Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Plaza Inn Deal Fails: Takeaways

Update on the plan to redevelop and renew the Plaza Inn at I-30 and S. Akard Street on the southeast edge of Downtown Dallas:

It turns out to be quite a saga, maybe closer to an epic!

Chapter One: The Central Dallas Community Development Corporation places the property under contract and writes a Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LITHC) application to the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs (TDHCA). The first round scoring on the application places it at the very top of such applications in the entire state of Texas. We're feeling really very good about the prospects of the plan.

Chapter Two: We begin to explain our plans to the neighbors who live, work and own property around the project site. Lots of honest conversation ensues. After two large, well-attended public meetings and numerous, smaller private meetings, we continue to feel positive about the project. We adjust our plans to include everything over which we have control that the neighborhood association and various voices from the community suggest. Included in the changes are 72 units of new construction, market rate, multi-family homes.
The only part of our plan we did not alter were the homes we intended to set aside for 50 formerly homeless individuals and families. At last, when the neighbors vote on our plan, we are turned back and voted down. This means that we cannot hope to receive the backing we need from Council Member Pauline Medrano and her colleagues on the Dallas City Council.

Chapter Three: We exit the process, but turn over our position to Hamilton Properties, the owners of the Plaza Inn. They adjust the plan to make it more economically feasible and to further suit the wishes of the neighbors. Translation: The new plan eliminates all units of permanent supportive housing designed for formerly homeless persons. The plan goes forward with neighborhood support now that CDM and the homeless are out of the picture. No homeless housing will be provided, but high-quality, affordable housing will be developed.

Chapter Four: The TDHCA objects to the revised proposal, citing 33 reasons why the plan, as presented, is not worthy of funding. Many of the problems are technical and based on inaccurate information and details lost in the translation during the revision process from the original proposal. At the end of the day, it becomes clear that the only way to advance the proposal on appeal is to put the permanent supportive housing units back into the plan. The appeal is submitted with this provision for the homeless included once more. A subsequent meeting with the neighborhood association results in a final rejection of the revised plan. As a result, the tax credit application is withdrawn and the deal is dead.


1) People in all parts of Dallas fear and do not understand the chronically homeless. As a result of the fear and lack of understanding, they will resist the development of housing for this subset of the population almost automatically and in every part of the city. Further, many people do not want to hear the facts about the homeless who receive the benefit of permanent housing. No amount of national, empirical evidence convinces most people. Clearly, we must work harder, start earlier and do a better job of presenting the truth about "housing first" and permanent supportive housing as a viable, community solution to chronic homelessness. At the same time, we must find ways to legitimately earn the trust of neighborhood groups. We continue to hope that the success of our project at 511 N. Akard in the heart of Downtown will help with community education and understanding.

2) Funding for the development of permanent housing for the homeless must come from public sources with great capacity. These deals are complicated and expensive. Because of neighborhood opposition, and short of significant breakthroughs in community understanding, Downtown areas remain the best and possibly only location for such developments. A logical source of funding will continue to be the LITHC funds from the TDHCA.

3) Having funds available does not guarantee success. We may need to face the fact that funding is easier to solve than location for these projects, due largely to neighborhood opposition.

4) Currently, site selection for these developments may need to be limited to locations where no neighborhood organization exists. This limits development to very weak communities, not a good choice for several reasons, or Downtown locations that tend to be the most expensive sites.

5) Providing lots of information and/or being responsive to community ideas and suggestions is no guarantee that development plans will be supported or accepted. Unfortunately, this is simply a fact of life in this sector of the housing development industry at this point. Again, building trust is key. The Plaza Inn project taught me that I need to exhibit more patience, kindness and respect for those who disagree, while at the same time providing useful information needed to change attitudes toward our homeless neighbors.

6) The current political process serves property owners before the larger good of the entire community. Property rights trump human or community needs/rights.

7) The need and the relief that certainly can be provided for the clear need make continuing the effort more than worth the struggle and the frustrations. At the same time, developers and city leaders must face the fact that these developments will take more time, effort and funding than other sorts of housing endeavors.

Back to the drawing board.
[Read a report in today's edition of The Dallas Morning News here.]


Michael Davis-Dallas Progress said...

This is a sad day. The homeless are not going to leave the Cedars simply because this project was not completed.

It's like Mike Faenza said in his op-ed to the DMN a day or so ago:

"The Bridge has led to jobs for more than 700 people and more than 300 permanent housing placements, plus 80,000 overnight stays that would have been spent on the streets before the center opened last May."

You cannot get a decent wage-paying + benefits job without an address. This project would've helped that process.

These are the type of people that would stay at the Plaza. If a formerly homeless person is dressed for work, can you tell whom they are? No. Some of the people that Larry, CDM, and The Bridge have helped are living among us.

I think Councilwoman Medrano did a good job, but when the neighbors came out so strongly in the beginning, it made it nearly impossible to do.

Chin up, Larry. You and your team did yeoman's work.

Anonymous said...

