Thursday, April 30, 2009

Help our NKN effort--VOTE HERE!

Through a contract with the Department of Agriculture, Central Dallas Ministries provides hundreds of thousands of lunches and snacks to the children of low-income families during the summer months when schools are closed. We call this effort Nurture, Knowledge and Nutrition (NKN). CDM is delighted to be a part of a partnership between Share Our Strength® and Colgate-Palmolive, that is working to increase funding for summer feeding sites around the country!

To coincide with Mother’s Day, Colgate-Palmolive launched a campaign on April 20th called ‘Share Mom’s Love’ that features an online contest to support summer feeding programs in select cities in the U.S.

NKN is part of a national network of summer feeding programs around the country that also help to ensure that at-risk children who receive lunch through federal, school-based feeding programs during the school year continue to receive free, nutritious meals when school is out.

Here's the good news! Colgate-Palmolive has decided to take a stand and work with Share Our Strength to identify one site/sponsor in ten different cities that have the chance to receive funding to support their work – and CDM is the selected sponsor in our city!

The three cities with the most votes will receive generous funding from Colgate-Palmolive.

Please help us today! Go online to vote to ensure that we are one of the top three cities chosen – and thus recipients of much needed additional funding for our work! You will also have a chance to win a trip for two plus dinner with Colgate-Palmolive personalities.

This Mother’s Day, share mom’s love and help end childhood hunger.

And, if you don't mind, let me know when you've cast your vote.


Wednesday, April 29, 2009

What? No Corvettes???

I'm green, okay?

I get it about alternative energy sources.

Really, I do.

I get it.

Hey, I'm as patriotic as the next guy.

I've been advocating for green job training for underemployed and unemployed inner city workers. If you've been here, you've read what I've written.

But, I've got my limits here!

Today I read a prediction that soon GM, if it survives, will stop manufacturing the Corvette.

Tell me it ain't true!

What will America be without the 'Vette?

This is more than I can imagine right now.

What do you think?


Speak Out for Our Investment!

Children brought to the United States by undocumented immigrant parents find themselves in a cruel state of limbo when they graduate high school and, in a growing number of cases, college. Even after receiving and taking full advantage of the national investment in their lives, these hard-working students cannot land a job, at least not legally. In short, their preparation and the public investment to get them ready for the marketplace goes wasted.

It is long past time for reform.

The D.R.E.A.M. Act provides the relief that these students seek and that the nation deserves. The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act would allow the children of undocumented children, brought here with no say in the decision, who exhibit good moral character and who graduate high school and go on to college or military service, to remain in the United States.

Here's testimony from just such a student. We need young people like him to remain in the country. Frankly, we've invested too much already to see him leave us!

Take a moment right now to write your member of the U. S. House of Representatives and to both of your U. S. Senators. Tell them you support the D.R.E.A.M. Act and you expect them to do the same!


Tuesday, April 28, 2009


Central Dallas Ministries continues to put resources and substantial effort into training men and women for livable wage jobs.

CDM WorkPaths, under the direction of Gerald Britt and led by Andrea Bills, provides hard and soft skills training of various kinds for students interested in improving their ability to land better jobs.

What follows provides a live look into the world of WorkPaths. The video captures part of the excitement of graduation day for our latest construction trades class.

We are most fortunate to have great partners like the Construction Education Foundation, OAI, North Lake College, Riverside Church of Christ, Texas Capital Bank and many, many others who help deliver the goods to our students! I wish you could have been there last Thursday.

We are more committed than ever before to pursue the creation of more employment readiness products for the community.

Monday, April 27, 2009


We showed the video below at the 14th Annual Urban Ministries Prayer Breakfast last week. Our keynote speaker, Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins challenged the audience of about 1,000 with a message about prison reform and community justice and safety.

It was quite a morning to say the least.

Thanks to new DNA technology and to his own obvious courage and integrity, Mr. Watkins has been responsible for the exoneration of almost 30 wrongly convicted Dallas County residents.

Over the past year or so, Central Dallas Ministries, thanks largely to the leadership and commitment of Gerald Britt, has been privileged to work closely with the Innocence Project of Texas, the non-profit advocacy group representing falsely accused and convicted inmates, and with the men who have been released from prison after decades in prison.

The group of exonerees meets in one of our buildings on a monthly basis for group support and work. We've been fortunate to be able to stand with these men as they work hard to rebuild their lives.

The video that follows is the testimony of just one of our friends who has been through and unthinkable ordeal.

