Fair Park Proposal Debate by African American Leadership Institute: The Video

It’s a bit long, 1 hour and 20 minutes to be exact, but this is the video you have all been waiting for. Full disclosure: it was provided by the Foundation for Community Empowerment, founded by Don Williams.

A week ago last Saturday morning, a lively panel discussion about the Fair Park proposal took place at Paul Quinn College. It was sponsored by the African American Leadership Institute and put together by state senator Royce West.

At the podium were Mayor Rawlings, Walt Humann, Don Williams, Royce West, John Wiley Price and Michael Phillips (author of White Metropolis).

Michael Phillips (who you see, above) was the first speaker, and he immediately launched into his concerns over the lack of public input, the lack of public communication, and his fears that the real estate around Fair park could become the latest victim of what he calls “domestic colonization.” I think a lot of people worry about that.

“I’m concerned by the fact that this valuable piece of Dallas real estate would be governed by a board that could meet without any public record. It’s a private corporation, right? A private foundation,” he said. Great points. Then he said this:

What’s really going on with “gentrification” is domestic colonization. And when you have a colonial relationship, that is designed to be unequal. That is not equal. You have an imperial power that extracts wealth out of a colony. That’s land, products and low wage labor, and that’s what goes on with gentrification. And then the colonial power then sells products at a grossly inflated rate and rips off the people who live in the colony. That’s what going on with gentrification. I want to make this clear.

I see Phillips’ point, particularly because of the history of this neighborhood, which is terrible. But it was really terrible in a lot of places in the world in the early part of the 20th century, NOT just in Fair Park. And it seems to me that “domestic colonization” has been going on around Fair Park for a long time. Few residents own their own homes, most are tenants. A cursory search on MLS shows few homes even for sale in this area.

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Which is why I think there is still a fighting chance for the people of this neighborhood with the right plan, a neighborhood park, and some help with home ownership.

Sure, we want to repair the buildings because they are important to our history. But we also want to repair the neighborhood, and that comes with cautious real estate development. This may be entirely dreamy speculation, but why not build into the plan a commitment from a financial institution that would offer low down payment, low interest loans to FP residents, teach them how to renovate and maintain a home, to help them take actual ownership in the community, not just live there? Let’s say this institution takes up residence in one of the buildings, the Foundation offers rent abatement in exchange for building and neighborhood repair, which would include home ownership workshops? I mean, Wells Fargo is looking to do some major reputation repair.

But while faith in homeownership’s financial benefits are widely subscribed to, there have long been challenges to the view that owning a home is necessarily an effective means of producing wealth for lower-income and minority households. In 2001 the Joint Center for Housing Studies hosted a symposium with the goal of “examining the unexamined goal” of boosting low-income homeownership (Retsinas and Belsky, 2002a). The general conclusion that emerged from this collection of papers was that lower-income households do benefit from owning homes, although this conclusion was subject to a variety of “caveats and codicils” (Retsinas and Belsky, 2002b, page 11).

Owning a home has been a central tenet in Americans’ ability to amass wealth. Even with the shifting of wealth after the housing bust, the net worth of homeowners outpaces that of renters. Indeed, to keep people in a rental pool is domestic colonization. These people never have a shot to create any amount of wealth or a small nest egg. They are serfs to the landlord’s manor.

A study by researchers at the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University analyzed how home ownership, even for the poor, can help with wealth accumulation. Home ownership requires potential buyers to save for a down payment, and forces them to continue to save by paying down a portion of the mortgage principal each month. Programs could be created to assist with the down payment requirements and home maintenance/repair.

Homeownership’s appeal lies strongly in associations with having control over one’s living situation, the desire to put down roots in a community, and the sense of efficacy and success that is associated with owning (Reid, 2013; Drew and Herbert, 2012). If the only reason to support homeownership were to foster wealth, than other means for encouraging savings in a more safe and secure way would be best. But the fact that homeowning is strongly preferred for a host of other reasons by most individuals as they age provides further support for policies to promote homeownership out of equity concerns to help individuals and families achieve this important goal. The social benefits of homeownership lend further credence to the value of supports for homeownership 49 (Rohe and Lindstrom, 2013).

As for the 800 lb. gorilla, if I had a tenant who was not living up to the terms of their lease, I’d give them a warning and 60 to 90 days to remediate. Then I’d see about changing tenants.

Fair Park Ferris Wheel SM