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El Torreón closing opens doors to new problems

By LOURDES VAZQUEZ
April 1, 2010 at 8 p.m.
Updated April 4, 2010 at 11:05 p.m.

Top left and right: The City of Victoria has boarded up the El Torreon apartment complex following numerous reports of break-ins. Water service was shut off, causing residents to seek housing elsewhere, but recently vagrants have been sleeping there overnight.

LANDLORD TIMELINE

January 2001: Jason Anderson purchases property.

February 2006: Victoria County files civil suit against Anderson for delinquent taxes.

June 2006: Case is dismissed by county.

August 2009: Anderson makes last water payment in amount of $1,280.77.

Jan. 22: Last water bill date from 11/30 to 12/29 totals $15,928.

Jan. 25: City shuts off El Torreón water after five months without payment.

Feb. 6: Amount due for delinquent water bill: $17,521.

Feb. 23: City sends letter to renters demanding they vacate property by March 2.

March 1: Last of residents move out.

March 2: El Torreón is boarded up.

More problems mount at a local apartment complex the city two months ago deemed unfit for tenants.

From collection agencies and boarding fees, to liens and calls to the police department, the El Torreón Apartment Complex remains home to troubling setbacks.

Citing inspections that show the building falls short of minimum housing standards, the city demanded residents move out by March 2. Since, a slew of new problems moved into 1303 E. Colorado St.

The city cut off the water to residents who lived at the 21-unit complex in January. The building's owner, Jason Anderson of Leander, stopped paying the water bill in August, city records show. By February, Anderson's bill grew to $17,500.

Lacking water, residents could no longer live at the complex, the city determined.

Now, the city works to recoup overdue bills and head off an up-tick in crime centered on the abandoned building.

The city's water department placed a lien on Anderson's property because of the overdue water bills. Lynn Short, public works director, said portions of that bill were sent to a collection agency.

The city in late March then sent to Anderson the bill for materials, labor and administrative fees for boarding closed the complex. Anderson has 60 days to pay about $3,300 or face another lien, said John Kaminski, director of development services.

A bright spot in this otherwise unfortunate story: Former residents of the abandoned complex found new homes.

Lisa Griffin, case manager with Mid-Coast Family Services, said staff relocated all complex renters who sought help. Others ventured out on their own and thus Griffin didn't track them.

"One problem we ran into is there is affordable housing but not quality housing," Griffin said.

Former El Torreón renters paid $395 per month. In order for Mid-Coast to help, the new homes they found must meet federal standards. Those homes are often more expensive than $395 per month.

"It'd be wonderful if there was more affordable housing out there," Griffin said.

While El Torreón was affordable, it served as another example of buildings exhibiting substandard living conditions.

Following the mandated move out, crime moved in.

First, looters scavenged the units and stole stoves, air conditioners and various other items, Kaminski said.

The building also attracts the attention of Victoria police.

Police responded to four calls to the abandoned complex in March and officers expect more of the same. Calls ranged from criminal mischief incidents to burglary.

"Deteriorating buildings in our community are much like a criminal cancer," Police Chief Bruce Ure said. "Much like cancerous medical conditions, if you don't aggressively and systematically attack the deteriorated community and building conditions, the criminal activity brought on by the abandoned building will also begin to spread and affect other areas in the area."

Knowing abandoned buildings attract crime, police patrol the area surrounding El Torreón, Ure said. He said this draws resources needed in other areas, too.

"Buildings in disrepair and vacant provide a haven for criminal activity," the police chief explained. "We would expect an increase in criminal activity both at the building location, as well as increased criminal activity in the general area."

Anderson, owner of the apartment complex, did not return phone calls seeking comment.

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