One of our core values at CDM is "justice." Working with these men is a pure play in this regard.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Managing change for progress

In spite of the impressions given by a handful of mega-churches, congregations all over America are in decline. That is the verdict of all of the reliable research.

While I typically don't give this sort of data much thought, I've had an experience that stretches over three years now that has been very instructive.

About this time three years ago, I received a call from the Garnett Church of Christ in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The leaders there told me that they were trying to design a plan to manage the changes occurring in their congregation. They invited me to come up for a day of conversation. I suggested that I bring John Greenan, the Executive Director of the Central Dallas Community Development Corporation along for the day. They readily agreed.

Forty years ago, the church had been on the "cutting edge" of church growth. Under the leadership of a dynamic minister, and thanks to a very successful strategic plan for outreach, Garnett grew to have thousands of members.

But, things and times changed, so that by the 1990s the church experienced sharp decline in numbers, funding and morale. By 2006, the church was down to about 500 members with others continuing to leave its membership. And, the church did not seem to be successful in attracting new members, a problem most churches experience today.

The day John and I spent with a group of the church's leaders turned out to be fairly remarkable. To be frank, I don't think I've ever seen a group of people more frustrated, concerned or depressed. We sat in a very large mall area outside a very large sanctuary (and there was much talk about how to use or change the huge space which proved a real "downer" on Sundays due to the relatively small crowd in attendance). We formed a discussion circle. Twenty minutes into the conversation I noticed that everyone seemed to speak in hushed tones, much like in a funeral parlor. Defeat tried hard to define the discussion.

Of course, we were outsiders without the history, the recent conflict or the responsibility for planning, debt or programming, so we didn't' feel the same as our hosts. Our advantage was that we didn't know what they knew. We didn't have their experience, a real advantage, especially for our thought processes.

We talked.

We toured.

We watched.

We listened a lot.

At the end of the day, we offered two suggestions.

First, we advised that the church should form a separate non-profit organization. The church would then deed to the new organization all of its assets and liabilities. Next, the church could lease back from the non-profit only the space it needed for its smaller present operations. The non-profit could then create a community service oriented, meeting center business to further reduce debt while bringing life back to the property.

Second, we looked outside the building to the church's 35 acres of undeveloped property. We urged the group to consider using the property for the development of senior housing and/or mixed-income housing along with a possible mixed-use component. In addition to being able to gain some profit, a new community could be built up all around the church property and all sorts of ministry efforts could be brought to the new development.

The ideas seemed a bit, well, "out there." but we left feeling we had given it our best shot. Still, I noticed that by the end of the day the volume had cranked up. Clearly, the group was out of the funeral mood!

Last Saturday and Sunday, I returned to the church to receive an update from the leaders and to see what had happened.

I was blown away!

The church formed a legal limited partnership resulting in the creation of the Green Country Event Center. The place was a beehive of activity! On Saturday evening, I witnessed the wedding ceremony of an Hispanic couple attended by over 200 guests. That same evening, a large group of Pakistani women, all Muslim, gathered in traditional dress for a bridal reception with all of their traditions in play. In the auditorium a church conference had been going on since the previous Thursday. The facility's large commercial kitchen houses a new catering business operated by one of the church's members and provides meals for the groups who need them.

Earlier that day I toured the entire facility and noted that various organizations now leased offices and ran community education, child care, counseling and faith services from the once quiet buildings. And, the center is profitable, allowing the church to retire its debt as it plans for even better days.

Possibly, most important of all, the new event center signals to the entire Tulsa community that the Garnett Church is there for everyone. The center is quickly becoming a major, community crossroads for the entire city. The church finds itself ministering and serving on a daily basis and new folks are showing up to join in the new found significance.

During my weekend, we talked about housing development as the next step. I'll be happy to return in another year or two to see what else has happened for the good.

Here's a church responding to changing circumstances with creativity, effectiveness and an incredibly welcoming heart for everyone in Tulsa.

Church as hospitality center and gathering place. . .now there is a novel idea!


Saturday, April 25, 2009

"Intended Consequences"--human horror, human hope

Photographer Jonathan Torgovnik has produced a photo and video documentary regarding the horror of the Rwandan genocide of 1994.

His special focus deals with the use of rape as a weapon of war.

In particular, Torgovnik reports on the infamous Hutu militia groups known as the Interahamwe, their terror tactics and the survivors of the outrage.

The women Torgovnik befriends experienced this nightmare 15 years ago, just about the time I came to Central Dallas Ministries. After discovering his important work, both in terms of photo journalism and pro-active intervention, I felt the need to share what I had found.

Any work on behalf of human rights is work that resonates with us.