The level and vehemence of opposition to this project just amazes me. I don't think I would object to having formerly homeless people in apartments near my house. And, unlike the Cedars, we do not presently have homeless walking our streets. Why would anyone rather have homeless people on the street in front of their house instead of decently housed a few blocks away? I wish someone could explain this to me.

Karen Shafer said...

This is a sickening defeat, not only of many people's very hard work, but of common sense.

~~ The Cedars Neighborhood Association has way too much power. It is the tail wagging the dog.

~~ The City Council MUST begin voting as thinking individuals with consciences and not as a block with the councilperson from the area of the project. This way of doing business makes no sense and gives the impression that the council is just 'trading favors' with each other.

Sarah said...

Oh this turn makes me so sad. I look the problems resulting from limited affordable housing in the face every day and was excited to see a project move forward that would at least make a dent in such a widespread issue. I hope this isn't the end of the vision... let us know how we can support CDM better next time.

Anonymous said...

There are perhaps two other lessons here, Larry.

1) I remember reading one of Chuck Colson's books, that what he did was to have an informational series of lunches, in which he secretly mingled prisoners or former prisoners together with neighborhood folks who were there to learn about prison issues. Then when he asked the (ex-) prisoners to identify themselves, the 'scales dropped from people's eyes.' We need to be incarnational in our ministries...we need to get people to mingle together, because the most terrible consequence of our modern/post-modern Caucasian-dominated American society is that we've managed to terribly isolate ourselves from each other. We've ceased to be a true community, whether of believers, neighbors, or others...unless we have an agenda, whether 'good' or 'bad.'

2) There's always going to be strength in numbers. By this I mean, the Dallas church that I go to? As far as I know, we never heard anything, either as individuals, as pastors, as part of a ministerial association, as members of a County Commissioner's territory, that there was this fight going on, and that we needed to be at such-and-so meeting(s) in order to register our approval for this effort. Hey, if a politician has to make a decision on this, and s/he looked up and saw that there were hundreds or thousands of voters who showed up at the meeting, how do you think the politician would probably react?

I admit, I'm a newbie to Dallas, within the last three months, so maybe this coalition building was something CDM already pursued. But maybe it wasn't...?

God bless you.

Blake said...

"A subsequent meeting with the neighborhood association results in a final rejection of the revised plan. As a result, the tax credit application is withdrawn and the deal is dead."

Larry who was at this meeting, because as a CNA member I wasn't aware of such a subsequent meeting. The CNA voted on a plan as presented by Larry Hamilton. To my knowledge, no other member voting occurred.

Please clarify your statement so the facts can be set straight.

Also it's my understanding that Hamilton will retry for 2010, so the deal isn't dead. It's just back for more discussion. I point blank asked Hamilton at the last meeting if he didn't receive support from the CNA then would he reapply for the next year and if so, what you he change. To which he replied something to the effect of, "No I'd want out and consider the project dead. I won't reapply." Hopefully this is not the case, because as a resident of the Cedars I know there were many that spoke up in support of the affordable housing.

Larry James said...

Blake, thanks for the post. First, let me say, I'm not trying to stir up conflict, but simply to reflect on the experience. You'll need to check with the officers of the CNA regarding the last outreach from the Hamiltons. The TDHCA needed to see permanent supportive housing in the plan to approve any appeal. As you know, the final plan prior to appeal had that removed.

Blake said...

Thanks Larry,
I'm just trying to get a better understanding on the process of what happened. Yes the permanent support housing was the hang up on this project. I do agree that it was some what of a surprise when it got rejected the first round when CDM made the proposal. I do believe you provided what was asked for to the best of your ability.

For Hamilton the tipping point was to include or not include the permanent supportive housing in his proposal. After tolling opinions he chose not to include the permanent support in hopes to not risk support of the entire project because of one portion.

Even with support from the neighborhood his proposal it seems was still rejected. It sounds as though Hamilton intends to correct the inaccuracies, make modifications and resubmit in for 2010.

It'll be interesting to see what changes in the proposal are made and if the $2M and tax incentives are still available from the City of Dallas.

With or without the permanent supportive housing it's disappointing for those involved that his project isn't moving forward in 2009. A project with affordable housing is better then no project at all.

The permanent supportive portion is the debate, which I'm sure will come back up for the 2010 proposal if it's deemed a necessity for funding approval.

I also encourage those who are more willing to have permanent supporting housing in their backyard to speak up. Dallas is plenty big and there's lots of areas that could be chosen for a permanent supportive housing project.

Larry James said...

Blake, thanks for your comments.

Chris said...

Larry, this concerns your post of yesterday--sorry I'm a day late. Please check my comment.

Reading your analysis of the Dream Act, I agree with you. However, the analysis of Ms. Jenks throws an entirely different light on the subject. I would like your comments.

Karen Shafer said...

I live in East Dallas, near White Rock Lake, Council District 7.

'I also encourage those who are more willing to have permanent supporting housing in their backyard to speak up.'

Bring it on.

Karen Shafer said...

And remember, the CNA moved into where the homeless live, not the other way around.

Karen Shafer said...

