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The Fox Reality TV Show That Tore a Family Apart

Renovate My Family spent half a million to build this house. For the Biggins brood, it was the beginning of the end.
By Tim Rogers |
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Veronique Maston and her husband, Aaron Townley, should probably have their own reality show. She’s a former cheerleader for the Houston Oilers and choreographer for the Jacksonville Jaguars. Veronique is interracial and was once married to a black player, with whom she had two children. Aaron is white and was also married before, a union that brought him three interracial kids. She’s bubbly, talkative. He’s laid-back and quiet.

They had been renting in the M Streets when they saw the stucco house on Inca Drive show up in the MLS, which Townley had access to because he is a manager at a title company. The listing didn’t offer any pictures, just a wild description for that neighborhood. Veronique thought it had to be a drug house but was curious enough to convince her husband to drive south that very night to check it out.

“When we drove by, I was like, ‘Holy cow,’ ” Veronique says. “ ‘Who lives in that, and why are they getting rid of it?’ ”

They returned with a real estate agent, and Veronique fell in love with the place. She says she was like a kid in a candy store, agog at all the electronic gadgetry. This would be their first house. It was perfect. The location gave them pause, but they drove around some more at night and didn’t see anything that worried them too much. Anyway, it had all those security cameras and bars. It was like Fort Knox. If Aaron had any qualms, he kept them to himself.

They bought the house for $157,000. Veronique regretted the move almost immediately. The wood floor buckled. The roof leaked. The touch-screen system that operated the house became a pain. “Initially, that stuff seems so cool,” she says. “But sometimes you just want to yell, ‘Cut the damn light off,’ and not have to figure out whether it’s A, B, or C.” She laughs about it now. “Some people like that, though, and I thought I would. But it turned out that I’m just a simple girl.”

There were other problems. Her kids were in private school and complained that they had no friends in the neighborhood. “And you won’t,” she told them. “As they got older, one of my main concerns was the climate of that particular area.” That climate included a lack of, for example, nearby Whole Foods stores. Anytime she and Aaron wanted organic produce or a nice dinner, they had to head north.

Finally, the money thing added to their headaches. Their mortgage was a subprime loan made by Countrywide, where Veronique worked at the time. Bank of America acquired the giant lender in 2008 and was later found guilty of mortgage fraud for Countrywide’s shenanigans. What it meant to Veronique was that her loan went from one bank to the other, and her monthly payments increased from $1,200 to $2,500. After years of wrangling with the bank, she and her husband decided they’d had enough. They stopped making payments and walked away from the house. As D Magazine was going to press, in early July, Veronique and Aaron were living in Cedar Hill, waiting to see whether the bank would accept a short sale or foreclose. The house is listed at $102,000—just $27,840 more than the Bigginses paid for the old 1959 brick house a decade ago. For now, the stucco reality house sits empty.

•••

Anthony asked Al-Mela if she wanted to come to Gloria’s to talk about their time on the reality shows and what it did to their lives. The couple separated six years ago, and Anthony filed for a no-contest divorce in April, but that’s not why Al-Mela told him she wanted no part of talking to a reporter. As Anthony says, they’ve been separated for six years, and they’ve been friends for four. They still do holidays together with the kids. No, she didn’t want to talk about the whole mess because it’s too painful. She just wants to move on.

Anthony and Al-Mela eventually had to file for Chapter 13 bankruptcy protection, in 2011. They listed $86,084 in liabilities, $33,108 of which was owed to the IRS. The money problems, as one might imagine, contributed to their breakup. “I’m not going to say it caused it, but it didn’t help it none,” he says.

The house on Inca Drive still has a pull on Anthony. “Every blue moon,” he says, “I might ride through there for a sentimental look.” In fact, he’d driven by the house just a few months before I met him.

The bartender brings the tab.

“I wish it had a happier ending,” Anthony says. “It wasn’t all bad, though. We got a lot of good stories out of it. That shit can’t nobody take away from us.”

Credits

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