You can watch the report and explore a most impressive site here.


Friday, April 24, 2009


Texas Governor Rick Perry got everyone fired up last week at a tax day "tea party." You can read The Dallas Morning News report on the event and the Governor's involvement in it here.

Talk about something that makes you go "hmmmm"?

The last time a state leader talked about secession was right before the Civil War when South Carolina took steps to lead the entire South out of the Union. The breach in the fabric of the Republic that followed in 1861 had been preceded in 1832 by the so-called Nullification Crisis, a conflict based largely on differences of opinion about federal protective tariffs and economic policy at the time, with a obvious connection to the institution of slavery.

I'm wondering how this talk of and sympathy for secession as a state fits into any guidelines for "how to be patriotic" as citizens at the beginning of the 21st century?

It also seems most curious, but possibly not so outlandish on second thought, when one considers how the State of Texas ranks on "quality of life" issues for those at the bottom of the economy.

I understand that Jay Leno had some fun at our Governor's expense last week (watch the monologue here). No doubt a sure sign that Mr. Perry has made the "big time" on the national political stage!

Ain't politics something?

This post is dedicated to the memory of Morris Franklin James (April 24, 1920-December 16, 2007). We love you, daddy. Rest in peace.


Thursday, April 23, 2009

Where love lives. . .

When I reflect on "how I got where I am" today, I quickly think of the very special church of my childhood and my last parish ministry. The Richardson East Church of Christ is that congregation.

As I say, I grew up there.

In something of an unusual development, I also returned to serve as senior minister at the church for 14 years from 1980 until 1994 when I move to Central Dallas Ministries.

I've always had an unusual relationship with "church" in general--more on that later, maybe. But, this church has seemed to always major on acceptance and love, inclusion and high-touch ministry to people in trouble. No, not every member, but certainly the vast majority and almost always the leadership.

On Easter Sunday this year the church experienced what must have been an incredibly inspirational celebration of "lives resurrected." We witness a lot of the same sort of reality in the lives of the people we touch here at CDM. The two settings are very different. The renewed hope and determination to move forward, very much the same.

Take a look at what's been captured on YouTube. As always, reactions are welcomed.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Minding the Soul

Did you see Bono's Op-Ed essay in The New York Times on Saturday (April 18, 2009)? Worth reading.

Here's the start of it:

It’s 2009. Do You Know Where Your Soul Is?

Published: April 18, 2009
I AM in Midtown Manhattan, where drivers still play their car horns as if they were musical instruments and shouting in restaurants is sport.

I am a long way from the warm breeze of voices I heard a week ago on Easter Sunday.

“Glorify your name,” the island women sang, as they swayed in a cut sandstone church. I was overwhelmed by a riot of color, an emotional swell that carried me to sea.

Christianity it turns out, has a rhythm — and it crescendos this time of year. The rumba of Carnival gives way to the slow march of Lent, then to the staccato hymnals of the Easter parade. From revelry to reverie. After 40 days in the desert, sort of ... Carnival — rock stars are good at that.

“Carne” is flesh; “Carne-val,” its goodbye party. I’ve been to many. Brazilians say they’ve done it longest; they certainly do it best. You can’t help but contract the fever. You’ve got no choice but to join the ravers as they swell up the streets bursting like the banks of a river in a flood of fun set to rhythm. This is a Joy that cannot be conjured. This is life force. This is the heart full and spilling over with gratitude. The choice is yours ...

It’s Lent I’ve always had issues with. I gave it up ... self-denial is where I come a cropper. My idea of discipline is simple — hard work — but of course that’s another indulgence.

Then comes the dying and the living that is Easter.

It’s a transcendent moment for me — a rebirth I always seem to need. Never more so than a few years ago, when my father died. I recall the embarrassment and relief of hot tears as I knelt in a chapel in a village in France and repented my prodigal nature — repented for fighting my father for so many years and wasting so many opportunities to know him better. I remember the feeling of “a peace that passes understanding” as a load lifted. Of all the Christian festivals, it is the Easter parade that demands the most faith — pushing you past reverence for creation, through bewilderment at the idea of a virgin birth, and into the far-fetched and far-reaching idea that death is not the end. The cross as crossroads. Whatever your religious or nonreligious views, the chance to begin again is a compelling idea.

Last Sunday, the choirmaster was jumping out of his skin ... stormy then still, playful then tender, on the most upright of pianos and melodies. He sang his invocations in a beautiful oaken tenor with a freckle-faced boy at his side playing conga and tambourine as if it was a full drum kit. The parish sang to the rafters songs of praise to a God that apparently surrendered His voice to ours.

