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.
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.
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.
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.]