Operation Crackdown sweeps Robstown

Monica Lopez Special to NCRS
Operation Crackdown rids of old, vacant houses.

ROBSTOWN- In effort to make the city a more safe and beautiful place, the City of Robstown has taken action to demolish more than 30 homes in just 10 days.

Operation Crackdown, a program the Texas National Guard Joint Counterdrug Task Force offers to qualified areas to eliminate abandoned structures that have been labeled eyesores and havens for criminal activity, started in Robstown on Monday, Aug. 7 and continues through Friday, Aug. 18

City Secretary Herman Rodriguez said teaming up with the task force program and U.S. Ecology made the project affordable. According to Rodriguez, the city’s budget for the project is $120,000 and will be saving about $5,000 per house with the help they are receiving. 

In order get Operation Crackdown to help with the demolition, Rodriguez did research and applied for the program.

“It’s a lot of work,” Rodriguez said. “We have to schedule meetings, the police department has to go look at the house, we have to pull the crime records to verify that there is a crime history at the property. Then, we have to contact the property owners and give public notice. We have to go through the court and have hearing to see if anyone would contest. It’s a long process and that’s just for one house.”

“One thing that’s difficult with this, is that most of these properties in Robstown have a chain and break of title. That means, in some situations, the owner will pass away and has no will so the children will inherit it and no one really knows who is responsible for the property,” Rodriguez added. “So, a lot of the properties that are still out there is because there is no clear owner.”

Additional parts of the process include getting the homes environmentally tested for asbestos. The city also has to hire workers to remove any fencing or other obstacles that are in the way of getting to the houses.

“Environmental costs can be through the roof but, U.S. Ecology gave us a low price to help us out,” Rodriguez said. “We could have not done this project without them because it would have cost too much money.”

Rodriguez said that other cities have called to ask about their template for the project, since the the process has run smoothly for the City of Robstown. He said that he gives most of the credit to Code Enforcement Officer Tony Zuniga who has taken charge of organizing the project. Zuniga has made templates for each home and has binders filled with all of the court information and other documents needed.

“This change will make the neighbors feel safe at night,” Zuniga said. “Many residents that live near these properties, especially elderly people that live alone, would complain and call that they were concerned for their safety.”

Zuniga said 160 homes have been qualified to be demolished, but the Operation Crackdown program had to be cut short due to time. He said the City of Robstown has been pre-approved for phase two, which will be in January or March of 2018 where they will demolish an additional 30 homes.

“We will keep this going until we rid the city of all these properties that are unsafe,” he said. “It has been a lot of time in the making. Everyone has some part in making this happen.”

The city started working on the project before using Operation Crackdown in November 2015 where 16 homes were tore down by the city and additional structures were torn down by their owners.

Mayor Amanda Barrera said she has been pushing for the demolition project to improve the appearance of Robstown.

“My goal as Mayor, besides bringing jobs into our area, was to change the look of our small town,” Barrera said. “We tore down over 20 homes already and adding these will definitely make a change in our town.”

“The citizens are anxious about this change and have been very supportive,” Zuniga said. “We’ve had residents that live by the homes come out and offer to help, but we have to keep them away from the demolition.”

The residents are seeing a difference and uniting the community.

“The amount of positive feedback we are getting from the citizens of Robstown is tremendous,” Rodriguez said. “We are happy it’s bringing the community together.”