I come to lowly church halls and lofty cathedrals for what purpose? I search the Scriptures to what end? To check my head? My heart? No, my soul. For me these meditations are like a plumb line dropped by a master builder — to see if the walls are straight or crooked. I check my emotional life with music, my intellectual life with writing, but religion is where I soul-search.

Read the entire essay here.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

DREAM Act. . .relief

Good news arrived week before last concerning Monica and Jose. [To learn more about these two wonderful teenagers use the "Search" tool above to the left; just type in "Monica."]

Monica and Jose were brought to the US by their parents when they were just children. Like their parents, Monica and Jose have no approved documentation to stay in the country. But, they have been here almost all of their lives. No documentation, that is, until recently.

That's the good news.

The federal immigration court recently ruled that both of these fine young people, now almost 20-years-old, may remain in the US until April 2010. Their status is pending until that time.

In the meantime, we are hoping that the long awaited DREAM Act will be enacted into law. [For more details on the DREAM Act simply use the "Search" tool above!]

This summer a national film tour is planned to roll out the documentary, "An Unfinished DREAM."

Check out the film's trailer below:

Urban Connection--San Antonio Part 3

One last entry in my rough video journal of the work we are doing in San Antonio, Texas via Urban Connection--San Antonio.

Thanks to the leadership of Leslie Grubbs, the children of Lincoln Heights Courts are receiving wonderful pre-school education opportunites!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Urban Connection--San Antonio Part 2

Urban Connection--San Antonio, the sister organization founded by Central Dallas Ministries, is taking aggressive steps to assist in the transformation of one of the toughest neighborhoods in the city.

Working from the base at Lincoln Heights Courts, a public housing development on the west side, UC-SA recently purchased a very "troubled" house that will be transformed into a center of community hope.

I thought you would enjoy "seeing" things for yourself!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Don't rely on appearances!

By now I bet you've seen Susan Boyle's performance on Britans Got Talent last Saturday evening.

The judges, the audience, everyone was literally blown away by this Scottish woman's vocal ability.


Everyone pre-judged her based on her appearance. No one expected anything from her. Everyone dismissed her with laughs and cat-calls.

We do it all the time, don't we?

We do it on the basis of class, race, looks, body size. . .the list goes on and on.

Shame on us all for not assuming the very best of each other and everyone we meet.

Thanks, Susan Boyle. We all needed what you delivered. Forgive us.

Forgive us, Lord for not believing in those things you've placed in us all.

Watch Susan again right here.


Saturday, April 18, 2009


From John Steinbeck's, The Grapes of Wrath (page 49)--a conversation between Jim Casy and Muley Graves:

“You sharin’ with us, Muley Graves?”

Muley fidgeted in embarrassment. “I ain’t got no choice in the matter.”

He stopped on the ungracious sound of his words.

“That ain’t like I mean it. That ain’t. I mean” – he stumbled – “what I mean, if a fella’s got somepin to eat an’ another fella’s hungry – why, the first fella ain’t got no choice.”


Friday, April 17, 2009

Urban Connection--San Antonio Part 1

In 2002, Central Dallas Ministries "planted a sister organization" in San Antonio, Texas.

We began with a very strong leader, Leslie Kelsie-Grubbs and a challenging location--the Lincoln Heights Courts public housing development located on the tough west side of the city.

Since the beginning days, growth, progress and real change has occurred, thanks to the work of Leslie and her very capable team.

As you'll hear Les say here when speaking of the community's improvement, that our presence "gives people permission to do something different."

I'll be posting video updates so that you can appreciate what has been accomplished with much more one the way!

Community development at its best!

To learn more and/or to become a partner, go to the website.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Picture window on homelessness

In her recent entry to the Huffington Post, Christine Schanes provides an amazing summation of the landscape of homelessness in the United States.

Here's a sample:

Raise your hand if you've ever seen a person who you thought was homeless. I can see that all hands are up!

I'll be 61 years old this week and when I was young, the situation was not as it is now. In my youth, the vast majority of people who were homeless were men. There were very few women and even less children who were homeless.In the old days, we called those homeless men words like, "hobos" or worse. We envisioned them "riding the rails," jumping on and off railroad freight cars and living a life that they chose, free of cares and woes. At that time, the homeless life was romanticized and movies were made, such as "Emperor of the North" staring Lee Marvin, which depicted homeless men enjoying life to the fullest without any reflection on their possible responsibilities to society.

Today, this is not the picture of homelessness.

