Where To Put Affordable (Low-Income) Housing in Dallas: a Different Perspective

HH Aerial Preston Center

I read Candy’s post on low income housing…and I penned the following note.  In her openness to explore differing opinions, Candy suggested it would make a good counter-balance post. And she reminded me that the Dallas Morning News had an editorial Sunday about how southern Dallas housing is booming–

Two of the city’s three hottest residential real estate markets are south of the Trinity River, a trend that real estate experts say bodes well for efforts to stabilize and revitalize southern Dallas neighborhoods. In the first six months of this year, home prices in the Oak Cliff sector soared 30 percent from 2014 levels. Prices in the southern Dallas sector — roughly between Loop 12 and Interstate 20 — increased a hefty 21 percent.

Only one sector north of the Trinity saw similar increases: North Dallas climbed 22 percent.

The southern sector, of course, is where more affordable Dallas housing has been located. But yeah — 

As values increase, “there is an incentive to own property,” says Ted Wilson, principal at Dallas-based Residential Strategies, a real estate research and consulting firm. “To see values go up, there is good for the city and those communities.”

But not so good for poor people.

Candy,

Liberal that I am, I have to say Schutze, reading through his smart-assery, is correct.

Busing poor kids into wealthier areas doesn’t have the impact of changing a child’s ultimate trajectory because the remaining 16-hours of their day are spent in less-than-ideal and potentially unsafe conditions.  There are numerous studies that show that placing entire families in modestly wealthier areas pays off.  It’s most critical for the youngest children because the same studies show that while a change at any age helps, the effect is diminished as children age. This isn’t surprising as very young children learn a variety of things, both positive and negative, that they carry for the rest of their lives.

Kings Highway 001

Many of these same studies also show that parents often become better parents because they’re not constantly under stress about their living conditions.  If soldiers returning from war receive help for PTSD, how can poor people living in unsafe and sometimes violent areas be thought of differently?

It’s odd that this idea is considered radical.  When I think of the middle-class suburb I grew up in, it had families from many income levels. There was a “poor” area of town and a wealthy area but the majority were in the middle.  Neighboring towns skewed richer or poorer, but each had a wide economic range of residents.

This multi-layered economic mixture was the blueprint for towns for centuries.  Because of sheer distances and poor travel, towns were originally more self-contained. This caused them to sustain a mix of people, occupations and income levels that worked together to meet most people’s needs. The doctor treated everyone and the farmer fed everyone.

Even the Park Cities were not constructed for 100 percent wealthy families. You can still see the original, un-McMansioned, modest homes that were lived in by those of lesser means. But over the past 30+ years, suburbs that were economically mixed “chose” to either charge upmarket or retreat to lower-middle or lower income.  My hometown went upmarket with tear-downs and McMansions. Today it’s very economically homogenous as are it’s equally less vibrant neighbors.

This economic stratification has also been reflected in the changing landscape of planned communities where income diversity became and remains constrained to a narrow economic band (“homes from $250-275,000”).  Aside from enormous planned developments like Houston’s The Woodlands, where homes can range in price from $200,000 to $2+-million, buyers and developers have been self-segregating themselves.  This time around perhaps it’s less specifically by race, but segregation by income is just as bad if the goal is to maintain an economically mobile society (however, given the radically different education levels and resulting pay scales that often exist between the races, the end result may be similar).

Poor kids in wealthier neighborhoods can see what hard work and wealth bring. This exposure gives them something to strive for.  Living in a ghetto teaches them that their lot is set and they largely don’t strive to do better. The wealthy become the “them” versus part of an “us.”  A look at failed public housing projects across the nation proves the point.  Decades after building the “projects” in Chicago, a (Mayor) Daley son would tear down the shameful legacy of squalid high-rises built decades earlier by his father. Racking and stacking the poor keeps them poor.

Wealthier kids (and their parents) exposed to people from differing social strata, on the other hand, learn empathy for people who don’t have everything they do – never a bad lesson. Dehumanizing people is the time-honored first step to fear, hate and war.

Dehumanizing the poor is a global issue well beyond the scope of Candy’s Dirt. But the developed world clamors for the latest electronics while willfully ignoring the working conditions of those at every stage of its production from mining the raw materials to assembling the gadget. Ditto the cheap, almost disposable clothing coming from the child-filled sweatshops of Southeast Asia. We pause to reflect only when disaster strikes before camping out for the next iPhone or scrounging the latest cheap sandal at H&M.

