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Power concedes nothing without demand : Lessons learned by Southeast Dallas residents

DEMETRIA McCAIN | 9/4/2017, 12:56 p.m.
A caution sign adorns Jim Miller Road’s dead end south of Loop 12. It warns nearby children and others with ...
Demetria McCain

Inclusive Communities Project

A caution sign adorns Jim Miller Road’s dead end south of Loop 12. It warns nearby children and others with the words, “CAUTION. Landfill Closure Site Construction and Environmental Hazards.” On the other side of the sign lies the remains of the infamous Deepwood Dump, the state’s largest illegal landfill operated by the city, which tormented Southeastern Dallasites for years until forced to close. To understand the level of demand needed in the fight for neighborhood equity in Dallas is to understand the history of previous fights. Out of Deepwood, a short documentary available on YouTube, provides a glimpse of what it took for a group of African American moderate-income neighbors to organize and assert their rights against environmental injustice as they sought to live and thrive in their homes. Shirley Davidson, featured in the documentary, made one thing clear, “If you don’t have a group of people staying on their backs and making them do things, we don’t get anything done.”

The 1982 permit from the city for the illegal operations was signed by the city after the neighborhood’s racial composition transitioned to a predominantly Black community. The permit allowed private operators to do the city’s bidding and dump 2 million cubic yards of solid waste on the neighborhood over a course of years. The city’s nefarious behavior was prompted, in part, by its desire to fill the then sand and gravel pit so that it could later rezone the blocks to an industrial area despite the existence of families living next door. Harold Cox was the first named plaintiff as the neighborhood organization tired of submitting unanswered requests and decided to sue the city. The Cox. v. City of Dallas litigation saga is troubling but educational.

Fast forward to 2017. The former site now hosts the Trinity River Audubon Center and is open to the public with free admission for residents of 75217. But the Deepwood Dump is not the only concern that has vexed southeast Dallas residents.

Within blocks of the most southern portion of southeast Dallas, a total of 1,752 low-income assisted project units and 614 housing choice vouchers are in use in the immediate area. Some have been built through the Department of Treasury’s low-income housing tax credit program, as administered by the state with city council input. This makes for a large concentration of publically assisted units within about a six-mile radius, plus an uncalculated number of low-income families with no housing subsidy. While more affordable rental units for low-income families are needed in certain parts of the city and region, undisputed research shows that concentrated poverty harms children. Yet our southeast Dallas neighbors and schools continue to unintentionally welcome and host a swelling number of families most in need.

Contrary to some of the stereotypes harbored about low-income renters by some of the attendees at last week’s SMU talk by Matthew Desmond, Pulitzer Prize winning author of Evicted, low-income residents more often than others are exploited by ill-intentioned landlords. One need only turn to residents of Creekside Villas Apartments on Jim Miller Road in southeast Dallas. There, residents were forced to enlist the help of the Texas Tenants Union in order to organize and raise their complaints about poor living conditions including as inadequate air conditioning in sweltering Texas heat and persistent criminal activity around the property. Auspiciously, the apartments sit next to the Frederick Douglass Elementary School. Spared a name in remembrance of a Confederate general, it is a school named after the famous slavery abolitionist credited with the quote, “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” Like the Deepwood Dump neighbors, these tenants are learning that it will take sustained agitation before their demands are met by their landlord and the city.

For Jim Miller/Loop 12-area families with housing choice vouchers who choose not to wait for the needed improvements, the Inclusive Communities Project offers housing search assistance and a limited amount of move-related financial assistance. For the remaining tenants, the legacy of Southeast Dallas’ resistance has been established by the Deepwood Dump neighborhood organization. Let us always remember: “Power concedes nothing without demand.”

Demetria McCain is president of the Inclusive Communities Project. Learn more about ICP at www.inclusivecommunities.net