Want to take a look at the current "picture"? Read her incredibly helpful update here.

Reactions welcomed.


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Things that make you go hmmmm. . .

Did you catch Rep. Betty Brown's suggestion during the Elections Committee hearing in the Texas House of Representatives last week?

When confronted with witness testimony on the problems Chinese-American Texans currently face at the polls and the increased difficulties they could expect to encounter under a voter ID law now being debated, Rep. Brown said, "Rather than everyone here having to learn Chinese - I understand it's a rather difficult language - do you think that it would behoove you and your citizens to adopt a name that we could deal with more readily here?"

Media outlets across the country have picked up on this story, Asian American groups have spoken out against her and still, Rep. Brown continues to stand by her statement.

Andrew Sullivan's Daily Dish quotes from the U. S. Senate ratified Treaty of Tripoli (1796-1797).

Interesting stuff.

Here are a few lines from Article 11 of the treaty:

As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen; and, as the said States never entered into any war, or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties, that no pretext arising from religious opinions, shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.

Check out Sullivan's post here.


Quote without comment: It is important for you to control your own drawbridge. There must be times when you keep your bridge drawn and have the opportunity to be alone or only with those to whom you feel close. Never allow yourself to become public property, where anyone can walk in and out at will. You might think that you are being generous in giving access to anyone who wants to enter or leave, but you will soon find yourself losing your soul. - Henri Nouwen (as posted by my good friend, Mike Cope)


Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Poverty and Stress

Years ago, an old woman who had lived for many years in a very depressed and neglected neighborhood shared something profound. Something I'll likely never forget.

As we discussed her life and the day-to-day stress of living in poverty, she said, "Larry, we carry our grief in buckets here. Everyone has lost something precious."

The stress of a life caught up in poverty, and all that goes along with that state of living, is something most of us cannot possibly understand.

An essay in The Economist ("I am just a poor boy though my story's seldom told," April 4, 2009) gets at the connection between stress and not just poverty, but the role of stress in the transference of poverty from generation to generation.

Here's how the important report begins:

How poverty passes from generation to generation is now becoming clearer. The answer lies in the effect of stress on two particular parts of the brain.

THAT the children of the poor underachieve in later life, and thus remain poor themselves, is one of the enduring problems of society. Sociologists have studied and described it. Socialists have tried to abolish it by dictatorship and central planning. Liberals have preferred democracy and opportunity. But nobody has truly understood what causes it. Until, perhaps, now.

Read more here.


Monday, April 13, 2009

Anna Hill--community builder

Ms. Anna Hill is our partner.

She is the most important leader in the Dolphin Heights neighborhood just east of Fair Park. The new-found health and hope now being experienced in her community is due largely to her personal efforts over the past several years.

We've had the honor to work with her on an exciting mutual project over the past several weeks. She is something else!

Thank God for Anna Hill and for grassroots leaders like her all across our community. Anna Hill and others like her are key players in the work of community renewal.

Read more about this important leader and cherished partner here.


Sunday, April 12, 2009

Faith Sung and Worked Out

Hymn sung in church, Easter 2009. . .

Christ Is Alive
In ev'ry insult, rift and war,
Where color, scorn or wealth divide,
Christ suffers still, yet loves the more,
And lives, where even hope has died.

Christ is alive, and comes to bring
Good news to this and ev'ry age,
Till earth and sky and ocean ring
With joy, with justice, love and praise.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Easter Meditation: "This is my church. . ."

Lots of us these days are wondering about how "church" ought to be redefined more in line with the spirit, values and life of its founder.

Where are we to stand and what are we to do when it comes to the marginalized, the oppressed and those who are routinely taken advantage of? What has this to do with being church in our world today?

As an Easter Meditation, I offer the following clip from the classic 1954 film, On the Waterfront.

Anxious to know your ideas after you watch it.

Friday, April 10, 2009

City Election: the hotel and so much more

Voters who live in the City of Dallas return to the polls on May 9 to decide the fate of Mayor Tom Leppert's proposed convention center hotel, as well as to set a course for significant development and renewal strategies going forward. Voters must decide between "yes" and "no" on two propositions.

Proposition One will amend the city charter to prohibit the City of Dallas from financing, constructing, acquiring, leasing or operating a hotel or other lodging facility. Here's another slightly confusing choice for voters. If you are against the Mayor's hotel plan, you vote "Yes" on the proposition. If you favor the plan for a new convention center hotel, you vote "No" on the proposition.

