Wednesday, March 17, 2010
Harvard-educated Rene Campos Jr. made a fortune by buying, rehabilitating and reselling distressed private apartment properties. Today, at 46, he lives in a million-dollar University Park home, owns a $4 million vacation property in Hawaii, plays polo, rides a custom motorcycle and drives a Land Rover.
Nothing wrong with being wealthy.
The problem is whether Campos and his investment company, Eureka Holdings, are living up to his self-described “mantra”: “We provide clean, safe, affordable housing for people.”
Eureka’s tenants at the Ridgecrest Terrace apartments in west Oak Cliff might beg to differ. Despite a constant stream of federal rent subsidies to the complex – including $1.5 million from the latest stimulus package – they describe a hellish swirl of drug activity, mold and mildew simply painted over, carpet so filthy it causes blackened feet and rashes, water-leak stains on walls.
Our issue isn’t just with Campos, a guy apparently more concerned with maximizing income by holding down expenses than with fulfilling housing commitments. It’s also with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which lets him get away with it.
Campos’ stimulus windfall was part of a $2 billion HUD effort to ensure that HUD-contracted landlords received a full year of rent subsidy payments. Ridgecrest Terrace was one of 14 Dallas County properties – nine in southern Dallas – to benefit. This, despite a record of failed HUD property inspections (later overturned on appeal), a city lawsuit to force repairs of substandard conditions (later settled) and the property’s failure to file audited financial statements on time (leading to a $3,000 fine).
If Campos is a slumlord, he’s giving other slumlords a bad name. HUD’s inability to separate worthy property owners from the chaff confirms criticisms of the $787 billion stimulus as larded with fraud and waste.
HUD’s response to this newspaper’s Steve McGonigle, whose research and reporting produced the Ridgecrest Terrace revelations, was dispiriting. A spokesman in Washington tried to explain the “delicate balance” between holding landlords accountable and making sure even the poor had decent housing. HUD supervisors locally and in Washington chose to not respond.
Campos tried to explain his side by blaming city vendettas for many of his problems at Ridgecrest Terrace.
Caught in the middle, of course, are the tenants, who just want that “clean, safe, affordable housing.” Landlords have the ultimate hammer, which is walking away if HUD leans on them too hard. With so much of southern Dallas’ housing stock tied up in complexes like Ridgecrest Terrace, tossing families into the street is a black eye HUD and the city don’t need.
Neither is looking away while people with few other options live in squalor.
Political Action Committee – National Apartment Association (NAA) files Amicus Brief in mold case (two infant deaths in mold filled apt – Wasatch Prop Mgmt) citing US Chamber/ACOEM ‘litigation defense report’ to disclaim health effects of indoor mold & limit financial risk for industry
“Changes in construction methods have caused US buildings to become perfect petri dishes for mold and bacteria to flourish when water is added. Instead of warning the public and teaching physicians that the buildings were causing illness; in 2003 the US Chamber of Commerce Institute for Legal Reform, a think-tank, and a workers comp physician trade organization mass marketed an unscientific nonsequitor to the courts to disclaim the adverse health effects to stave off liability for financial stakeholders of moldy buildings. Although publicly exposed many times over the years, the deceit lingers in US courts to this very day.” Sharon Noonan Kramer
Information on Riverstone Residential, the Louisiana Housing Finance Agency, and the owners of Toxic Mold Infested Jefferson Lakes Apartments in Baton Rouge, Louisiana continuing to allow tenants to be exposed to extreme amounts of mold toxins