Joey Stewart and his son could soon be forced out of the Mira Monte Apartments if the city’s lawsuit against the crime-addled Las Vegas Trail complex is successful.
Even so, the 53-year-old Stewart said, the city made the right move.
Persistent violent crime on the grounds of the 116-unit complex sitting at the corner of Las Vegas Trail and Calmont Avenue spurred the city to file a nuisance abatement lawsuit on Nov. 17. A recent shooting served as the final straw.
“You can’t take the trash out at nighttime without someone trying to rob you,” Stewart said. “There’s no lights on the property. She [on-site manager Alisa Rodriguez] has a security guard on the property. I’ve probably seen him out here twice in the past month. He’s scared to walk the property.”
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If the lawsuits are successful, both businesses could be shut down for one year, a result that would punish the longtime offenders, but would also require a solution for relocating hundreds of displaced tenants in a city already facing a dire crunch of affordable housing.
The city will seek the court to order the defendants responsible for relocating tenants and paying moving expenses and required deposits, according to Fort Worth senior assistant attorney Chris Mosley. A transition period of six weeks, allowing for an orderly exodus, would likely be granted.
“As a practical matter, we’re sure the city is going to have to be involved in some way or another,” Mosley said.
Mayor Betsy Price has not been involved directly with the lawsuit process, but is prepared to act if the properties should close.
“We are ready to spring into action to assist with next steps for these tenants,” Parker said, “especially families with children where proximity to their home school needs to be prioritized.”
Rodriguez, the on-site manager, said Mira Monte is about 85 percent full, about 99 units occupied. She said she could not estimate the total number of tenants.
Knights Inn presents a different circumstance because it is a motel and not a residence. Still, many stay there for weeks and months at a time, using the motel as a long-term housing option because, typically, all else has failed. Those people will also need new homes. If not for the $35-a-night motel, many would seek a bed in a shelter.
Unsuitable living conditions
Matthew John Baker is named on the lawsuit as the manager and director of Mira Monte Apartments LLC. His son, Jeffrey Baker, is also believed to have a stake in the complex. Neither father nor son has been able to be reached for comment. Both are said to live Amarillo, and are rarely seen on the Fort Worth property.
Baker’s attorney Victor Huhem joined his client at a meeting with city officials at City Hall in September. There, Baker was issued a last-chance warning to cooperate with police and take a hard stand against crime on the premises or risk a lawsuit. Huhem has not returned multiple messages.
Rodriguez, Mira Monte’s on-site manager the last five years, said she feels the city has unfairly targeted the complex, saying crime is a problem on all the properties. She said code compliance has ramped up inspections to the point that she feels she is being “harassed.” She said repairs and renovations are underway, and a security guard is on the clock on a more regular basis, but she noted, “I can’t control everything that happens.”
“At the same time, it’s OK, it’s gotten better over the years,” Rodriguez said of the complex’s overall safety. “But we do have security, we’re working on cleaning it up, we’re working together with the city.”
Cosmetic improvements are visible with fresh paint being applied to the building’s exterior. Interior work is said to be coming. For now, tenants report substandard and unhealthy conditions.
Stewart’s one-bedroom, 770-square apartment is $580 a-month. He shares it with his 20-year-old son after they gave up the motel they previously called home in Ennis. Since moving in 11 months ago, Stewart said they’ve had hot water only sporadically, and the water is shut off entirely several times a week without warning because of leaks.
He said he recently had to call the fire marshal to finally get management to install smoke detectors in the apartment. Roaches and rats are a mainstay. The rats, he said, wake him up at night in the kitchen gnawing on his food. He said a poor repair in the bathroom has spawned black mold.
Tenants don’t move into Mira Monte for its amenities or safe environment. They move in because they can afford it.
Stewart said tenants are aware of the lawsuit and its potential consequences. If Mira Monte were ordered shut down, Stewart said tenants would be caught between joy and panic, happy to see an cheapskate owner punished, but fearful of finding another apartment that they can afford.
“We are trying to put more affordable housing in the market and we anticipate having more in the next year and beyond,” said Mary-Margaret Lemons, the newly appointed president of Fort Worth Housing Solutions and the housing subcommittee leader on Councilman Brian Byrd’s recently created Las Vegas Trail Revitalization Project.
A new mixed-income apartment complex called 2900 Broadmoor is set to open early next year east of Las Vegas Trail near Cherry Lane. Expected to fill up fast, it could open space for some Mira Monte tenants, as well as starting at least something of a domino effect if any current Las Vegas Trail residents can make the move to Broadmoor.
Fort Worth Housing Solutions is currently undertaking a major project, gradually moving residents out of the Butler Place public housing project and into mixed-income apartment complexes scattered throughout the city. The first group will move out before the end of the year.
Ultimately, city officials would prefer a solution that bypasses shuttering Mira Monte and Knights Inn. But that will take both owners to reverse their irreverent and bare-bones style of operation. Selling their properties to a responsible landlord is another possibility.
The lawsuits are an extreme and rare option, but a necessary one, the city believes, if a serious attempt to lift up the struggling Las Vegas Trail neighborhood will have a chance.
City officials, including the Mayor’s office, are acutely aware of challenges that will arise from actions intended to lay the groundwork for future progress. Topping the list might soon be where to direct potentially hundreds of displaced apartment tenants.
“Should the owners fail to comply and the court rule the property is unsuitable to be inhabited, the city of Fort Worth will work with all possible partners to identify housing for displaced residents,” Byrd said.