Residents of East Oak Cliff apartment say management ignores lack of gas, hot water or air conditioning

When Destiny Morris was looking for a place to live about three years ago, the Volara Apartments complex on Overton Road, east of Oak Cliff, made the most sense. The rent was relatively cheap, so Morris hoped she would save money by living there.

But the low rent, according to Morris and other tenants at the resort, isn’t worth the headaches they’ve endured over the past few months. The complex has also drawn the attention of Dallas police and city officials who say it is one of the city’s top violent crime hotspots.

First, there are the security concerns: Morris, who works in customer service and sometimes works from home, said some of his calls with customers were interrupted by nearby gunfire. Then there are the utility issues: Residents go days or even weeks without essentials like gas, air conditioning and hot water. Morris, who is now facing eviction from the resort, said she spent between $300 and $400 in recent months on hotel rooms so her 7-year-old daughter wouldn’t have to take a cold shower.

Where do the Dallas murders take place? Police say apartments and officials plan to focus on them

“Everyone needs water – especially with COVID going on,” Morris said. “We need water to disinfect.”

The only light in Morris’ apartment came from a small floor lamp. She didn’t have a smoke detector in the three years she lived there. Peeling paint and water stains cover its ceiling and walls. The second story balcony next to it seemed to be collapsing under its own weight. Holes were visible in the woodwork of the other apartments.

But the worst part of life at Volara, Morris said, is management ignoring work orders and complaints.

The company that runs Volara, Silverstone Management Company, only took control of the resort in March, and Morris said she can somewhat understand and expect slowdowns when a property changes ownership.

“I don’t blame them because they just arrived,” she said, “but they can go home to get hot water and cook. I bet they don’t have rats running around their house.

A representative from Silverstone, the company that took over management of the property in March, strongly disputed the claim that work orders were ignored, and said staff were working “tirelessly to ensure that every resident has a good quality of life”.

“We have already invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in the property and residents are already enjoying a much better quality of life,” said Silverstone representative Evan Reifman. “No resident is ever ignored.”

Representatives for the former owners, S2 VHH, did not respond to a request for comment.

Wiring is exposed where a smoke detector should be in the ceiling of Destiny Morris’ apartment at the Volara Apartments in South Dallas, Wednesday, May 11, 2022. Morris said she has lived in the apartment for three years old and that she had never had a smoke detector in that place.(Elias Valverde II / Personal photographer)

Deocean Newsome, a 33-year-old single mother of three, said rats and cockroaches were crawling freely through the holes in the walls of her unit. She said work orders she submitted for issues such as no gas, cold water and low water pressure were ignored. She was unable to cook for her children except with a microwave.

“I couldn’t even send them to school. A cold shower doesn’t make you clean,” Newsome said. “It was bad enough, we had no air [conditioning]. You can hear rats upstairs and you walk out and see them with the kids.

“That’s how vicious it is,” added Newsome, who faces expulsion. “It’s not good to live like this.”

The compound at 3550 E. Overton Road has been the focus of Dallas police and city officials for years and has been the site of several shootings and homicides. In February, Dallas Police Chief Eddie García identified Volara as one of the city’s top criminal complexes.

In a May 4 memo to Dallas City Council member Carolyn King Arnold, whose district includes the apartment complex, a city official said the complex “is receiving significant attention and resources from the city. ‘, including increased patrols and responses from the DPD and ‘violence switches’ which hope to reduce street crime.

Silverstone, the company that manages the complex, “meets daily with City staff on site and [has] has indicated a willingness to resolve all identified issues,” the city’s Office of Integrated Public Safety Solutions Director Kevin Oden wrote in the memo.

Holes and missing paint line the wall near the front door of Destiny Morris' apartment in...
Holes and missing paint lines on the wall near the front door of Destiny Morris’ apartment at the Volara Apartments in south Dallas on Wednesday, May 11, 2022.(Elias Valverde II / Personal photographer)

The city sued the former management of the resort in July 2018 and July 2020 over quality of life issues, according to the memo. But those lawsuits were dismissed when the resort changed court orders, including implementing crime prevention measures.

As a result of security measures implemented at the resort, Volara saw a 50% decrease in what Oden described as “reducible infractions” from 2020 to 2021. The memo does not describe what these violations include, but city staff who have inspected the complex since late last month still found 71 “notable issues to fix,” including pest infestations, loose railings, sewage damage and shattered windows, the memo says.

Last month, the resort filed eviction notices against more than 70 residents, mostly for nonpayment of rent. The move caught the attention of eviction lawyers and advocates and Dallas social media personality Smash Da Topic, who emailed a correspondent with a camera to the complex in early May to hear residents’ concerns.

Reifman, the Silverstone representative, said residents were complaining about their living conditions because they were going through the eviction process.

“If people get kicked out and are upset, they get kicked out, of course they’re going to do a non-story,” Reifman said. “We treat every person the same.”

But the social media outcry appeared to get real estate management’s attention, said Mark Melton, a Dallas eviction attorney and chairman of the board of the Dallas Eviction Advocacy Center. Shortly after the video went viral on social media, residents’ electricity and gas came back on.

Afterwards, Melton and other attorneys showed up to speak with the residents.

“We heard a recurring theme,” Melton said. “’I ran out of gas last week.’ ‘No hot water.’ I can’t bath the children and can’t cook. “I had to spend money on fast food restaurants.”

“And the apartment complex had done next to nothing to alleviate the issues and help,” Melton added.

The group decided they had to step in and called United Way to organize a food drive at the resort. Almost an entire truckload of food was distributed to residents, along with balls and art supplies for the children who live there.

A judge suspended evictions, including the evictions of Morris and Newsome, allowing Melton and his team to connect with residents to provide rent or moving assistance. Morris and Newsome have said they hope to move out before evictions come back to court this summer.

Previous What role can gene editing play in predator control? And are we ready to accept it?
Next Pamplin Media Group - Hillsboro School District Fined Nearly $14,000 for Pest Control Policies