One last thing, and then I promise I'll stop.

I'm 'riled up', and here's why. As some of you do -- at CDM in particular -- I see first hand all the time the uphill climb of challenges faced by the so-called 'chronically homeless' in trying, and trying, and trying, [and failing] to get off the street. All of this causes tremendous suffering as they battle bureaucracy and red tape that the rest of us can scarcely imagine.

And Dallas goes on with politics as usual.

It is absolutely ludicrous and disingenuous to proclaim that we have a Strategic Plan to End Chronic Homelessness by 2014. How without enough affordable and permanent supportive housing?

I will have to leave the calm and reasoned professionalism to Larry and his staff, and they deserve major kudos for it.

The emperor has no clothes on this one, and I am tired of hearing that he does.

Bill Ziering said...

Here in Pebble Beach/Carmel California and Monterey County, California,the same pattern exists. When the State proposed 7 facilities throughout California dedicated to successfully transitioning prisoners in their final year of incarceration, back into their communities with tutoring in life skills, job training, counseling, family values etc, every community rejected the proposition. (That despite their imminent release anyway; now to return with little chance for successful reentry)Much effort was dedicated to promote the concept to each community, yet in the end, the public outcry was the same, "Not in my neighborhood" What's the solution? God only knows, but our Coalition of Churches for Reentry and Restoration is plugging along aiming at having the Church leadership with their power of influence to preach the commands of Jesus as exemplified in the Beatitudes. The numbers are there. Once the Church (and Synagogues) act responsibly as a church, the public will be challenged,and hypocrisy made apparent.. "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind' - this is the great and foremost commandment, and there is a second like it, 'You shall love your neighbour as yourself'. The whole Law and Prophets hang on these two commands." (Mtt 22:37-40, Mrk 12:28

Notwithstanding, our neighbors are not to be dismissed in their fear for their families and security. Those "coming out" and the homeless are not without heavy burdens. With the media splash their faults and frailties are center stage. Without full mentoring provisions (relationships, small groups support/correction) and biblical values, we who champion absorption to all "men" into the Kingdom are ideologists and perhaps guilty of just blowing smoke.

Anonymous said...


Developing trust begins with telling the truth. There was not another vote by the neighborhood association when the Hamilton's realized their plan would require PSH back in the mix. This is a fact confirmed by the CNA board.

The CNA overwhelmingly supported the Hamilton plan that was mostly low-income housing. As you know, most neighborhoods would have rejected this type of plan. Per the DMN " "Our experience ended on a positive note with the neighborhood," Larry Hamilton

There are several mistakes you made with the CNA....but I don't want to go there. It's Good Friday after all.

Larry James said...

Anon 8:53, I'd be glad to hear you speak to my and our failings. We really did want to get it right in this project and obviously we didn't. So, I remain open to your instruction when you have time.

As to the final decision to withdraw the appeal made to TDHCA, there was no vote because the officers of the CNA felt there was not enough time to have such a vote, which I am sure is correct.

The final appeal plan, which you and others didn't see, placed homeless housing back in the plan. Leaders of CNA felt that it wasn't possible to have a vote and so the developer withdrew the proposal. If I have misreprested anything here, please tell me so I can recognize my mistake or provide further explanation. Thanks for yoru post.

Anonymous said...


The CNA board was contacted on the following Monday after the Hamilton's met with some local leaders on Saturday to discuss their situation. The board was told of their decision....and that was all.

It was discovered quickly that there was no way they could go back to the neighborhood and change their original pitch that got so much support. It needed to start all over and not waste anyone's more time on this project. Common sense!

The transition from your application to theirs got very messed up and thus the backlash from the state. Not the CNA's fault.

What bothers me is the inflamed rhetoric in your blog that tries to blame the CNA of voting down another proposal that included PSH in the mix. That did not happen and you owe the community an apology for your misstatements.

No credit was given that they actually voted heavily to support a low-income housing development. How often does that happen in a neighborhood?

Your passion is admirable but often times gets in the way of honest communication about the subject.

Just my opinion.

Larry James said...

Thanks, Anon 9:12, I appreciate having your comments. One of the problems with this medium of communication is that it makes tone and attitude almost impossible to discern. Your comments were very helpful to me. I realize that my passion gets in the way at times. And, I regret that, especially when it blocks progress. If I have offended the neighborhood with my statements, I apologize.

That said, I can assure you my original post was a calm outline of what appeared to have transpired. I wasn't casting stones, nor was I trying to stir up a fight, but simply attempting to analyze what happened and to learn something from the experience. A couple of things are simply facts. The appeal application included homeless units that had been rejected before by CNA--that is a fact. The determination was made not to try to have an additional vote. I think a reasonable deduction given all that transpired in the entire process is that leaders felt a vote of support for the final and required plan would not be forthcoming due to the inclusion of the PSH units. I suppose I could be wrong about that, but it seems a logical conclusion based on all that occurred. Again, no attempt to create more conflict, just trying to figure out how to get projects like this done. Again,thanks for your post and feedback.