By Chris Lane
By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
FAST can close a nuisance property, but it can't erase the problem. Hurst likens the effort to a Band-Aid approach, saying, "We're fighting the battles one on one, but the war is still here."
"We do realize the limits," Rai says. "We're displacing the activity to somewhere else."
Dreams of Fondren Southwest tenants have also been displaced, despite all the efforts under way to improve the area.
The recent killings at Pointe Royale and other complexes perpetuate an image not only for those outside the area, but to the renters themselves. Because things have been so bad in the past, some tenants accept rumor as fact, weaving gruesome tales into local lore.
A 15-year-old Pointe Royale tenant spoke casually about residents discovering a policeman's body in a Dumpster years ago. Pointing to the supposed Dumpster, only a few dozen yards from her apartment, she said the officer's throat had been slit.
Another apartment resident flatly stated that police shot two teenage burglars, one fatally, in Glendale Park in August. This never happened, but it was just as easy for him to believe that it did. It seems people who live in Fondren Southwest's apartments long enough don't consider those stories out of the ordinary.
Activist Hurst can weed fiction from fact, although she admits Fondren Southwest has a long way to go before those myths subside. Although Mayor Lee Brown named the area as one of 88 "Super Neighborhoods," Hurst says she has yet to see progress from that designation. The program was designed to give residents a voice in prioritizing funding and projects for their community. Groups are supposed to draft a master plan for the area, but the splits may snarl the effort.
"Egos have to be thrown out the window," she says of the council created by the Super Neighborhood label. That council is represented by both Southwest Houston 2000 and Hurst's groups, creating an atmosphere of acrimony rather than a unified front.
Apartments are showing some progress. Following Pointe Royale's recent murders, the Cres ownership raised the monthly off-duty HPD patrol budget from $6,500 to $9,000.
Officers say that, even with police logging 1,000 calls to the complex over the past year, Pointe Royale doesn't register as one of the more violent complexes of Fondren Southwest.
Teresa Lippert of Cres says the former manager had to leave because "dealing with the recent events" was too emotional for her. She also acknowledges that "there were some issues that the residents felt toward her." Lippert says the manager's replacement won the Houston Apartment Association's Manager of the Year Award.
"It's not as horrible a situation as it's played out to be," Lippert says, explaining that local media tend to blow things out of proportion. She and police also argue that the domestic nature of the homicides are hardly indicative of a complex's safety, saying that they could happen anywhere.
West, Pointe Royale's former tenant, is not around any longer to engage in the debate. With the arrival of her fifth child last month, her family relocated to what she called a bigger, safer apartment outside Fondren Southwest. She made a day and night tour of the new complex to be certain that she wasn't moving into a place with more problems.
The week before West left, 25 new tenants were scheduled to move in to Pointe Royale. Even as safety concerns force others out, cheap move-in rates draw others in. It seems there will always be someone willing to come, even if it's only for a few months.
West, weeks prior to the move, sat on her couch and cradled her infant daughter, a picture of peace. She was sure she'd miss her friends, the majority of tenants who are good, responsible people trying to survive on limited budgets.
They just have to deal with a reality that people in other parts of town don't face on a regular basis, she says. And for that, they are judged.
"For the most part," West says, "people here are just trying to live."