stand. Crossett didn't always do us right, but the FRI and the city have a lot more blame than he does. It doesn't matter who he is -- good guy, bad guy -- he deserves justice under the law."
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Ashe and Crossett agree on this one thing: The city -- specifically, Assistant Dallas City Attorney Jennifer Richie, who prosecuted the city's case against the owner -- had it in for Ash Creek. Crossett will ultimately wind up making money off the property. He'll do OK. Ashe says he's heard that that Crossett won't sell till after the mobile homes are gone. He'll probably bulldoze the area and let it sit -- get it nice and fresh, ripe for new development.
But many of the people who live there are wondering where they will go now; Ashe even wonders if perhaps there are FEMA trailers available for those folks who can't move their homes. "There was one guy here who was even mentioning suicide as his only option," Ashe says. "He was estranged from his family and had nobody. Thank goodness they located some family members. They came in and moved him, thank God."
Crossett and Ashe also agree on this much: Both men don't want to close the place down. Crossett even says he doesn't really want to sell. He says he would much prefer the city get off his back and let the residents, many of whom will not be able to move their homes, stay where they are. Both he and Ashe blame Chaney and his people -- Vikki Martin, Chaney's campaign treasurer and FRI executive director; and Ann Bagley, Chaney's appointee to the City Plan Commission who was once in favor of granting Ash Creek new zoning till she changed her mind -- for the park's demise. (Bagley and Chaney did not return messages left by Unfair Park.) Crossett even accepts some of the responsibility himself, acknowledging how far his family had let the place slide in recent years. But the owner refuses to accept that Ash Creek's demise was inevitable.
"We've got 100 people in the mobile home park that are getting kicked out for no apparent reason other than some people in McMansions don't want to look at them," Crossett says. "Where are these people going to go? What are they doing to go? This is beyond a travesty. This is happening . Tell me where else anyone can live for $200 a month in rent. It can't be done. They're doing it here, and it's being taken away from them. I've done everything I possibly can over the last year to make this mobile home park survive. That's what I want it to be -- a mobible home park, as it has been for 60 years. All they've done is hurt 50-plus low-income families. That's all." --Robert Wilonsky