Rosalind Hill grabbed clothes, some food and her dog Black Black when she left Hillcrest Apartments in Mesquite a few weeks ago for a room at the Budget Inn of Texas about 10 minutes away.

The small room with two queen beds was clean and had air conditioning and hot water. That was more than she had at Hillcrest, where the 55-year-old has lived for three years with her teenage son.

She is one of several residents who have received free, court-ordered alternative hotel accommodations as Hillcrest fixes the air conditioning, heating, hot water and sewage problems on the property.

The City of Mesquite sued Hillcrest’s owners in February for widespread code violations, alleging the living conditions threaten tenants’ health and safety. In response to documented open sewage and air conditioning and hot water outages, a judge ordered the landlord to pay for free hotel rooms for tenants whose units can’t pass a city inspection.

But tenants of Hillcrest said that living in a hotel room isn’t a true solution. It adds extra costs and stress that often aren’t worth it, they said.

Hill’s room has a mini fridge and microwave, but she has no way to cook her own meals. She is spending more for gas, driving the 4 miles back to her apartment for food or other items. Without a way to cook in her motel room, she’s also spent additional money on fast food.

Of the dozen residents who spoke to The Dallas Morning News, many are older and disabled, including 50-year-old Kenny Mihm.

1/16City of Mesquite Building Inspector Joe Martinez walks past current resident Brittany Jones to test her water heat on Wednesday, May 11, 2022 in Mesquite, Texas. Jones won a $5,000 remedy and repair lawsuit against the former company that owned Hillcrest Apartments.(Rebecca Slezak / Staff Photographer)

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Mihm, who has lived at Hillcrest since 2014, said staying at the hotel wasn’t a solution for him. When he requested a room, he was told he’d have to put his chihuahua Snowball in a kennel and leave a credit card for incidentals.

Eventually, Mihm decided he didn’t want to risk leaving his belongings for fear they’d get stolen.

The unit was a problem for him from the start, with water bubbling up from the floors and a black substance oozing from the carpets. He pays $784 for a one-bedroom apartment that’s had rats, mold and sewage problems and doesn’t have consistent hot water, air conditioning or heat.

Mihm says none of the repair requests he’s made over the years have been fully addressed by his landlord. When asked about residents’ repairs, Catherine Keith, a lawyer representing landlord CC Hillcrest LLC, did not address Mihm’s situation but said in a statement that “the property is current[ly] working on substantial upgrades to HVAC systems, electrical systems and other major systems.”

These days, the roaches are the biggest problem. He had to throw away his microwave and store all his food in plastic containers because roaches invaded his pantry.

“It’s horrible. I can’t even cook because roaches will be crawling on the walls right next to me,” Mihm said.

Brittany Jones, who helped organize the Hillcrest Tenants’ Union, has also been staying in a room at the Budget Inn for several weeks. But on May 10, she received a notice that her reservation was being canceled the next day because her apartment was fixed.

“Upon request from the Hillcrest Apartments the City inspected repairs to the conditions requiring alternative accommodations and has determined the condition no longer exists,” the letter stated.

When Jones returned to her apartment, she found a notice of inspection on her couch. A city building inspector determined on Monday that her unit had AC, heat and hot water; however, the unit still violated the order about not allowing open sewage near residents’ units.

On May 11, Jones showed a Dallas Morning News reporter that her AC was working and blowing cool air — however, water dripped from her ceiling where her AC was, leaving a wet pool on her carpet and water damage on her walls.

During the interview with a reporter in Jones’ unit, the city’s building inspector walked into her apartment, underneath the dripping AC and into her bathroom, likely checking for sewage problems, then left within minutes.

Keith, CC Hillcrest’s lawyer, said in a statement to The News that “all repair requests for Ms. Jones have been completed and there are no pending requests. Hillcrest Apartments is ready, willing and able to repair any issue in Ms. Jones’ unit or any other tenant’s unit when we receive a repair request.”

Jones said Friday that the city conducted another inspection of her unit and found no violations that would require alternative accommodations, which would cancel her hotel room. However, Jones told reporters that her hot water and heat still did not work.

Jones and other residents repeatedly lamented the lack of options to move elsewhere, saying they can’t afford any other apartments in Mesquite. The ones they can afford have no availability, residents say.

“This is a systemic problem. This is bigger than Hillcrest,” Jones said. “The fact that the city of Mesquite has not allowed any affordable housing to be built since 2015 is a problem. This is why Hillcrest can treat us like this. Who’s their competition?”

Rents have soared and apartment vacancies have plummeted across D-FW as stock has not kept up with growing demand across the metroplex.

“I just want to be able to have somewhere else to go and not have to worry about all this,” Mihm said.

He paid for his own window AC unit that he keeps in his bedroom. Mihm wants to move out and has searched everywhere in Mesquite and beyond for a place in his price range with no luck.

“It’s really stressing me out and making me sick to my stomach,” Mihm said. “I mean, it’s all I can think about because I’m confined to my bedroom because that’s the only place it’s cold.”

Hill, who is disabled and uses a breathing machine, said through tears that living at Hillcrest has taken a mental and physical toll on her.

“I just need somewhere to stay where I don’t have to worry about all this,” she said. “It’s just too much. So it’s just not good.”

Hill dreams of having a small house where her dog can have a little patch of grass.

“I don’t need no big handout,” Hill says. “I can pay most of my rent. I’m just needing some help.”

Mesquite’s Hillcrest Apartments: 50 years of housing issues, lawsuits, ownership changes

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