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.

DHA Property MapThere used to be a time when I decried “NIMBYism.” It seemed shallow for some people to object to city developments that would be good for several people just because it would impact a nearby homeowner.

That was before I bought my first home. Now, I’ll admit to having a few NIMBY moments of my own. Why? Because I bought a house, signed a mortgage, and even though I’m not trying to flip it or make money off of it, it’s still an investment I want to keep healthy. That means looking out for my home and my neighborhood.

I no longer see NIMBY as a pejorative. Instead, I see objecting as an step toward compromise and education, and I think that’s what the folks objecting to the expanded Dallas Housing Authority development in Oak Lawn are doing. They’re voicing opposition, and thereby taking a step toward compromise and education.

That’s the vibe I get from Alan Shaffer, a Clay Stapp & Co. agent who specializes in the area. In fact, Shaffer used to live directly across the street from the former DHA development that was razed to make room for the new one.

“I used to live directly across from this project years ago at Kings Quarters and saw first hand how run down the community was, the level of crime in the area (including a number of break ins at our gated community), drug busts nearby and even drug dealers living in our community,” Shaffer said in a letter to the zoning board. “I think enlarging this community and making it even more dense would be detrimental to the surrounding neighborhoods.”

I asked Shaffer what he thought of a smaller development in the area, one that better fit the scale of the site and neighborhood. Specifically, what kind of development would Shaffer welcome on the site? I was surprised by his response.

“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,” Shaffer said. “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.”

It’s a sensitive subject, one that has commenters on blogs lobbing accusations of racism and classism at one another, but Shaffer poses a nuanced solution that DHA should try to adopt — a more integrated model that puts market-rate apartments next to subsidized housing.

Another issue is maintenance and upkeep, which nearby residents have brought up again and again as not just lax, but negligent. If the city wants to build a housing development that will become a part of the neighborhood, than it needs to adhere to the standards of the neighborhood, says Mike Harper, who, along with many other concerned neighbors, has launched a website.

“When I spoke to the management on the property about my concerns, there was little to no assurance of anything being done as she went on about how she had bigger issues to deal with,” Harper said in an email. “So I personally think that DHA needs to prove themselves to the community with their existing property before they add over 400 more units across the street.”

That doesn’t sound terribly unreasonable, to me. In fact, I think a “good neighbor” agreement, as the Rezoning DHA website puts it, is a great social contract between the new development and surrounding community.

On the flipside (and there is always a flipside), everyone needs to realize that while the 410 proposed units for the site would make this project the most dense public housing development in Dallas, it still doesn’t even come close to evening out the disparity of public housing developments in northern Dallas versus those located in the southern sector.

In the Uptown area, this one project is only one of two DHA projects in one of the most dense areas of the city, with the glut falling to East Dallas, West Dallas, South Dallas, Oak Cliff, and Southeast Dallas. So while it would stand to reason to add more low-income housing to the Uptown/Oak Lawn/Cedar Springs area, they shouldn’t all be in one place, and they shouldn’t eschew the parking and maintenance standards the rest of the area holds.

Attempts to contact Dallas Housing Authority director Mary Ann Russ for this story were not returned.