Proposition Two also amends the city's charter to prohibit the City of Dallas from "providing more than a total of $1,000,000 in financial assistance. . .to any private development project . . .unless the city gives at least 65 days’ public notice. . .before approving the financial assistance and obtains voter approval" to do so.

This idea is amazing to me. In short, every time the City of Dallas, via the action of its duly elected City Council, determines to invest in any development project valued over $1 million, it must submit such an action to the voters for approval!

Mayor Leppert is correct. Such a proposal would shut down development in the City of Dallas and stifle the city's leadership in promoting much needed development. Again, if you want to put the brakes on aggressive development and urban renewal, vote "Yes." If you want to keep things open and free to our elected officials, vote "No."

A word about Tom Leppert. If you live in Dallas, you've seen the professional media blitz every day on television. The ads are very well done, but carry a negative, divisive message that our city doesn't need. Specifically objectionable to me, and to thousands of others who know this mayor, is the accusation that Mayor Leppert is "arrogant." Nothing could be further from the truth in my experience over the past two years. I and a number of others here at CDM, as well as numerous of our partners, have worked closely with the mayor and his team on many issues, including homelessness, affordable housing, public education, health and human services and emergency preparedness to mention just a few. We have learned that Tom Leppert is a wise, smart dedicated leader who wakes up every day thinking of the interests of all of our citizens in every corner of our city.

On a personal note, I don't think that I've ever met a better listener than Tom Leppert.

To call him arrogant is not only untrue, it is offensive.

What about the hotel our mayor wants to build?

I can't see the downside.

Hundreds of jobs will be created during the construction. Hundreds more permanent jobs will follow in the operations phase. New convention business will be attracted to the city. The proposed development will encourage more activity and renewal Downtown. In short, the plan is a great investment in the future of our city's core and its overall enterprise.

Even Steve Blow thinks the idea has merit! And, he is convinced our mayor is an honest man and a great leader, as he lays out here.

Because I want a big "Yes" for my hometown, I will vote "No" on both propositions come May 9.


Thursday, April 09, 2009

Numbers and the Texas Housing Trust Fund

Since first posting on Senator Royce West's proposed legislation (SB 950) that would impose a small ($20 maximum) recording fee on all real estate transactions in Texas as a means of beefing up the state's Housing Trust Fund, I've received several inquiries and criticisms about the actual amount of revenue that the plan would produce.

My first post on the subject estimated $30 million annually to grow the fund that would benefit housing production for our poorest citizens. A number of people called my numbers "funny," inaccurate and flat bogus!

To clarify, the estimate is based on work from two sources.

First, the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts provided the Legislative Budget Board the following estimates of new income to be collected from the proposed recording fee by budget years:

2010 $25,506,000
2011 $31,250,000
2012 $31,906,000
2013 $32,544,000
2014 $33,195,000

Second, the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs provided a more conservative estimate of what might be expected from the new plan. They determined that the state would realize approximately $24 million annually.

Take your pick. The impact of Senator West's solid plan will be substantial and would provide a relatively painless plan to grow this much needed fund.

Read more about this issue in the Op-Ed essay published by The Dallas Morning News last week.


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.]

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

DREAM Act Symposium at SMU this Thursday

Check Gerald Britt's post on the DREAM Act Symposium set for this Thursday, April 9 at Southern Methodist University here in Dallas.

If you care about seeing the DREAM Act passed into law, don't miss this event!


Recycled housing?

Now here is an unique approach to providing housing that also turns out to be extremely "green," as well as human and community friendly.

Would you live in a home like these?

So, what do you think?


Monday, April 06, 2009

Wyatt Scores! Great Shot!

So, indulge me.

This is for all of the proud and nutty grandparents out there who love nothing better than just watching, being with and loving their grandchildren.

Wyatt, my oldest grandson at 5, plays about everything if a ball and a team are involved. This clip is from a recent soccer match.

I just had to show you!

Oh, and BTW, Wyatt wears number 7 on every team he's on. The "Mick" would be proud.

A nation of prisioners

I'm a Christian.

For over 20 years I served in local churches as the senior minister--in other words, I stood before my congregations almost every week, opened the Bible and tried to have something say.

[Just an aside: I realized early on that there is a big difference between "having to say something" and "having something to say"!]

This weekly discipline meant that I spent many hours reading the Bible.

In all that time---over two decades--I don't remember ever speaking directly to the issue of prisons and prisoners. Oh, I'm sure I mentioned "the prisoners" in passing because Jesus and the Hebrew Bible had a good deal to say about those subjects. I think I didn't speak directly for at least two reasons. First, I didn't have anyone in prison who was close to me. Second, the suppose that I bought the notion that anyone who was in prison got what they deserved. Both very lame reasons not to speak.

