home pricesThe Dallas Housing Authority announced two key hires last week, we have average Dallas-Fort Worth and state home prices for August, employment forecasts for the state of Texas, and a look at Compass’s latest expansion plans in this week’s roundup of real estate news.
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After someone sent me a story about the mindset behind a certain email circulating regarding Highland Park ISD’s bond election, you know what stuck out to me?

Besides the fact that it felt like a prop from recent HBO miniseries “Show Me a Hero,” which unspooled the whole mess Yonkers, N.Y., found itself in regarding affordable housing, the other thing was this: There was absolutely no attempt to show any work regarding assertions. No aspersions cast on the writer of the story — he’s just quoting a guy. My beef is with the lack of solid bonafides behind the claims.  I used to have this editor that got all kinds of twitchy and irritable when (even in an op-ed) you didn’t at least attempt to give some sourcing for your assertions. “SHOW YOUR WORK,” he’d bellow.

So instead of picking apart the arguments in that email (and the quotes in that story) based on my ideological differences with the claims, I decided to approach things with an open mind and actually look at real studies done on affordable housing and crime. I mean, what if the guy was right? Or, what if he was quite wrong? Don’t you think it deserves a little look-see, at least, to see what we can find from reputable sources?

The area highlighted in red roughly shows where Highland Park ISD serves Dallas addresses.

The area highlighted in red roughly shows where Highland Park ISD serves Dallas addresses.

First off, let’s unpack where this particular brand of NIMBY likely came from. If I had to guess, it probably dates as far back as the 1930s, when the presence of low-income families meant the difference between no ability to get a home loan (areas that had predominantly black families and low-income families were redlined), or even as much of a difference as 80 percent financed/20 percent down (for an area with no low-income families and solely white) or 15 percent financed and 85 percent down (in an area where there was a racial mix and a lot of low-income families). The appearance of low-income or non-white ethnicities in your neighborhood during this time was a harbinger of plummeting property values and hardship.

But what about now? Is that true?

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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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Workers demolish derelict apartments on Kings Road to make room for a new high-density Dallas Housing Authority development.

Workers demolish derelict apartments on Kings Road to make room for a new high-density Dallas Housing Authority development.

Mike Harper and his fellow Oak Lawn neighbors, the voices behind the RezoningDHA website, worked hard to raise awareness among homeowners when the Dallas Housing Authority submitted a rezoning request for its Kings Road project. And thanks to their persistence and the hard work and consensus building of Dallas City Councilman Adam Medrano, DHA officials were able to work with neighbors to reduce the size of the development and decrease the impact of the public housing project on nearby properties.

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Kings Road Demolition

You remember the huge DHA project that is scheduled for the former site of the housing authority’s Kings Road project. A rezoning proposal that increased the scale, reduced parking and could perhaps exacerbate security issues on the property, had rubbed some neighbors the wrong way.

Mike Harper, who runs the RezoningDHA.com website, is hoping that the community will turn out for the Feb. 6 hearing at Dallas City Hall. It starts at 1:30 p.m. and is an opportunity for nearby residents to be heard on the density and location of the site.

“At the current time, we are still trying to engage in a ‘Good Neighbor Agreement’ that would address some of the management/security issues that are not specifically related to the zoning variance request,” Harper said via email. “At the same time, we are still trying to work with DHA on moving the placement of where some of the buildings are on the property and still asking for some reduction in the number of units, however we do not have a response on this yet.”

DHA chief MaryAnn Russ  has said “we believe that our customers and clients – low income families, seniors and individuals with disabilities – need and deserve to live in good neighborhoods just as higher income people do.”

True, but what about a compromise? And although Russ may be right, that still doesn’t change the fact that reports of criminal activity were frequent. According to Harper, Councilmember Adam Medrano has promised nearby homeowners that he’ll keep the dialogue open between the DHA and property owners.

Here’s hoping they can all meet in the middle for the good of the neighborhood.

 

 

Kings Road Demolition(Photo: Dallas Morning News)

We published an unedited statement from Dallas Housing Authority President and CEO MaryAnn Russ on Friday, in which she said that DHA clients have just as much right as nearby residents to live in an upscale neighborhood, and that the property on Kings Road must be affordable housing because of federal laws.

OK, that makes sense, but the main gripe of community advocates isn’t having low-income housing, it’s how much of it is planned for the site. Before it was demolished last year, many nearby residents said that the Kings Quarters development, a 70-year-old 200-unit public housing project, was rife with drugs and crime. DHA plans include more than doubling the number of units and decreasing parking. It’s a recipe for disaster, says a former neighbor to the DHA development that was razed.

