Wednesday, February 18, 2009

We usually get exactly what we intend. . .

Homeless people continue to roam our streets with no acceptable place to "land" on a permanent basis in large part because of decisions we've made and continue to make as a community.

They overcrowd our new homeless assistance center, The Bridge, because of the limitations we've decided to impose on funding community and housing development and the overall spirit and soul of our city.

Our intentions--you know, the things we determine in the places and moments of decision--drive our city's real and growing need for more decent housing stock for our neighbors at the very bottom of our economy.

Make no mistake about it: Things are the way they are because of our intentions, our decisions and the application of our true philosophy.

Talk is cheap.

Actions speak.

Votes determine reality.

Policy shapes and, at times, limits possibilities.

Here's my latest example.

We're trying to purchase and redevelop another building in the Downtown area of Dallas. Our plans for financing this next project include applying for 9% Low Income Housing Tax Credits from the State of Texas. Not long ago, we learned that our preliminary application scored the highest of any submitted to the state this year, a tribute to John Greenan and his great team!

In exchange for this equity investment, we would deliver over 300 new, high-quality, professionally designed, built and managed units of both market and a nice mix of various levels of affordable housing so that people who work Downtown could also live Downtown. The affordable units we propose would allow tenants making between 30% and 140% of area median income to lease a great home. A portion of the new development would include beautiful, live-simple studio apartments for our formerly homeless neighbors who currently populate temporary shelters and our sidewalks, this in response to the city's commitment to end chronic homelessness by 2014 or thereabout. A good number of the units would allow single parents of young children to lease a place nearby one of the finest child care centers in the city that caters to homeless families.

Our proposal includes major outside improvements in both the building and its environs, a robust 24-7 security plan, full-service concierge services, work-lease units, an art studio, employment center for tenants, and professional property management services, to name just a few aspects of the property amenities.

We've worked very hard with residents who live in the neighborhood around the property. Many of the changes and improvements in our plan have come directly from a list of demands and suggestions offered by local residents, for which we are very grateful.

Great plan.

Exciting possibility.


Well, sure, if you're asking me.

But, not everyone agrees, which comes as no surprise at all.

In order to be successful with our financing we must have community support. Real support, as in votes and formal letters of endorsement, the hard stuff of intention. We have to have the endorsement and support of the City Council member who represents the district where the property is located.

So far, the sledding has been pretty rough on the "community intention" side.

While we get lots of high sounding, compassionate, do-gooder rhetoric from some leading voices in the area, the influence (including some of these same noble-sounding leaders) that crafts actual policy is trending away from us. . .and our low-income neighbors who need the housing.

The arguments ring in my ears.

"This will really affect my property values to the negative."

"You can't build that here. You'll set us back twenty years!"

"Don't get me wrong. I'm concerned about the homeless, but not here. Why not go somewhere else?"

People don't understand that projects like we propose actually create a space for mixed-income communities to thrive. Instead of spreading single units indiscriminately across an area or a neighborhood, our concentrated development becomes a sort of self-contained community, complete with its own sustainable life and personal relationships. The spill over into the larger community is measured, based on authentic new connections, and positive, especially from a diverse housing and economic development standpoint.

In other words, our planned development makes life better for everyone.

People don't think clearly on this issue.

They intend to exclude the very poor from their lives. Thus, they oppose projects like ours and they work hard to see their true intentions and values protected and executed.

Ironically, the homeless and the very poor don't go away. As a matter of fact, they stay in place, but out in the open, on the streets and in the public common areas of the very neighborhood that opposes our plans that would address the problem head-on and in a manner proven to be successful across the nation.

Our vision would first move folks inside their own homes so that they could literally "get a life" before re-engaging the larger community on more positive terms. And, of course, this particular development would only house 50 formerly homeless persons--50 units out of 304.

Our intentions are very clear. Let's build healthy, productive, sustainable communities.

The intentions of our opposition are just as clear, at least to us:

Maintain the status quo out of fear.

Keep the streets as they are today, crowded with the very poor.

Change nothing.

Ironically, the unintended consequences of their very clear intentions result in exactly what we have in our city today. Dallas takes great pride in its continuing belief that it is a cutting edge community, when it fact we remain decades behind best practices in housing policy and neighborhood maturity.

But, hey, if that's what we intend, I suppose you can count us amazingly successful.

[Update on the project: on Tuesday, February 17, the Housing Committee of the Dallas City Council voted to recommend to the full council at its meeting next Wednesday, February 25, that the city withhold support for our planned development. If the full Council votes to withhold support, our deal is dead. This action was taken by the Housing Committee after the local neighborhood association voted 39 to 15 to withhold support of the project.

An interesting fact about this Council District: over 20,000 of its residents live at or below the poverty line.

It is the district in which I reside.

Think about it.

Thirty-nine (39) relatively affluent people may be able to deny decent, high-quality housing to some of the residents in the district who need it most.

Like I say, we get what we intend and, sadly, not everyone's intentions are weighted the same.]



Anonymous said...

What can we do to help prevent this from happening?

Daniel Gray said...