Recently, I spoke to a large Dallas church. My text: Luke 4:14-30. In that reading we find these words taken from a much earlier writing in Isaiah 61:

The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom to the prisoners. . . .

"Freedom to the prisoners," hmmm.

As I wrestled around with my preparation, it struck me that someone needs to challenge the way we "do prisons" in this nation. So, I spoke to alternatives to incarceration, especially for non-violent offenses related to drugs that are so common where I live. Many, if not most, sent to prison for drug offenses need something much different than prison time, that is if rehabilitation is truly the goal.

Prison is not the best place to "get well." And, when a person has served the time, they can seldom escape the crime when it comes to housing or employment.

Prison perfects the fine art of setting a person up to fail and to fail terribly.

Now, on the day after my sermonic excursion into the world of prisoners, one of my former parishioners sends me an essay by Glenn Loury ("A Nation of Jailers," in CATO Unbound, March 11, 2009).

Chew on these facts from Loury's analysis:

"At more than 700 per 100,000 residents, the U.S. incarceration rate was far greater than our nearest competitors (the Bahamas, Belarus, and Russia, which each have a rate of about 500 per 100,000.) Other industrial societies, some of them with big crime problems of their own, were less punitive than we by an order of magnitude: the United States incarcerated at 6.2 times the rate of Canada, 7.8 times the rate of France, and 12.3 times the rate of Japan.

"The demographic profile of the inmate population has also been much discussed. In this, too, the U.S. is an international outlier. African Americans and Hispanics, who taken together are about one fourth of the population, account for about two thirds of state prison inmates. Roughly one third of state prisoners were locked up for committing violent offenses, with the remainder being property and drug offenders. Nine in ten are male, and most are impoverished. Inmates in state institutions average fewer than eleven years of schooling."

I witness on a daily basis what imprisonment does to our community, to our families and to our young men. My faith tells me that I need to become more concerned and involved at the policy level. There are better approaches than the "lock 'em up and throw away the key" strategy suggested several years ago by one leading candidate for Governor of Texas.

Read Loury's important essay here.



Sunday, April 05, 2009

Palm Sunday Reflection: C. S. Lewis on "charity"

In the passage where the New Testament says that every one must work, it gives as a reason ‘in order that he may have something to give to those in need.’ Charity– giving to the poor– is an essential part of Christian morality: in the frightening parable of the sheep and the goats it seems to be the point on which everything turns.

Some people nowadays say that charity ought to be unnecessary and that instead of giving to the poor we ought to be producing a society in which there were no poor to give to. They may be quite right in saying that we ought to produce this kind of society. But if anyone thinks that, as a consequence, you can stop giving in the meantime, then he has parted company with all Christian morality.

I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. In other words, if our expenditure on comforts, luxuries, amusement, etc., is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving away too little. If our giving does not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say it is too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot because our commitment to giving excludes them.

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1952/2001), 86.


Saturday, April 04, 2009

An important distinction often missed

"Charity will never be true charity unless it takes justice into account ... Let no one attempt with small gifts of charity to exempt themselves from the great duties imposed by justice."

Pope Pius XI, Divini Redemptoris , #49

The distinction is important.

Unfortunately, the difference between works of charity and struggles for justice is usually lost on people, especially people of faith.

There is a fundamental difference that must be understood and embraced if we are to make any sustainable progress.

For a clear delineation of this important distinction in very clear terms, take a look here.

Reactions, as always, welcome.

“Speak out, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.”
Proverbs 31:9


Friday, April 03, 2009

AHF Leader Killed in Tragic Accident

American Housing Foundation (AHF) leader Steve Sterquell died in an auto accident near Amarillo last Wednesday morning.

Read a bit about Steve from his hometown paper, The Amarillo-Globe News.

I got acquainted with Steve and his team at AHF when we created "Destination Home," our effort to move our neighbors from the streets to permanent supportive housing. Thanks to Steve, we have access to 133 apartments for this purpose.

Steve was one of those people who always found a way to do the good thing for others. He was generous in negotiations with us and he was thrilled to see his property used to house people who had no access to permanent, well-managed housing.

His death brings great sadness to us and great loss to many communities.

To take a look at some photos taken last fall when HUD Secretary Steve Preston visited one of AHF's properties where we house formerly homeless individuals, go here.

Steve Sterquell will not be forgotten.

The Grapes of Wrath

CDM's Urban Engagement Book Club for April took a informative look at John Steinbeck's classic novel, The Grapes of Wrath.

