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City moves to condemn historic apartment buildings in disrepair

By: Genevieve Curtis
EL PASO, Texas -- The city has moved to condemn two historic building that were turned into apartments and have fallen into disrepair.

The buildings are the old Fort Bliss Barracks along Paisano Drive, and the City Building. The Standards Commission moved to have two of the three buildings vacated and boarded up.

City building inspectors found more than 50 code violations between the two former Army barracks. Last week, they gave tenants 30 days to vacate the structures, which they've deemed to be unsafe.

That means around 16 people will have to find somewhere else to live.

Tenants said they pay between $220 and $250 in rent and now they don't know where else they will go.

"Well I need to move now, but I can't find a home, it's hard and expensive with the unexpected moving costs," said tenant Arturo Salazar.

Among the violations are dilapidated roofs, ceilings, walls and floors. There are also plumbing problems, dangerous wiring and problems with smoke detectors.

"The water pipes burst from time to time and that leaves us without water or with low water pressure," said Salazar.

Also among the citations: failure to keep the premises free of rodent or insect infestations. KFOX14 cameras captured one floor covered in feces.

The owner of the property has 60 days to board up and secure the structure.
"They are unique buildings but unfortunately they are not fit for habitation," said City Code Compliance Manager Elda Rodriguez-Hefner.
While the city deems the structures unfit for people to live in, one of the tenants said after eight years, he's used to calling the old barracks home.

"Dangerous? No. But it is deteriorating and it's uncomfortable, but I am already used to it because of the price," said Salazar.

The owner, Charles Johns, denies his tenants were living in dangerous conditions and said he wants to work on donating the land back to the city.

KFOX14 reporter Genevieve Curtis asked Johns if he was concerned about the conditions the tenants were living in.

"No ma'am, I wasn't, because those people have been living there for 25 to 30 years and never given any indication whatsoever that they were unhappy," said Johns.

Johns claims the problems began last summer when a tenant complained of the heat because the buildings don't have air conditioning.
"It's almost impossible to air condition that building, it was built in 1873," said Johns.

Even though the city has deemed the structures unsafe for habitation, Johns denies those allegations.

"That's completely erroneous and I'd like to know who said that," said Johns.

Johns said he knows the historical value of his property and wants to find the best future for it, though he doesn't know where it will go.

"There's a lot of different ways this could go," he said. One option he is considering is donating the land back to the city or to federal government.

Elda Rodriguez-Hefner said the city would be working to provide tenants housing-relocation services, which could include housing with the Housing Authority for the City of El Paso if they qualify.



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