Will her effort to curb apartment crime work? No, but it might help her political career

Here’s a little free advice for the group that represents Dallas’ apartment owners. Calm down. You missed the boat on The Mayor’s Latest Ploy to Get on the News.

That would be last month’s apartment crime initiative, in which Her Honor cracked down on slum lords — I know this is true, because that’s the way it was reported on the radio — by overhauling the city’s apartment licensing program. This left the apartment people flustered and whining and generally out of sorts, since this is Dallas and strait-jacket-like regulation only happens in those liberal, hippie places such as New York City, where they don’t understand that the role of city government is to stay out of the way.

The apartment people have moaned and wailed about how the crackdown wasn’t fair, but they missed the point — which is, will it work? And it won’t. Rather, it’s political grandstanding of the highest order by a mayor who long ago discovered the value of style over substance and that hardly anyone pays attention to yesterday’s news.

The only way the new plan will work is if the city enforces it. Which means having enough code enforcement inspectors to do the extra work described in the new ordinance. Which should happen about never, given past performances.

One almost has to feel sorry for Kathy Davis, who runs the city’s code compliance department, and until the end of last year had 14 inspectors to oversee some 200,000 apartments. The department has actually hired seven more, but it’s still a daunting task. Consider that the city randomly inspects 10 percent of the units in a complex, which means each inspector must take on about 1,000 apartments. Assuming two inspections a day, and nothing else to do like lunch or days off, it’s going to take two years to get to every apartment in town. No doubt the slumlords and sneak thieves are quaking with fear.

In fact, threatening to get tough on apartment owners is nothing new in Dallas. When the legendary John Ware was city manager in the mid-’90s, he promised to have every apartment complex in town inspected, the goal being to defuse a political crisis caused by a backlog of code enforcement complaints. Something about not having enough code enforcement inspectors.

Sure enough, every apartment was magically inspected, and most received passing grades. I know magic was used because the fourplex where I lived somehow passed, even though most of the units didn’t have the required smoke detector (and I didn’t notice anyone actually looking in my apartment). When I called the inspector to ask how my landlord could possibly have passed, being the subversive troublemaker that I am, he told me it wasn’t as if he could inspect every unit, and if the landlord said things were OK, things were OK.

Which is why the apartment people should stop worrying. No doubt there will be a televised spectacle or two, with city officials posing for the cameras. But in the end, it will be business as usual. How can it be otherwise with just 21 inspectors? Her Honor doesn’t care as much about apartment dwellers as she cares about getting on the news so she can do her Rudy Guiliani impression. About one-quarter of Dallas’ reported crime takes place in apartment complexes, but since no one is willing to hire more cops (including several readers of this space), we get smoke and mirrors. Or the other key apartment crime initiative, posting signs reminding residents to lock their cars — something so silly that it’s worthy of Monty Python.

All of this is just another example of Her Honor’s attempt to have it both ways to further her political career. She wants to be seen as Our Fearless Leader, but doesn’t want to pay for it. Hence we get the no smoking ordinance, which can only be enforced by customers ratting on each other, or the hard-hitting panhandling and grocery cart laws. I know I sleep safer at night knowing those two are on the books.

The question should be: Will anyone who lives in an apartment building be safer? Don’t bet on it.

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