Dallas City Council: Homelessness, VisitDallas audit

The Dallas Examiner

Tackling homelessness in Dallas and auditing VisitDallas were the topics the Dallas City Council addressed during its May 15 Council Briefing meeting.

Homelessness has increased in Dallas by 9% within the last year, according to the 2019 Homeless Count conducted by the Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance.

The city of Dallas Office of Homeless Solutions presented a strategy update on two items the organization is working on to help the homeless population. They gave an update on the inclement weather shelters and Track 4 Bond that was approved by voters in November 2017.

Monica Hardman, director of the city of Dallas Office of Homeless Solutions, started with Track 4 of the strategic plan, which is related to bond implementation and includes the $20 million that was approved by voters in November 2017.

The first three themes she presented were innovation, collaboration and leverage.

“The bond is only $20 million, and we look at this funding as being gap financing and seed money,” she said. “We have to leverage private investment in order to accomplish our goal of creating 1,000 affordable housing units to serve those experiencing homelessness over the next three to five years.”

Hardman said in order to leverage that money they have to be innovative and collaborative.

“We have to be able to take these proposed sites and look to create transformative development through partnerships with partners who are closely aligned with their mission and to perform the service,” she continued.

The next three themes were inclusion, accommodation and alignment.

“In order for these projects to be successful, we knew that we had to have sites that were located in high-quality areas, that were near major transportation sectors, close to major employment centers, access to grocery stores and with high quality of life related to parks and libraries,” Hardman said. “We are also looking to do projects that are mixed use or mixed income.”

The sites had to be available, and they looked at properties that were below $5 million in terms of acquisition costs. Some of the properties they are looking at now include one on Greenville Avenue and two on Haskell Avenue.

The Greenville Avenue location would be zoned as mixed use, with 100 proposed units at a project cost of $20 million – estimating that it would cost $200,000 per unit, and the proposed population served is families.

On 2009 and 2011 N. Haskell Ave. is vacant land and OHS is looking to build eight units of residential duplex or townhome-style housing. The cost would be $1.6 million and serve seniors, transitional age youth – 18 to 24 – and veterans. The other site on 1805 N. Haskell Ave. would add three units of housing for either seniors, transitional age youth or veterans, with a cost of $200,000.

Councilman Tennell Atkins, District 8, mentioned that he was worried about the timeline to complete the project.

“We just got $20 million, not $200 million, for 1,000 houses, and that is our budget,” he said. “We passed a bond in 2017, 18 months ago, and where are we today?”

Hardman said the process could take up to 24 months to complete and that they would need to acquire sites, get approval and then get developers interest.

Atkins emphasized the immediacy in completing the project.

“Therefore, my term would be up by then,” he said. “We are looking at two years, maybe three years, before we see someone move in. Five years from the start of when voters went and voted for the bond until someone can move in. That is a problem to me. If we are going to do something, we got to make sure taxpayers who went to vote for the $20 million bond, that they don’t have to wait. Five years for someone to move in, so that means the homeless population would have increased.

“If we are really going to make sure the homeless are going to be taken care of, then we need to find a way to get them out of the streets and into homes and shelters. We need this shovel ready,” Atkins concluded.

The City Council also expressed support for the operation of inclement weather shelters and expressed a desire for the OHS to propose recommendations that would allow faith-based organizations, such as churches, to participate and provide shelters during inclement weather.

“Inclement weather” means if the actual weather is less than 36 degrees or actual temperature is above 100 degrees during the day and above 80 degrees during the evening.

The duration would be from Dec. 1 through March 1, when temperatures are forecasted to be below 36 degrees, and from June 1 through Sept. 1, when temperatures are forecasted to be above 100 degrees during the day and evening temperatures above 80 degrees.

The City Council also discussed the January audit of VisitDallas, an independent not-for-profit group that promotes Dallas as a business and pleasure destination, according to its website.

After the review found accounting and contract issues, it was recommended that a third party adopt formal procedures for documenting the organization’s expenses. As many as 18 recommendations were given and 11 were approved. One of the recommendations was to hire an independent third party to review the organization and its expenses. The not-for-profit group’s contract expires in 2020.

Councilman Kevin Felder, District 7, said the organization does not take the blame alone.

“I don’t think we got here through VisitDallas alone,” Felder said. “The city of Dallas did not have proper oversight of VisitDallas. The city of Dallas did not do what they were supposed to do.”

Sam Coats, interim CEO of VisitDallas, explained why the organization is important to the city.

“Dallas has tremendous economic benefit from tourism, meetings and conventions that come here every year,” he said. “Our hotels and restaurants are dependent on it. It is important to the economy of the city. It puts Dallas on the market as a city to visit but also to locate a business.”

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