Recategorizing zoning to reflect reality.

[Editor’s note: Jon Anderson is a columnist for CandysDirt.com. His opinions are his own.]

The actions and words of many city plan commissioners and city council members should be a warning to all who live in multi-family areas – discrete zoning designations don’t matter. Personal investments made in part because of existing zoning don’t matter. You as residents don’t matter.

When the Lincoln Katy Trail project was at CPC, chairwoman Gloria Tarpley said in response to huge neighborhood opposition to changing the MF-2 designation to MF-3, “we do this all the time.”  For those uninitiated in city zoning, among other things, the change would increase buildable height from 36 feet to 90 feet. It’s also real estate alchemy, administratively making land a lot more valuable for the sellers.

When the Lincoln project hit city council in January, Mayor Rawlings swept away neighborhood opposition to concentrate on snagging less-affordable housing that currently exists (and calling it a “win” for affordable housing in north Dallas).

This is just one example of a city unconcerned with residents in multi-family areas. For some reason, city leaders think that any change is OK, and that residents should just buck-up. Somehow, they feel that constant worrying about huge increases in density is part of what living in a multi-family are means – in contrast to near bullet-proof zoning in single-family neighborhoods.

In a Faustian deal, multi-family areas are the carpet Dallas can sweep its increasing population under as a way to preserve single-family homes, which are rarely converted to multi-family. The exception (of course) is a sliding scale of resident income. The poorer the well-located area, the more likely single-family will be swept away in gentrification.  Middle-class and up?  You’re pretty golden.

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Yesterday morning, the Dallas City Council unanimously approved its first housing policy aimed at addressing affordable housing.  It took a while, but we’ve finally put on our big boy pants.  You may recall back in January the city rolled out a Market Value Analysis that measured housing across Dallas to map the varying levels of housing and costs. There wasn’t a lot of shock on the large scale of Northern Dallas being better off than Southern Dallas. But the block-by-block analysis identified specific areas where an affordable housing policy might do some good.

Armed with that information, the city held many community meetings to discuss the findings and gain input on ways to address affordability in Dallas. Nearly 39,000 people participated on those in-person and call-in meetings.

The results of these efforts identified several issues … (download full policy here)

Despite all the building of the past few years, Dallas has a 20,000 housing unit shortfall in both purchase and rental housing. It’s not hard to see why in 2017 the median home price swelled by 9.1 percent, in part because available housing only grew 3.6 percent. Scarcity increases price.

Meanwhile, 60 percent of Dallas families, regardless of income, are cost burdened by their housing costs. This means they spend more than 30 percent of their net income on housing costs. This forces people to leave Dallas for cheaper suburbs that increase commute times and transportation costs, in effect burdening them in another way.

Adding to unaffordability are developers snatching any postage stamp of land in hot neighborhoods at exorbitant prices while leaving poorer neighborhoods begging for more housing. Cheap land and high building costs in areas with less economic power aren’t as profitable as projects in wealthy neighborhoods that generate top dollar. And so far, the glut of luxury apartment building shows little sign of abatement.

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Reinvestment Fund’s Market Value Analysis of Dallas neighborhoods.

On Monday, the City of Dallas hosted the first of four virtual town hall meetings to gather community input for updates to its Affordable Housing Strategy. It comes less than two weeks after the Jan. 17 Dallas City Council briefing on a Market Value Analysis report by Reinvestment Fund, a nonprofit conducting this research and analysis for cities across the U.S. The data tool is playing a leading role in the development of the City’s new 3-year rolling strategy.

The technology used for the meeting was especially impressive. I’m a little concerned how the city had my number to begin with, but once I opted in by text, it was seamless. I received a call at the appointed time, watched at dallascitynews.net or on Facebook live, could easily ask questions, indicate I wanted calls for future meetings, and even submit my email for followup info – they hired the right consultants to put this together.

The three upcoming meetings will go a little more in-depth than the first topic, “How Residential Development Gets Financed”, or what I’d call “Introduction to the Housing Market.” (more…)

Blue Home Oak Cliff

Once-affordable neighborhoods are seeing a lot of activity from investors and cash buyers, keeping some buyers out of the market. 

Eli’s coming..Eli’s coming…Well you better hide your heart, your loving heart…Eli’s a-coming and the cards say… a broken heart.

Yes, I am going to compare the Dallas-Fort Worth housing market to “Eli’s Coming” by Three Dog Night, a song about a womanizer on his way to breaking hearts. “Eli’s coming” also means that something evil or bad is on the way.  That “something” is the pending affordable housing crisis in the region.

There is an affordable housing crisis coming to the Metroplex (if not already here) and it has potential to drastically affect our cities, market, and economy in a bad way.

No this is not the crisis of 2007-2010 where loans were hard to get, prices dropped, foreclosures abounded, and inventory skyrocketed. It could be worse.

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Dallas Breakdown for Diff Family Types

Breakdown of Monthly Income Required to Live as a Human in Dallas According to the Economic Policy Institute

By Jon Anderson
Columnist

Candy and I have been opinionating back and forth on low-income citizens and how their access to safe and affordable housing is a means to promote economic upwards mobility. After all, if the poor are less poor, they will live richer lives (by any definition) and contribute more to society.

Unlike the rich who sequester money in intangible investments or various savings schemes, when the poor have more money, they spend it – because they need to. This creates a cycle that reverberates throughout the larger economy. If the poor buy more, manufacturers must make more which means hiring more people which in turn creates more people with money to spend, and so on, and so on. It’s exactly like the recession when governments were screaming for money because tax revenues took such a hit. Once people were put back to work, tax revenues rose, and in some states like Texas, overflowed.

In fact, recessions in general would be rarer and less dramatic if companies were forced to keep workers on the payroll or if unemployment benefits paid close to salary levels. As it is, recessions create a domino effect where one company dumps workers and then its suppliers dump workers because they’re not getting orders – and on and on. Call it trickle-back economics.

Personally, I spent nearly three years unemployed during the telecom meltdown that sent 500,000 skilled workers out on the streets early in the millennium. Desperate, I was open to anything and willing to uproot my life and leave my partner for any job. In the end, I was required to move to another state which led to the dissolution of my relationship. And compared to many, I was lucky.

For part of that time, I collected unemployment benefits that paid me the maximum $1,600 per month, a tiny fraction of my former salary. (Let me tell you, swallowing my pride and taking unemployment was one of the hardest things I’ve done – even though I’d paid into it for years. It felt like a stigmatizing failure.) All that check did was slow the eventual evaporation of a three-year “emergency fund.” I tell you this because $1,600 per month is more than the minimum wage in America and it was crippling even with a free place to live and extensive savings. Before you groan, this column isn’t about the battle for living wages, it’s about documenting and understanding how much it takes to live as a human being in Dallas. (Spoiler alert: it’s not the current minimum wage.)

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