Steinbeck won a Pulitzer Prize and the Nobel Prize for his efforts. Not a bad book to be reading in 2009.

Helpful background for Steinbeck's award winning work can be viewed here.

Randy Mayeux is our book synopsis guru and, as usual, he did a masterful job with the book.

The movie trailer for the 1940 film version of the novel is worth watching.

Speaking of our monthly book club, here is a glimpse into that experience. Our meetings create a dedicated space for conversation about important ideas, values and questions related to justice, urban concerns and the struggle of the poor in this nation and around the world. Every month, participants enjoy a simple meal, receive two pages of the key quotes from the book of the month, along with an outline of the contents. We hear a synopsis before engaging in a lively discussion.

If you are in Dallas on the first Thursday of each month, you need to check it out!


CityWalk@Akard--the "ride up"

No way to capture this experience--riding up on the exterior elevator that is mounted on the "skin" of 511 N. Akard in Downtown Dallas.

Looking out through the fence grid that keeps us inside as we are going up can be a real trip.

One thing I know for sure is that I don't want to have a career in the window washing business. Actually, the men on the moving platform are restoring the exterior panels on our buidling.

This one is just for the fun of it.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Ten Things You Can Do to Support the DREAM Act!

Want to stand with the millions of children/students brought to the USA by undocumented parents through no choice of their own who now need to receive documentation so that they can continue their education or service to the nation as members of the U. S. Military?

Support the DREAM Act!

Let us know how many of them you check off by your action!

CityWalk@Akard: An Ongoing Report--Part 5

One of the most exciting aspects of the CityWalk@Akard project from the beginning stages of concept development has been the fact that the headquarters for Central Dallas Ministries will move into the building. This means that we will be with the folks who live in the new building. Two hundred units of the project's 206 will be affordable with 50 set aside for formerly homeless individuals.

Having our offices in the middle of the community will "keep us honest" while allowing us to remain in close contact with the people and their opinions.

Take a look!

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Jim Wallis and Sojourners to have Russ Limbaugh speak

Word just arrived that radio talk show celebrity, Rush Limbaugh will speak at Sojourners' "Mobilization to End Poverty" event set to convene in Washington, DC on Arpil 26-29, 2009.

The surprising annoucement was made today.

Check out Mr. Limbaugh's comments on the opportunity.

Irony, instructive irony. . .

Here's the latest on the Plaza Inn located at 1011 S. Akard, just across I-30 from Downtown.

You may remember that this is the property we placed under contract with plans to redevelop following a mixed-income, mixed-use plan. About 50 units of the almost 300 in our plan were to be reserved for homeless persons.

Frankly, the original plan was tremendous!

The preliminary score on our Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC)application to the Department of Housing and Community Affairs was among the highest in the entire state.

As we talked to the community, we worked hard to adapt our original plans to accommodate concerns of the Cedars Neighborhood Association.

But, in the end, the neighbors voted us down.

We then backed away and worked hard with the building owners to engage them in a manner that would allow them to join in the LITHC process to re-do the property and produce much-needed affordable housing, but with no provision for permanent supportive housing for the formerly homeless.

Clearly, our plans to provide housing for homeless persons proved to be the "deal killer" with the neighborhood group. Even though they talked about unit sizes and mix, about our inexperience as developers (never mind that the CityWalk @ Akard project was about the most complex, difficult deal in Dallas history!), about lots of things, but the underlying fear was clearly the provision in our project for the homeless. "Too many SRO units!" is what we heard quietly, behind the scenes, especially after our public meetings were done.

Okay, so forgive me providing all that background.

Fast forward to last Saturday night at the Plaza Inn.

Two recent parolees from the Texas Department of Corrections break in to the Plaza Inn building. The vandals likely were looking to carry out whatever they could lay their hands on to sell.

Outside the building, on the street were three homeless neighbors trying to simply keep warm.

They witnessed the thieves enter the building.

What did these "homeless people" do?

They did exactly what I would have done. They called the police and reported the break-in.

The police arrived, arrested the criminals and protected the property.

I learned of this development from the property owner on Monday.

Ironic, huh?

The very people so many of us fear turn out to be good neighbors with the same concerns and basic values as most of us share.

Lots to learn here. Lots to give us pause.


CityWalk@Akard: An Ongoing Report--Part 4

The CityWalk@Akard project contains a number of 2 bedroom apartments designed primarily for mothers with one or two children.

All of our apartments are great homes right Downtown for the people who work there and want to live nearby.

I wish you could see them.

Maybe this will help you get a better view of the development!