A pilot program for trash pickup will target the Camelot II community, but it hasn’t been the only Bexar County neighborhood with, not just that problem, but neglectful landlords as well.. Trash covers the yard a multifamily structure scheduled for demolition in the Windsor Oaks neighborhood of east Bexar County in March 2013. The structures were ordered demolished through ongoing Operation Clean Sweep. lessA pilot program for trash pickup will target the Camelot II community, but it hasn’t been the only Bexar County neighborhood with, not just that problem, but neglectful landlords as well.. Trash covers the … morePhoto: Jerry Lara /San Antonio Express-News
It’s a new day for Camelot II.
Welcome to the First World. Or at least the kind of service we take for granted in the First World. For years, the townhomes in Camelot II have been blanketed in garbage and filth — with no lasting action from city and county leaders.
This pilot program — Bexar County has contracted with San Antonio for service over the next three years — has many longtime homeowners finally basking in optimism. Things just might be looking up here.
“The pilot program is a great beginning, ” said Barbara Kutzorik, a retired Army nurse who can remember when her neighborhood was a sparkling destination for military families. “It’s not a total fix to the problem, but it’s a great beginning.”
Just a beginning because the pilot program is limited to about 600 homes when the trash problem is so much bigger. Not a total fix because the pilot program does nothing to address the landlords who dominate Camelot II. Maybe half the homes in the pilot area are rentals, officials have estimated.
Many of these landlords own one or two homes. But a handful dominates the neighborhood, collectively holding close to 200 properties in the pilot program area and The Glen, a neighboring subdivision also plagued with trash and dumping, although not nearly as extreme. A company called Water Meadow Inc. owns more than 60 properties in the area, and doesn’t require trash service, for example. Factor in some associated LLCs, and that number is closer to 80. That’s essentially an apartment complex — that’s not required to have trash service.
“They don’t care, ” Janice Gray, president of the Montgomery Neighborhood Area Association, said of the landlords. “And they don’t care whether their properties depreciate as long as they get some money.”
There have been efforts in the past to mandate trash service in urban counties as a way to clean up Camelot II. Efforts that have gone nowhere. And next Legislative session, Renee Green, Bexar’s public works director, has promised a new twist, vowing to push for laws that would require landlords to have trash service in urban counties. The thinking is that tenants come and go, but landlords stay. It’s an effort likely to meet some stiff resistance.
Faulkner said he owns 60 properties in the area. I found 26 in Camelot II and The Glen via the Bexar Appraisal District.
Whatever the tally, he is one of the kings of Camelot. Not just a landlord, Faulkner also lives in the neighborhood, and hasn’t had trash service. He said he has been throwing away his garbage in one of his tenants’ trash bins.
Sure, he said, he could have contracted for trash service at his rentals and raised rents to recoup the cost, but “that’s more bookkeeping expense for me. It’s more problems for me.”
It’s not his responsibility, he said. Besides, he wasn’t sure he could get his money back if he raised the rents. It was a business decision.
“This is the bottom of the economic scale, ” he said. “Barely working people. They are good people. But these are people that, to be honest with you, I don’t even know how the hell they get by.”
That might be a good business decision for Faulkner, but its bad news for his neighbors. After all, doing nothing means homeowners are surrounded by trash, right?
“Well, ” he said. “That’s true.”
When I raised this indifference with Kutzorik, the retired Army nurse, she vented her frustration.
“As long as he is getting his money that is all he cares about, ” she said.
And for Kutzorik, that has real implications. Like declining property values. Like rat infestations.
“When we had a lot of trash out here, we had rats out here, ” she said. “I killed, over a six-month period, I killed 36 (rats) in my house.”
It’s unfair. Her home is immaculate. She precisely edges her lawn. Her house has lush landscaping, and has been tastefully updated. She is the perfect neighbor. She even gives books to kids. Rats have no business in her home.
On a recent drive through Camelot II, trash was littered across alleys and dumped in open spaces. A blighted townhome I recently wrote about — where a man allegedly was trying to lure kids — was once again blanketed in garbage despite a promise from Bank of America to clean the property each week. Stray animals roamed.
It’s hard to pin piles of trash to specific homes in Camelot because residents will often dump their garbage at a different house. But many of the homes with visible mounds of garbage — picture swarms of flies and scurrying cockroaches — belonged to Water Meadow Inc.
As the dominant landlord in the area, Water Meadow is a model for how the landlords can shift the landscape here, for better or worse. At one time, Water Meadow included trash service for its dumpster rental, contracting with the private hauler, Tiger Sanitation.
“It made a huge difference, ” Gray said.
The streets were noticeably cleaner. But when Tiger Sanitation stopped serving Camelot II, Water Meadow didn’t find a new trash hauler.
Mark Hurley, president of Water Meadow and Highland Commercial Property, said the service wasn’t renewed in September 2014 because there was talk about a city-county trash program, and he didn’t want to contract with Waste Management, another private trash hauler.
“I’m not a big fan of Waste Management, ” he said. “So we kind of have just strolled along since then not really doing much about the problem.”
It was a business decision.
Hurley, too, was resistant to the idea of requiring landlords to have trash service. He didn’t see how it could be enforced for landlords who only own one home. But he also viewed the issue as “something that is probably the city and the county’s responsibility.”
Maybe. But how strange to own a big chunk of a neighborhood, but not fully own the responsibility that comes with keeping it clean. After all, as Clifton Collins, Jr., of the Whole Life Christian Church, which owns 10 homes in Camelot II told me, “If all the landlords (provided trash service) that will be the end of the trash issue.”
He’s learned this firsthand. Initially, Collins said he didn’t include trash service in the church’s rentals, and several of the homes became dumping grounds. After that, “We started folding the trash into the rent, ” he said. Problem solved.
It’s amazing, really, this has been a perpetual issue.
There will be a lot of celebrating this week about the pilot program. It is a great beginning, as Kutzorik said. It is an important step.