Better Homes

UTD reverses course, announces improvements at its Waterview dorm

In April, officials at the University of Texas at Dallas said conditions at the Waterview Park Apartments, the nation's largest private dorm, couldn't be better.

Robert Lovitt, then the top university official over Waterview, called it "one of the best success stories in the United States."

You won't hear UTD officials making those kinds of claims today.

Dr. David E. Daniel, who took over as UTD president in June, recently ordered the inspection of every apartment at Waterview as part of his plan to overhaul the complex. Daniel told the Dallas Observer it will take an outside firm several weeks to inspect all of Waterview's 1,238 apartments. But that's fine with the UTD president as long as the result is what he believes every student deserves. "In a couple of words--first-class residential housing," Daniel says.

Several Waterview residents say maintenance has been a joke. "I've had water problems in the bathroom for months," says Brian Tucker, a mathematical education major. "I told them to fix it last July, and it still hasn't been fixed."

Tucker and others say they welcome Daniel's willingness to tackle Waterview's many problems. "If they do their job correctly," he said, "if they do what they say they're going to do, then it would be great."

In "The Dorm From Hell," an April 28 cover story, the Observer reported that many residents at Waterview endured black mold, broken toilets, leaking ceilings, violent crime, poor security and inadequate maintenance in their apartments.

Robert K. Utley III, the Dallas developer who built Waterview, told the Observer the complex has provided his family with $10 million in profits. Utley said security and maintenance had long been inadequate, but he blamed the international students' way of life for creating many of the problems at the complex. "Because a lot of the foreign students cook fish and curry, it's embedded in the walls," he said then. "We have to rip the carpet out at turnover."

An independent panel that investigated the Observer's findings said otherwise. In its final report, the Presidential Advisory Commission on Residential Housing said Waterview's problems resulted from officials who put more emphasis on making money than providing decent housing. In the words of the commission, "Maximizing revenue was the primary goal of campus housing."

Daniel vowed this will change. "We were maximizing revenue at the expense of maintenance," he said. "Now the pendulum needs to swing to the other side."

The presidential commission surveyed more than 500 residents at Waterview and found more than half had problems. "Maintenance of individual apartments and common spaces is the most severe and chronic problem facing residential housing," according to the commission.

"They are horrible at upkeep," says Andrea Sarine, a sophomore at UTD. "They claimed they have sprayed for roaches, but I still see them around. And it took about a month for them to replace my microwave."

The panel's final report suggested that those responsible for Waterview operated with no accountability or oversight even though its first apartments opened in 1989. The commission said there was no system of inspections, no performance standards regarding housing quality and no system of preventive maintenance at the nation's largest private dorm.

In fact, the report found that no one person was in charge of the complex and its almost 4,000 beds. To correct that problem, the panel recommended that officials create an Office of Residential Housing. Daniel agrees and says the search is already under way to hire someone to run this office.

Many students applauded Daniel and his staff for finally listening to them. "I'm glad they are talking more to residents now," says Chiyo Johnson, a senior interdisciplinary major. "It seemed like that before they were doing things for us instead of doing things with us."

Waterview residents have had to cope with more than substandard living conditions and poor maintenance. Ten rapes were reported there in the past three years, including four in the fall semester. Yet UTD issued just two crime alerts telling students what had happened. Many students said security was poor. Lovitt dismissed those concerns. "[There's] no crime problem," he said in April.

Again, the presidential commission disagreed. It said that between 1999 and 2004 the number of students at Waterview grew nearly 40 percent. During that same period, the campus police force added just one officer. In response, Daniel has promised to improve lighting, add more emergency call boxes and hire 10 additional officers to patrol the complex--a 60 percent increase in the UTD police force.

The final report recommends that university officials establish a permanent program to address the threat of rape at the complex, including the formation of a Sexual Assault Response Team. Daniel said he will discuss this soon with UTD Police Chief Colleen Ridge.

Students are pleased with the new security measures. "We were having a problem with safety last year," Johnson says. "Now I feel more aware about what's going on."

