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.]