Sorry to hear the update. I know this project has consumed a lot of your time and efforts. It is frustrating when people are short-sighted and do not see the potential long term benefit of these projects. I hope the full council will back this project and will be praying for the city. Please let us know how the meeting goes next week.

Cody said...

Is this the Akard St. project? Is there something online, or archived on the blog that gives a little more information on the plans? I work in a tax credit property and transformational housing project in Denver, so I'm curious.

You are certainly right about our intentions and especially the application of our *true* philosophy. You can really know the true philosophy of a person/group of people when property value is on the line.

jocelyn said...

I echo the first anonymous comment: what can we do to keep this from happening? Write letters? Make phone calls?

Michael Davis-Dallas Progress said...

Larry - this is a tough one. I can understand where both groups are coming's that fear of the unknown.

I think once CityWalk opens and it turns out to be the great project I know it will be, then maybe people will change their hearts and minds.

I do not support most tax-credit deals but this was one I could get behind.

Larry James said...

Thanks for the posts and questions. This is the second tax credit project for us. It happens to be on Akard, as is our first successful project--CityWalk at 511 N. Akard. The one currently in "trouble" is at 1011 S. Akard and is currently the Plaza Inn building just across I-30 from Downtown Dallas.

As to solving the problem, we need changes in the tax credit scoring regs so that small groups of people can't control projects that are good for more people. Long haul there.

We also need political leaders who will stand with us and pay the price to do what is right for the city.

Here in Dallas, Council Members almost always vote in line with the Council Member from the district with the issue. That needs to change. If a project is good but opposed by small groups of neighbors, let the Council Member from the district vote the way the neighborhood vocals want, but Council Members outside the district should be free to vote for what is best for the City.

It is a battle.

Very few of us want poor people near by--read Luke 16:19ff.

jocelyn said...

So, Larry, is City Walk @ Akard now open? I hadn't heard one way or the other.

Anonymous said...

And what about those 700 units they were making all of the hoopla about a few weeks ago? They will look really stupid if they pass up this opportunity and if they do it will be obvious they they really are not sincere about providing the necessary housing. They can't keep making the same promises year after year and expect to maintain credibility. This is an ideal housing situation with a mix of tenants. I can't think of a more ideal situation for a city. Can we start a petition?

Anonymous said...

Here is a link to the City portal. You can email the Mayor and all city council members at the same time from this link.

Larry James said...

CityWalk is under construction and will open between now and fall '09.

Aaron Jones said...

It seems that because you didn't get your way that you are upset.

Look I want to help those who want help, not those who are lazy or sluggards look those two words up in the Bible.

I know the DTD property owners want the homeless gone and I think the homeless czar Mike Rawlings has an alliance with them, but it doesn't solve the problem. The homeless who are benefiting from the taxpayers need to work.

By work I mean volunteering to clean up parks and other city related things in a sense it's job training there doing a service for the taxpayer. Or the city could have a workforce for the homeless like a job training center, you could bring all the Dallas homeless organizations under one roof.

I know there politics in the whole homeless thing because it's all about the money and being a better dogood-er, but let me warn you that Dallas can turn to red just as it turned to blue. If I was a Republican I wouldn't worry about the current political situation.

I think some homeless advocates are taking advantage of the situation. Taxpayers don't like to be exploited, by the rich yes, but not by the poor especially the homeless and with these mmd's coming boy we live in interesting times.

I know them having a job doesn't fix eveything they need encouragment and other services until they can be self sufficient, but show the taxpayer that their hard earned money isn't going to bums who just want a free ride like many feel The Bridge has become. Perception is reality.

Daniel Gray said...

Mr. Jones,

Your immediate insistence on biblical principles gives away you bias. And it makes me skeptical of your understanding of people who are homeless.

Here's a thought... If we get homeless people into stable housing, they won't be homeless anymore... then we can begin to treat them like normal people and help them with issues preventing them from working and becoming "productive".

In St. Louis (and this is true for most of the country), 99% of the chronically homeless (those homeless for more than a year or 4+ episodes in 3 years), have some type of disabling condition -- mental health, substance abuse, physical disability. Many of them suffer from multiple conditions. Telling these people to get on their feet and get a job and we'll help them later doesn't work.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Jones:

I think you've missed the whole idea of "housing first," the strategy Larry and CDM are pursuing, which has proven to be so effective elsewhere. You have to stabilize people first, then lead them gently toward greater productivity. Also, since it costs less to house someone who is homeless than to pay the police and hospitals and other city services to babysit them on the streets, housing costs LESS than leaving them on the streets. More humane AND cheaper - you can't beat that!

Larry James said...

Aaron, thanks for taking the time to post here. I am not upset because I lost. I am upset because we all are missing a great, positive opportunity to make things better for a building, an entire neighborhood and some really good people who need and desire quality housing. This group includes folks who will pay market rates to be near Downtown, as welll as very poor people who have no home tongight.

Your description of the homeless in your note is not accurate, nor is it fair. I won't go into details, but we have been working to house folks for almost 2 years now with great success in N. Dallas. Homeless people need homes and most want jobs. Your commnets betray that you don't really understand the issues or the people. You make judgments that are simply not valid or in line with reality.

Let's keep talking.