Monday, May 17, 2010

Poor folks Downtown?

Are poor people welcome in Downtown Dallas? 

Great question. 

My office sits on the 3rd floor of our newly redone building at 511 N. Akard on the Arts District side of Downtown Dallas.  It is also going to be home to over 200 low-income persons.  So, since they live here, it's hard to say that poor people aren't welcome in Downtown.  We had help getting the development done, including help from the City of Dallas.  We're grateful for the partnership.

That said, it is clear to me that many people don't believe low-income folks can contribute anything positive to the revitalization of the central core of our city.  We've heard and received various expressions of concern and opposition to our City Walk project.  While the city's housing department helped us with the development by providing funds and counsel, compared to city support provided developments of upscale projects, what we received reflects the city's priorities about workforce and permanent supportive housing in the Downtown area.  Poor folks and their housing needs just aren't high on the city's list. 

Consider:  less than 1/10 of 1% of the general revenue operating budget for the City of Dallas goes to the Housing Department.  Most of those funds pay salaries and support specialized programs.  The city doesn't have a robust, adequately funded strategy for the development of affordable housing or permanent supportive housing.  The bulk of the development funds flowing from the city to developers comes from the federal and state governments.  Our local commitment to addressing the problem is anemic.

What to do? 

One:  begin a stairstep increase in the Housing Department's allocation from 1/10 of 1% to a full 1% over a 5 year period.  This would allow the department to implement an effective plan over 60 months as funds rose gradually.

Two:  craft, support and pass a bond issue to create a City of Dallas Housing Trust Fund of $50 million in the next bond election, hopefully no later than 2011.  Such a trust fund would ensure the availability of resources for developers committed to building affordable housing and permanent supportive housing (PSH) for low-income residents of Dallas.  Once established, at least 30% of the fund's earnings should be earmarked for PSH.

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