Monday, June 11, 2007

Housing challenge

The Dallas Morning News published the first of a two-part, front page series in yesterday's paper ( "Where are they all going to live?" ). Part two runs today ("Jump-starting change"). The subject: a crisis of affordable, workforce housing in our growing city. The report is worth reading for anyone who cares about the development of adequate housing in any urban area.

Check out part one at:
latestnews/stories/061007dnentapt_overview.2e85b2c8.html. You can find the second part on the paper's website today.

The challenge of providing adequate housing stock for the expanding population of a growing urban community like Dallas is enormous and requires a courageous public commitment to be successful. Political will, creative leadership, various, often complicated funding tools and the willingness to do the right thing for the entire community, no matter what the political consequences, are all essential ingredients to any successful housing strategy.

Our experience here at CDM in attempting to develop affordable units to meet part of the growing need has been very instructive. Here a just a few of the lessons we've learned over the past six years:

  • Deals take too long--one of our largest, mixed use, mixed income projects that we are planning to build in East Dallas has been underway for over 5 years! The frustrations have been incredible and daily. Only non-profit developers like us will have the patience to stay with deals like this one, and the jury is still out on whether or not we will actually close into construction.

  • Every project is enormously complicated from a financial standpoint. Layer upon layer of financing of various kinds are involved in all of our projects. Pre-development funds are scarce. Interim financing is complicated and permanent financing at the conclusion of projects is never easy or certain.

  • Public involvement, usually essential for any successful project, is almost always a struggle to acquire and requires lots and lots of patience and determination. If and when it arrives, it is generally too little to assure a deal's success.

  • Timing presents many challenges. Acquiring and holding property is difficult for non-profit developers in areas where for-profit companies just don't want to work due to the number of challenges that are not present in easier-to-develop, suburban areas. Marketing and property management services that are necessary to lease up projects and operate them in a high quality manner also add costs to projects that often come to market on razor thin profit margins.

Just recounting a few of the most common hurdles we face in attempting to bring high-quality, affordable housing to our market makes me wonder why we stay at it!

Of course the answer is people, our neighbors. The report makes it clear that the economy of the entire community depends upon the continued and increased development of housing stock for our growing workforce.

A couple of important facts surfaced in the first part of the housing report. Both are extremely troubling.

First, 42% of Dallas households are "cost-burdened,' that is they pay over 30% of their income on housing costs. That's an amazing number, especially in a city that is tearing down thousands of affordable units and replacing them with upscale, expensive homes, condos and luxury apartment developments.

Second, the current trend lines for median income and home values are not good news. Median income here in Dallas in 1990 was $27,469 with the median cost of a home at $78,300. By 2000, income rose to $37,628 and home values were up to $94,456. In 2005, median income actually slipped to $36,403 while home costs continued to rise to $120,900.

For things to change in Dallas, and especially in our inner city neighborhoods, free market forces must be supported by public plans and policies that make new development possible and feasible. At the same time, affordable housing units need to be built all across the community so that low-income persons do not continue to be segregated in the Southern Sector of the city.

Tom Leppert or Ed Oakley will be elected as our new mayor next Saturday. I hope they are reading these reports and paying attention. To be really relevant and effective our next mayor will need an aggressive plan to challenge our current very negative situation and to overcome it with bright new designs for our next generation as a city.


Karen Shafer said...

Last week I was told by Tyrone Passmore, the very able Director of our only city-run homeless shelter, the Day Resource Center, that Miami Dade County’s Homeless Shelter was an excellent model.

I went to their website, and I was stunned by what I found there (in a good way), but I was also overwhelmed.

The ‘good way’ was that I downloaded 40 pages to study from the website, and it seemed to me to be an astonishingly comprehensive plan. I encourage everyone interested in housing and homelessness to look at it.

The sense of being overwhelmed came from this: Where did the PUBLIC WILL come from to accomplish such a result????? What would it take for Dallas to approach it?

I also learned what I’ve heard from people around the homeless situation in Dallas: that our upcoming Homeless Assistance Center, though absolutely essential and an excellent step, is only one piece of the puzzle and will not solve the homeless problem in Dallas.

There are many other pieces, but probably the most important is... HOUSING, both transitional and permanent.

I’ve said it before and will doubtless say it many more times: to be a truly great city, we MUST address this issue. We are late in the game compared to many other cities, but that doesn’t mean we’re too late.

I am not the first person to observe that greatness involves compassion -- that concern for those among us who are in difficulty is the ‘enlightened’ part of ‘enlightened self-interest.’ It is in the interest of each of us to take these problems seriously and to work together to solve them -- including and especially the long-term housing needs of our city -- because we CANNOT and MUST NOT continue to pretend they can be hidden or swept away by ordinances and half-measures which attempt to make homelessness and poverty invisible.

When I’m profoundly in need of inspiration and direction, I often go to Henri Nouwen. He never disappoints me. Here’s a quote from his essay entitled “The Path of Power,” from the book Finding My Way Home:

“We ask ourselves, ‘Where are the men, women, and children who are waiting for us to reach out to them?’ Poverty in all its forms, physical, intellectual, and emotional, is not decreasing. To the contrary, the poor are everywhere around us and beyond -- more than ever. As the powers of darkness show their hideous intentions with increasing crudeness, the weeping of the poor become louder and louder and their misery more and more visible. We who yearn for peace must thrive to keep listening and to keep looking. We must not run away from this painful sight.

...I am convinced that we are people who are ready to help with money, time, and talent. But we are often afraid to ENTER INTO THE CHAOS SURROUNDING SITUATIONS OF POVERTY, and WE WILL REMAIN PARALYZED UNLESS WE DARE TO TAKE NEW RISKS. If we need to HAVE ALL OUR BASES COVERED BEFORE WE MOVE INTO ACTION, then nothing exciting ever happens, but IF WE DARE TO TAKE A VEW CRAZY RISKS BECAUSE GOD ASKS US TO DO SO, many doors that we didn’t even know existed open before us.” [emphasis mine]

I see the problems on the streets of Dallas first hand on a weekly basis, but rarely, if ever, feel that I have any answers. But, you, Larry, have so much information about the solutions and the challenges to implementing those solutions. Thank you for being a beacon in putting them out there.

Michael Davis said...

On Wed 6/13/07 Yesterday, Ed Oakley voted to destroy one of Dallas’ natural treasures. I guess money is more important than poor people and the environment.