Moving On

Continual crime, aging apartments and new activism collide as the fight for Fondren Southwest's soul rages onward

Glendale Park Apartments manager Gloria Oliver chimes in about Bloods -- a young black gang sporting red shirts and shoes -- who have recently moved into the area. She tells of dealers congregating from 11 at night until kids catch their school buses in the morning.

Sergeant Jack Oliver starts assigning the complaints to different officers. They prioritize the list, with everyone agreeing the Bloods are number one.

Hurst's life has been like this for ten years, an endless series of meetings with disgruntled homeowners, apartment managers, police and other local groups. She's the president of Braeburn Valley Homeowners Association as well as New Braeswood Revitalization Association. She orchestrates apartment managers' meetings and Positive Interaction Programs with residents and police. In Fondren Southwest, there's very little she doesn't have her hands in.

Southwest Gardens shows the area's worst.
Chris Curry
Southwest Gardens shows the area's worst.
A warning marks the wall at Southwest Gardens.
Chris Curry
A warning marks the wall at Southwest Gardens.

Hurst has no problem talking about crack dealers, hookers and shootings. But asking how old she is makes her most uncomfortable. "Anyone who would tell their age would tell everything," she replies.

But she does seem to tell everything, from Fondren Southwest's progress to how much further it has to go.

In 1973 Hurst moved with her husband and five children from New Orleans to the quiet, well-kept subdivision of Braeburn Valley. As the regional manager for a cosmetics firm, she traveled two or three weeks each month, never realizing that the nearby sprawl of apartments were falling into urban decay.

"I sat here on a little island. I didn't know what was going on," she says.

It's easy to understand. Braeburn Valley, like other subdivisions in the area, remain oases in Fondren Southwest, immune in large part to the crime concentrated in the complexes.

Around the time she retired in 1992, a street in her subdivision was opened to allow access for a Pepto-Bismol-colored clump of squalid apartments she says is owned by a New Jersey rabbi. She went to homeowners' meetings to protest (the street stayed open), and her local activism evolved from there. She started to see first-hand the crime at these complexes and the owners' neglect. Her kids told her to move.

"Where are you going to go to run away from this?" she says. "You can't run."

No one seemed to be doing anything about the decline, she says. At that time, the Fondren Police Station was just a storefront office, a satellite of the Beechnut Station, with only a handful of officers. But Hurst found an ally in then-captain C.A. Bullock, who retired earlier this year. They organized the first meetings of property managers to share ideas on combating onsite crime. They exchanged names of evicted tenants. Before, it was too easy for a drug-dealing renter to get booted out of one complex and set up shop in an adjacent one the next day.

Hurst says she's not anti-apartment, she's just got a real problem with owners and managers more interested in the bottom line than in their tenants.

"Just because you're poor doesn't mean you have to live in a complex, like this one behind me, where you have raw sewage running into your pantry," she says. "These owners know what they're doing…you think they care about the community? No. It's one self-serving individual that's greedy and hungry, and we all pay the price for that."

One problem is that managers don't want to lower occupancy at any cost.

"When a slumlord hires a [manager], he says, 'This is what I expect you to bring in every month. And if you don't bring this in every month, you don't have a job,' " she says.

Police and neighborhood groups have made progress in the last five years, Hurst says. Besides the continued meetings with officers, groups have organized family "Fun Day in the Park" programs and have raised money to buy streetlights and plant flowers in esplanades. Hurst is especially proud of that, saying, "Beautification is a part of crime prevention, and that's a fact."

But there's also frustration in her voice.

She says the city's population count for the area is low, which affects Fondren police staffing and funding for revitalization projects. There are still managers who don't do anything about the dealers on their properties. She misses the better restaurants and shops that abandoned the area in the 1980s.

Hurst won't be happy until the drugs are gone, because that brings everything else. But with the Bloods moving in, it will take more than streetlights and flowers to eradicate pervasive dealing.

"All I want to do is move the drug dealers," she says. "I don't care where [they] go. Just get them out of here."

Another local group, Southwest Houston 2000, isn't as open about the crime plaguing the area. The organization formed in 1991 as what president James Myers calls a coalition of homeowners associations, business owners, churches, synagogues, libraries and others. Their advisory group includes City Councilman Mark Goldberg, At-Large Councilman Gordon Quan and HISD Board President Laurie Bricker.

But it's hard to get a handle on what Southwest Houston 2000 actually does. Perry Radoff, an attorney who heads the coalition's crime and safety committee, insisted that the only way to do a story about crime in Fondren Southwest was to do a story about crime in the entire city. He referred comments about crime to Myers, president of a public relations and advertising firm.

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