Back in 1998, I wrote a little "white paper" mainly for my own benefit. My purpose at the time was to organize my thoughts about how Central Dallas Ministries might actually become involved in serious, on-the-ground neighborhood and community redevelopment. Once I'd completed the first draft, I kept working on it over the next year or so. I filed a copy and I circulated several copies among a few board members and staff.
At some point after 1999, when he joined us to found CDM's public interest law firm, John Greenan read the paper. Over the following two years or so, John began trying to figure out how to begin to bring some reality to the ideas I had sketched out and refined over the months.
Thanks to John's persistence and leadership, we organized the Central Dallas Community Development Corporation.
John doesn't practice much courtroom law these days--I think he still has one open case. As the Executive Director of our growing CDC, John is using is skills to create new and high-quality places for inner city folks to live and shop. At present the Central Dallas CDC has four major projects about ready for construction.
I came across a copy of my little vision paper not long ago. So, I thought I would post it here just for fun. Its title is "Hope Street."
As I read over it again, it is clear that much has changed and much has been accomplished. We speak a slightly different language these days, as we've learned how best to work with the larger community. We still hold to the neighborhood nature of our beginning vision. We've just tucked it away for the time being as we have begun with multi-family developments and permanent, supportive housing for the poorest among us. The values remain the same.
Case Statement: A Vision for the Development of a Comprehensive, Neighborhood-Based Christian Community
Central Dallas Ministries proposes to develop a comprehensive, neighborhood-based Christian community that will deliver a stable, on-going continuum of care, opportunity and growth for each resident. The development of decent, affordable housing within a targeted, multi-block area in south Dallas will be the central focus of the initiative.
The housing stock will include:
1) highly-programmed “safe” housing for members of the community who recognize their need for a special, life-stabilizing environment in order to overcome unique and difficult personal problems, such as addiction,
2) clean, safe and affordable multi-family housing for lease,
3) clean, safe, affordable multi-family housing for lease, lease-to-purchase or sale
4) clean, safe, affordable single-family housing for lease or lease-to-purchase and
5) clean, safe, affordable single-family housing for sale.
The on-going spiritual growth and health of the community will be achieved through the development of a network of house-based cell groups. These small groups, interlaced throughout the neighborhood, will meet weekly for Bible study, prayer, and intentional training in leadership development, Christian community building and preparation for home ownership.
Residents will be instrumental in expanding the work and influence of the Central Dallas Church.
The Desire Observed
Since 1994, Central Dallas Ministries has encountered over 100,000 men, women and children in outreach and emergency relief efforts associated with its Food Pantry. In addition, close friendships have been developed with hundreds of volunteers who live in the community targeted for service.
The growing life of the Central Dallas Church provides an even more intimate context for becoming acquainted and for developing in-depth relationships. After listening to thousands of stories both in interviews and in the normal day-to-day conversations with friends, these almost universally expressed desires have surfaced:
1) Neighbors who come seeking assistance and many volunteers who join our team to help in restoring a sense of community to our inner city neighborhood express a desire to escape the clutches of various addictions and compulsive behaviors. Many volunteers spend most of the day working in the Food Pantry because the environment provides the safety they need to maintain sobriety. The challenges always come at night and on weekends when they are forced to return to apartments, rooming houses, the borrowed couches of “friends,” housing projects, or in some cases the streets. Cut off from the supportive, therapeutic environment of the Food Pantry, these persons often lapse and return to the addictive behavior they desperately seek to leave behind. Isolation from the supportive community and the loneliness of nights and weekends often proves more than many recovering addicts can manage.
2) Many of our neighbors encountered first in the Food Pantry and/or in the Church also express the desire for obtaining better housing for themselves and their families. By “better” most mean affordable, clean, well-maintained, drug free and safe. Most of the people we meet are forced to use too large a percentage of their monthly income for housing. Most pay exorbitant rental fees for substandard housing. Most express fears about personal safety and the availability of drugs in close proximity to where they live. Many report the need for repairs that go unattended. Further, when asked about their dreams and personal goals, most include an opportunity to own a home of their own.
3) Many of our neighbors, volunteers and fellow church members tell us of their desire to grow as persons who contribute to the betterment of our community. Other more specific desires that are often expressed include
a) improved overall health and well-being,
b) continuing education for the development of new more marketable skill sets,
c) finding opportunities for business ownership,
d) personal emotional growth and enhanced interpersonal skills and
e) personal spiritual development.
Strategy for Further Development and Pursuit of the Plan
Central Dallas Ministries/Central Dallas Church seeks to identify and move to capture a five-block area in a south Dallas neighborhood to be determined on the basis of cost, availability, existence of and condition/type of present housing stock, need for community renewal and in answer to prayer.
In order to develop and pursue our plan we continue to take or will begin taking the following steps together:
1) We will continue to commit our vision, expressed desires and overall plan to God in prayer.
2) We will identify a “task force” from our community to begin work on the next steps necessary to complete our plan.
3) We will present the outline of the plan to the Central Dallas Church in public messages and to the Central Dallas Ministries Board of Directors in scheduled and called meetings.
4) We will develop a plan for identifying and preparing participants for involvement in the planned community.
5) We will continue to identify and consult with partners inside and outside the community including business and corporate leaders, financial institutions, government officials and agencies (city, state and federal), other non-profit organizations and churches.
6) We will develop a strategy for dividing the work ahead of us into manageable “bites” for assignment to those persons/groups possessing the necessary expertise to accomplish their part of realizing our vision, including:
a) a financial plan for the project,
b) a land procurement process,
c) building construction/rehab,
d) financing for condo/home ownership,
e) project management,
f) “safe” house program and management development,
g) new staff development,
h) home owners training/preparation services,
i) cell group development from Central Dallas Church,
j) others to be identified as we move forward.
7) We will develop a clear plan for “entry” into the target neighborhood.
A Call to Commitment and Renewal
We believe in the God-given capacities of people.
We know by faith and by experience that the people of the community God has been gathering around the Central Dallas Church and Central Dallas Ministries represent our most important asset in the realization of our vision.
We know God has called us join him in his work of restoring hope in the heart of our city.
We know that given opportunity and freedom to act upon opportunity, the people of our community can achieve great things together.
As God called Nehemiah to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, so we hear the clear call of God upon our lives to begin to live and act as those who rebuild the ruined places of Dallas.
Through the words of one of God’s ancient prophets we hear the call to be known as “restorers of streets with dwellings” (Isaiah 58:12).
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