Sitting in a white patio chair on the porch of her 86-year-old house Sunday afternoon, Yvette Laster can look directly across the street to the new Jubilee Park community center, the $6 million building named for Walt Humann and T. Boone Pickens that opened to great fanfare in September. For Laster, though, it's a reminder of the Jubilee board members she says wanted to buy her house and who made her house a priority for the city's Code Compliance Department when she refused.
At the ribbon-cutting two months ago, Humann made a point of thanking the property owners who sold their land to the Jubilee board to help make the wide-open neighborhood park a reality -- but Laster says they also made overtures to her and other neighbors farther from the park itself, as part of a coordinated effort to buy up land ahead of the planned expansion of Interstate 30. "They are basically an undercover real estate agent across the street," Laster says.
The city of Dallas named 11 code violations in a July 8 administrative court suit against Laster, including cracks and holes in the house, bent fencing and poorly maintained electrical wiring (the city's full complaint is after the jump). The suit calls the property on Bank Street "dilapidated, substandard and unfit for human habitation." In an accompanying affidavit, Jubilee Park & Community Center director Stacy Welk says Laster's home has been harboring stray cats and dogs, and that she's seen homeless people use it as a den for drugs and prostitution.
Laster denies being an absentee landlord over the house and says that while she left town for long stretches to care for her sick parents, she had neighbors checking on the house, though she says it was robbed once while she was out of town. "They stole everything from me," Laster says. They took my TV across the street and tried to sell it to the Jubilee center."
After months of depositions and visits from code compliance officers, Laster's trial with the city gets rolling tomorrow morning.
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Laster's attorney Chris Kling told Unfair Park last week he takes particular issue with the vague phrasing in the city's suit -- that wiring should bear enough electricity for the "normal use of appliances," or that the house must be in "a weather-tight and water-tight condition." "If you're going to convict somebody of a crime, and charge them civil penalties up to $1,000 a day," Kling says, "you ought to be pretty precise about what you want them to do."
Jubilee Park's community prosecutor, Maureen Milligan, who's been representing the city in court so far, says in an e-mailed statement that code compliance has had issues at Laster's house "since at least 2005," but that Laster's been tough to work with. "Ms. Laster expressed extreme distrust of representatives from the City Attorney's Office and the Department of Code Compliance," Milligan says. "Over the years," she adds, "both Jubilee Park residents and employees of the Jubilee Park & Community Center have complained about crime and code violations" at Laster's house.
At least a couple veterans of the just-ended Jubilee Park showdown with DISD are siding with Laster, though, including Shawn Busari and Vickery Greenhouse's Pat Berry. "We're just concerned," Berry says. "She was out of her house for a couple of years and moved in with her mother to take care of her."
Busari says she's known Laster for 20 years, but that folks from the Jubilee Park & Community Center "just had us all convinced that this woman had left, and just left her property behind." After a rare victory against DISD's eminent domain suits against her and her neighbors' homes, Busari is finding herself in a familiar position. "The community here, we're planning to rally here with her in support of her keeping her home," she says.City of Dallas v. Yvette Laster