I think that this would seriously impact the surrounding projects.  Having lived there I know first-hand what this can do to a community and unfortunately the bad element that can come along with this.  I think making it more dense will hurt resales nearby and increase crime.  I have watched SWAT teams bust down doors on busts at apartments across the street from these homes, and even personally wound up on an episode of a crime show that profiled our landlady, who carried a shotgun with her when she walked the property and stopped a break in one night.  It was a rough area and I for one don’t miss it.

But Russ says in her letter that DHA has owned the property longer than anyone aggrieved by the new development, and that improvements to the area started long before Kings Quarters was vacated and demolished. “We believe that by very careful screening of applicants and strict property management, we can retain the positive aspects of this fine area,” Russ added.

But that’s the rub for folks who saw how Kings Quarters descended into squalor due to lack of maintenance and upkeep. Advocates say DHA wouldn’t allow them to help tidy the property by planting flowers or helping with peeling paint.

“I hope when it is rebuilt that they will take better care of it because they sure didn’t the last time,” said a neighbor who wished to remain anonymous. “I would like to see it more mixed with some units at market rates and some subsidized. I think then the community would have a better chance of being a good neighbor and would help keep out some of the bad element that can come with these projects. It’s been public housing for years and I know we need it but I’d hate to see them make it so dense and reduce the parking. I don’t think that’s the right recipe for a good neighbor.”

I have a hard time disagreeing with that perspective. What about you?

MaryAnn Russ MDHAMaryAnn Russ, President and CEO of the Dallas Housing Authority, responded today for our request for comment regarding a meeting between the DHA and community advocates on Tuesday. We published a story Thursday about the public outcry over the Oak Lawn DHA project set for Kings Road, citing a letter sent from advocates running the Rezoning DHA website.

Jump for the letter in its entirety.

We understand that many neighbors have concerns about DHA’s development of the site we own between Kings, Hawthorne, Hartford and Fairmont, but we believe that our customers and clients – low income families, seniors and individuals with disabilities – need and deserve to live in good neighborhoods just as higher income people do.

We have owned this site longer than anyone who is distressed by our proposed development has been in the neighborhood.  The improvements in the area began while the site was still fully occupied.  We believe that by very careful screening of applicants and strict property management, we can retain the positive aspects of this fine area.

The site cannot be used for anything except affordable housing under the terms of current Federal laws and regulations and the need for additional housing for our client base is very great.

I am sorry we cannot give you news you would like better.

MaryAnn Russ

DHA Property Map
We covered this project not too long ago. It’s a sticky situation wherein the Dallas Housing Authority made plans to construct more than 400 low-income housing units in Oak Lawn without any kind of community dialogue. The units are to be built on the site of a razed former DHA development that was riddled with crime and drugs, and dragged down surrounding property values.

DHA finally met with community advocates on Tuesday, but according to this report from nearby residents who maintain the RezoningDHA.com website, the Dallas Housing Authority is unwilling to consider a smaller, mixed income development. Read the entire letter below:

A small group of community representatives met with the Dallas Housing Authority (DHA) on Tuesday of this week. During the meeting, DHA stated that they are not willing to work with the community in regards to the number of units they plan to build on the proposed property on Kings Road, nor are they willing to adjust the income mix of the property. DHA has made it clear their mission is to build as much low & very low income housing as possible. This is despite the concerns of the community and that they previously told homeowners, buyers and developers that the property would be mixed income.

Community members voiced concerns in the meeting about the potential for increased crime if they double the number of units on the property, potential for overflow parking into the area streets, having all low & very low income units on the property, and many other issues. During the meeting, DHA provided details that the proposed zoning changes would allow up to 65’ tall buildings compared to the current restriction of only 36’ and only 410 required parking spaces compared to the 820 that would currently be required.

Based on feedback from the group, DHA agreed to look into the possibility of flipping the site plan so that the main entrance would be on Hawthorne versus Kings Road and possibly making the back gate on Kings only a fire access gate. They also agreed to investigate adding a gated entrance, perhaps providing space for a Dallas Police Department substation on the property, and possibly reserving 15-19% of the property for seniors or disabled individuals. Their current plan does provide some security features as the building acts as a barrier to limit access to only the front or back entrances as well as cameras on the property, but these do not provide assurances for other non-DHA properties in the community.

None of these items are guaranteed as DHA has only agreed to further investigate these items, so your help is needed in sharing your thoughts with DHA as well as your concerns with the zoning & planning commission.

Attempts to contact DHA president MaryAnn Russ and VP of Development Tim Lott for comment haven’t been returned.