After spending years trying to motivate city employees to do their job, I think Mr. Burkleo ["Demolition man," November 2] should be commended for continuing to keep Dallas clean--it is such a thankless job.
Code enforcement has been a political football for years. While city officials talk about enforcing the city code, they have slashed the budget for code enforcement, promoted the incompetent, and punished the good inspectors. For several years, code enforcement was moved from department to department to ensure that nobody was in charge.
As for the charges that Mr. Burkleo is responsible for denying or destroying low-income housing, get real! The incompetent employees have done more to destroy housing through inaction and stupidity. During the 1980s, the City of Dallas lost more than $100 million in federal housing dollars due to incompetence.
The city provides grants and low-cost loans to fix run-down housing, but the waiting list is two or three years. That is because the city spends more on a new sports arena study than for fixing up run-down houses.
Habitat for Humanity has built more low-income homes in Dallas with all volunteers than the City of Dallas does each year. Last year, Steve Bartlett promised hundreds of in-fill homes. The city had less than 30 built.
Thank you for the long-due story by Denise McVea, "Demolition Man." Who else but the Observer and "60 Minutes" dares to give us the truth?
URSB's positive impact
As a recently retired member of Urban Rehabilitation Standards Board, it's clear to me that these stories ["Demolition man" and "Razing hopes," November 2] stand as a testament to journalistic ineptitude or intellectual incompetence.
Mr. Burkleo's "power" over URSB? None. Although his one-man property condition jihad brings properties that deserve to be in front of URSB, there is no correlation between Mr. Burkleo's personal recommendations and URSB orders.
In "Razing Hopes," you use the isolated case to generalize. Ms. McVea cheats readers by misrepresenting the URSB process. She writes of a proposed outreach center for which URSB affirmed a prior demolition order. Now, Ms. McVea writes that they're having trouble finding $540 for the rehearing fee, failing to point out that URSB waives rehearing fees for non-profits.
To say the URSB hands down rulings "seemingly based on whim" is irresponsible. Judgments are based on current property condition, cost to bring the property to minimum code, ability of the person to do so, and consideration of prior code enforcement history. Writing about city citations, she states, "if the owner complies quickly enough, the matter is finished." Ms. McVea, most cases at URSB relate to violations at least two years old. You write, "although board member are supposed to use the photos to help determine whether a home is substandard, and tour the home whenever possible..." Ms. McVea, we have toured all properties. Members have been shot at. I have walked through burned structures, over broken bottles, used condoms, and needles to see properties. I resent the patently false indictment.
URSB is helping contain and remedy the decay of neighborhoods all over Dallas. With tax delinquent properties, the job is made more difficult by statutory regulations. You referred to a buyer who boarded a foreclosure-acquired property for two years to wait out the tax redemption period. Many tax-delinquent properties belong to out-of-town people who have abandoned them. If state law allowed taxation bodies to negotiate or "trade" the property for the outstanding tax balance instead of making them foreclose, we could catch some properties before they become irreversibly dilapidated and not make buyers wait two more years to invest in repairs. On repairable properties, we tried to find a non-profit in the area to apply for receivership; few step forward.
It takes courage, vision, and effort to carry out the program Dallas has implemented. And, on balance, it has positively impacted the city. Want to do a follow-up and see the benefits of timid inaction? Visit New Orleans.
Get off your Hightower
Contrary to Molly Ivins' assertions, there is no right-wing plot to silence poor Jim Hightower ["Media merger madness," November 2]. His show is a bore, his point of view so stereotypically leftist, that only his "soft Texas twang" differentiates him from a thousand other media clowns.
Both his and Ivins' hackneyed polemics and cruel wit, aimed solely at one segment of the political spectrum, are woefully out of touch with reality. "All leftists, unions, government programs good, all Republicans and businessmen bad!" Now that's deep thinking for you.
Better we acknowledge them for what they are: persons of quick wit, some intelligence, and a great big political agenda. Sources of useful information they ain't.