The private and public officials who previously ran Waterview have been uncharacteristically quiet about the dramatic changes at the sprawling complex. Lovitt, who left UTD in May and today is executive vice president for finance and administration at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, declined to comment. Utley, whose firm still manages the complex, did not return repeated phone calls to his office.

Several current Waterview residents say they will believe change has arrived when they see it. "As long as they don't put it off, it could be tremendously helpful," says Jennifer Covarrubias, a second-year student majoring in psychology and criminal justice. "But if they keep pushing it back, then it could become a problem." --Kelsey Guy and Cecilia Lai

We Screwed Up

The Dallas Observer got it wrong. Last week, we ran a story in the City section titled "By the Numbers." It detailed a Dallas Police Department plan to hold cops accountable for their daily duties--the cynical call it a cop quota--effective October 1.

Only it may or may not take effect October 1--or ever. Furthermore, the document on which the Observer based its story never crossed police Chief David Kunkle's desk, though we said it did. An apology and an explanation are due the Dallas Police Department and our readers.

Best then to start at the beginning. A cop the Observer has relied on in the past, whose information has always been accurate, told us come October 1, police officers' activities would be monitored. If those activities were found to be lower than the average of the sector in which the officer worked, the officer could be punished for it. The source said a document detailing the move had already been issued to the force.

The Observer received the five-page document from this source titled "Dallas Police Department Patrol Officer Performance Evaluation Planning Form." It said exactly what the source told us. The Observer called another source on the inside, who said that the document was legit and that it came from Kunkle's office. The Observer then called Glenn White, head of the Dallas Police Association, the largest union within DPD. White also said the document was legit and that it came from Kunkle's office and then blasted Kunkle for issuing the policy.

The Observer tried last Wednesday and again last Thursday to reach Kunkle through DPD's media relations department. Kunkle didn't return the calls; he says he never got the message that the Observer was trying to contact him.

Kunkle told the Observer after the story that the plan outlined in the draft document isn't policy yet and may never be policy. He said the document came from a group of lieutenants charged with increasing productivity and lowering crime. Kunkle himself hadn't seen the document and hadn't signed off on it. --Paul Kix

Reluctant Patient

It's reasonable to assume that dinner-table conversation is a bit strained these days at Rebecca Bridges' house. The former director of Hope Counseling Center at Dallas' Cathedral of Hope is facing a lawsuit for sexual exploitation filed in June by a former client, identified in court documents only as "Jane Doe." Nevertheless, the two still live together in a three-bedroom house just west of White Rock Lake, paired in what the lawsuit describes as "a very dysfunctional, emotional and volatile relationship."

Jane Doe became a client of Bridges, a licensed social worker, in November 2000. On June 30, 2002, she also became Bridges' lover, according to the lawsuit. The plaintiff's lawyer, Skip Simpson, says his client has become so dependent on Bridges that she can't bring herself to leave. "If she could get out, she would," he says. Neither Doe nor Bridges could be reached for comment.

The Cathedral of Hope, the nation's largest gay church, is also named as a defendant in the suit, which also charges negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Lawyers for the church and for Bridges both directed inquiries to Bill Armstrong, the church's communications director, despite the fact that Bridges left her job there in 2003.

Armstrong issued a statement that echoed the point-blank denials the defendants filed with the court. "We will vigorously defend our organization against this malicious attack," it read.

The Department of State Health Services Code of Conduct for social workers leaves no doubt on its position: "A social worker shall not have sexual contact with a client or a person who has been a client."

As a licensed social worker, Bridges was authorized to treat Doe, but the technique she is alleged to have used, "re-parenting," is highly controversial. The therapist is established as an idealized parent, helping patients with traumatic childhood experiences relive them in a healthier way. In 1998, a Missouri psychiatrist was sentenced to 133 years in prison for convincing a patient to regress to her nursing days and then substituting his penis for a nipple.

Simpson says his client's mental state is far worse now than when she first went to Bridges for help. "If you can imagine a bird in the Exxon Valdez deal that has oil all over it, that's her," Simpson says. --Rick Kennedy

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