Section 8 is also no free ride.  I had a close friend in the program for years.  For the rental subsidy (not free ride) she waited years to receive, she subjected herself to two home inspections each year and scrupulous income verification requirements.  People were thrown off the program if they failed.  Chicago seemed to do an OK job educating landlords on the benefits of the program.  Good landlords didn’t have a problem with Section 8 because they were guaranteed to be paid.  The landlords who didn’t like the program were the ones who didn’t keep their properties in good enough condition to qualify.

Section 8 housing is also not about creating (or recreating) great swathes of low-income housing projects.  All that would do is move the problem to a new location.  Section 8’s goal is to seed low-income people within communities with greater opportunities.  In my friend’s case, it was keeping her within her community as her health and income diminished to the point of poverty.  The few hundred dollars received each month were pennies compared to the cost of rehousing her completely from scratch on full disability in a new, poorer location.

Scan from Kodachrome 25, Nikon Super Coolscan 4000, Leica M3, 50mm Summicron lens

I think the new policies are about rebalancing what’s been allowed to economically segregate and stagnate the poor – sort of a “redlining 2.0.”  I’m sure many read of the New York City high-rise that was required (as new developments are in many cities are) to offer a percentage of units to lower-income residents. Rather than distribute those lower-income people throughout the building and expose everyone to different people, they installed a “poor door.” The “poor door” cut those residents off from wealthier neighbors and the amenities of the building – a form of dehumanizing them. Yes, these lower-income residents get to live in an area outside their means that may offer better living conditions, but they’re reminded every day they’re only there because the government forced them to be, not because they were welcomed. Imagine living with that stigma every. single. day.

Finally, as Schutze proposed, I would never recommend turning “Dumbo’s ear” into a large low-income housing project – that idea has already failed.  But I would support purchasing some of those remaining modest, original Park Cities homes and giving poor families a chance to thrive – or Dallas seeding a few low-income families in my Preston Hollow backyard.

America touts itself as a melting pot, but it’s become more like a TV dinner plate where the meat never touches the vegetable or the potatoes.

My two cents…

12 Comment

  • Thanks, Jon, for penning this response to Candy’s post. It’s much kinder and well reasoned than what I almost replied with.

  • “Racking and stacking the poor keeps them poor”
    Thanks for sharing your perspective Jon. So much truth in this response.

    • mm

      Thanks. I sometimes wonder if we took all the money spent on subsidies for housing, food, medical, transportation, tax credits and tangential expenses, and simply paid the poor more, would we provide more stability and dignity at a lower cost.

  • I must agree. I too have a friend using section8 to defer the high costs of rent in Oaklawn and is forced to live in a less than desirable complex with rodents, bugs and broken appliances. Unfortunately it is one of the only places that takes section8 and is close enough to get to the services he needs.{hospitals,doctors,grocery stores etc.} With all the apartments that have been built in this area, none of which are full, why aren’t some of these units being offered to section8 recipients?

  • How are the individuals chosen for these choice “affordable housing” opportunities? They should be EARNED like those of us that have worked our way up from nothing and can now afford a home that we have worked for. Too much of the available entitlement resources are wasted on those who want something for nothing.

    • mm

      Section 8 housing has stringent qualifications for entering and remaining in the program. Like all programs for the poor, it’s also horribly underfunded helping just 1/5th of renter households earning less than 80-persent of the median income and a years-long waiting list. These are the working poor, part of the 40-persent of households in the US earn less than $36K a year (the after tax earnings of a two-income household working 40-hours a week at $10/hour — $2.75/hour more than the minimum wage). You say that “too much” of these programs is wasted. While any program will have a percentage of fraud, my search turned up a few cases, but no wholesale indictment of the program. Do you have data on this? If you worked your way up from nothing, you must also know many who weren’t able to, but may have with a little assistance.

  • Simply commenting. I’m not interested in responding to your personal line of questioning.

  • “… this exposure gives them something to strive for.” Not really, from the perspective of someone living the dream in Lake Highlands. Cultures differ, contrast and unfortunately clash. No matter how well intended the marriage of rich and poor, incoming transplants from lower economic backgrounds are prone to make comparisons, feel shamed and disenfranchise after the wedding is over and gifts have been carted away. Classically they develop in-your-face personalities. Evidence shows that imposed upon suburban dwellers characteristically retreat behind closed doors rather than butt heads or risk being misunderstood. Eventually you either pack-up and leave, or you deny reality and start living in a fantasy world, bless your heart. Check out the self-determined social groups in the schools where this social experiment is taking place. Stop trying to force feed, it’s counter-productive. Lesson learned?

    • I’ve known of areas (and read of more) where it has worked. The real answer is what was different about the successes versus the failures and what can be learned by it.