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What do we have to offer Harvey evacuees?

DEMETRIA McCAIN | 9/11/2017, 9:30 a.m.
I had the pleasure of spending Labor Day with church members who fellowshipped with Hurricane Harvey evacuees at a barbecue ...
Demetria McCain, president of Inclusive Communities Projects bigBANG!

Inclusive Communities Project

I had the pleasure of spending Labor Day with church members who fellowshipped with Hurricane Harvey evacuees at a barbecue my church hosted. The goal was to provide evacuees, particularly children, the opportunity to escape the shelter’s close quarters while experiencing Dallas hospitality. In addition to the barbecue, food provided by local Italian and Mexican restaurants and food trucks were on hand. Multi-flavored snow cones sponsored by a local snow cone truck brought smiles to children and adults alike. During my commute the following morning, the radio station buzzed with reports of similar Labor Day events and free offerings for our new neighbors. As a Houston woman who evacuated to Dallas in the wake of Hurricane Harvey spoke on the radio, she complimented our city on its hospitality and said that she was seriously considering moving to Dallas. While individuals, churches, organizations and businesses throughout the Dallas region roll out the red carpet for our new neighbors with their charitable giving, more than charity will be needed. Many of our Gulf Coast neighborhoods will require permanent housing.

A large number of Gulf Coast evacuees include low-wage workers with children. Some of these families will ultimately choose to resettle in Dallas permanently or at least for the long term. While the Dallas region grapples with housing its own low-income population, what do we have to offer Harvey evacuees? The State of Dallas Housing Report, a 2017 report by buildingcommunityWORKSHOP, showed that approximately 26,000 apartment units came online in 2016, while 68,000 households need housing that cost less than $400 per month. Few of these new units have been built with people who make up to 50 percent or below our area’s median income. In fact, as I write this, the city of Dallas is shaping its voluntary inclusionary housing program, a program used in locales throughout the country in hopes that a percentage of all new multifamily housing construction includes at least some units for low-income renters. The “voluntary” nature of Dallas’ efforts for the program is to be triggered when the developer asks for a favor from this city such as a change in rules so he or she may build more units than zoning normally requires. With a process heavily influenced by what local developers and the real estate industry desire, it is likely that these so called “inclusionary” rental units will not be affordable for our receptionists, mall workers, after school program instructors or other low wage workers. As this process churns at the city’s Sustainable Development and Construction Department, it behooves local residents to talk to their respective city council representatives about who they would like to see targeted for these coveted units.

While we love and welcome our new neighbors from the Gulf Coast, we can be certain that our current housing problem will be exacerbated as more families try to find housing within their stretched budgets where they can not only survive, but thrive. In a city and region that has not been so nice or accommodating to its own low-income families, can we expect anything better now? When it comes to housing, what does the Dallas region have to offer Hurricane Harvey evacuees?

Demetria McCain is president of the Inclusive Communities Project, a local affordable fair housing nonprofit organization. She can be reached through http://www.inclusivecommunities.net.