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Former Drug Houses To Become Habitat Homes; New Life For West Dallas Neighborhood

BJ Austin

A West Dallas neighborhood is trading four drug houses on the same block for new, Habitat for Humanity homes. 

The four modest, wood frame homes on the same block of Life Avenue once belonged to the Gator Boyz, a local gang.  

Robert Champion, with the ATF, was a leader on the investigative team that brought down the gang’s operation in 2010.  

“These homes here, they were dealing dope out of there, narcotics," Champion told a crowd of neighbors and dignitaries gathered to watch demolition of one of the properties. "They were storing narcotics, firearms.”

That’s not all that was in the first of the drug houses to be demolished, says Melva Franklin, who started working with neighbors and law enforcement in 2005 to get rid of the gang.  

“In this house, they had wild animals," Franklin said. "They had crocodiles and tigers in this house that would be on this neighborhood, walking along these streets.  And they would threaten people.”

Audrey Seals says it was actually an alligator. She grew up across the street and still owns the family home. 

“It was in the house," Sales said, shaking her head.  "I know they had it in the house: alligator in the house.”

Melva Franklin says this used to be a neighborhood held hostage.

“Not only were they dealing drugs, but they were threatening peoples’ lives regularly, and not just on this street," Franklin said. "This group penetrated the entire West Dallas community."  

After 20 members of the Gator Boyz were arrested and convicted, the federal marshal seized the four houses on that block of Life Avenue. Under a program called Operation Goodwill, the marshal has transferred the properties to Habitat for Humanity, which will build new homes to replace the dangerous drug houses.  Audrey Seals was happy to watch the first house come down.

"It’s a blessing," Seals said. "It’s a blessing from God that we can not be afraid to sleep at night, sleep in peace.” 

Former KERA reporter BJ Austin spent more than 25 years in broadcast journalism, anchoring and reporting in Atlanta, New York, New Orleans and Dallas. Along the way, she covered Atlanta City Hall, the Georgia Legislature and the corruption trials of Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards.