South Dallas: A neighborhood left behind


The Dallas Examiner

It has been over a month since the city of Dallas has enacted its first housing policy, leaving many pros and cons for Southern Dallas citizens.

The comprehensive policy was a designed blueprint used to address gentrification in impoverished areas and achieve the city’s goal of creating 20,000 housing units.

After a year of council meetings and debates, the policy was approved unanimously with 15-0 vote, May 9, despite some councilmembers’ objection.

“It is not what I would have preferred it to be,” said Councilman Kevin Felder, District 7. “It focuses on a small sliver of South Dallas. I’m very disappointed in that. I voted against that, but you have to understand, it takes eight people around a horseshoe to get anything changed.”

Criticism of the policy stretched beyond the horseshoe to local Southern Dallas residents.

“My general opinions about the new fair housing policy is that it redlines parts of South Dallas and Oak Cliff,” said Sherman Roberts, CEO of City Wide Community Development Corporation.

Some residents feel as if the new fair housing approach disenfranchises low-income areas in Southern Dallas and fails to provide enough funding to those areas for housing development.

“What people have to understand at large is that there is a policy that conveys that some neighborhoods are too poor to be helped,” said former Dallas city councilwoman Diane Ragsdale. “It is, in essence, excluding most of Southern Dallas, which further serves to penalize a neighborhood that has already been neglected by the city of Dallas.”

The new policy breaks up different areas into three sections to help identify what each neighborhood needs and how to distribute incentives to developers in those areas to create housing by using a market value analysis gathered by a city council conducted survey.

• Redevelopment areas: Neighborhoods that have development already planned in the next year and ready for future development. This circle includes Midtown, the Cedars, Wynnewood and Red Bird.

• Stabilization areas: Areas with low-income residents whom are at risk of gentrification – which include LBJ Skillman, Vickery Meadow, Casa View, Forest Heights/ Cornerstone Heights, East Downtown, The Bottom, West Dallas and Red Bird North.

• Emerging Market Areas: Neighborhoods that need significant improvement, such as infrastructure, code enforcement and crime reduction before new development could be created. These areas are deemed as Southern Gateway, Pleasant Grove and University Hills.

One of the criticism of this policy breakdown, is the use of market value analysis that isn’t favorable for all Southern Dallas residents.

“A market value analysis doesn’t tell the true story,” Roberts said. “A market value analysis just tells what we already know … where the low-income housing is and where the high-income housing is.”

The scale used to create the policy, along with the three segments, excludes many neighborhoods that need funding and has critics question whether it addresses gentrification or enhances it.

“You do development in all these areas,” said Roberts, who is also developing affordable homes in the Lancaster corridor and UNT Dallas surrounding area. “You can’t just say here are the circles I want to do it in.”

Councilman Tennell Atkins, District 8, confronted concerns about the policy addressing gentrification, stating that the Economic Development and Housing committee has many “tools in the toolbox” to prevent this issue. The plan includes lowering tax rates, freezing property tax in low-income areas and providing incentives to low-rent landlords to fix rental properties.

“It may not be the best, but we do address it,” he said. “Some people may wonder why their neighborhood isn’t in that circle. It’s something we have to look at. We don’t want to stop the city from growing because you are not in those [markets].”

Within those same markets, specifically the emerging market area, housing development is halted due to the need for infrastructure, which has been needed in those areas for years.

“My argument to that is you should be doing that anyway all along,” Roberts expressed. “Even though low income people are here and tax people are they should be doing that.”

The overarching issue those who are against the plan have is the lack of funding coming to Southern Dallas compared to Northern Dallas.

“We acknowledge that the city might have limited funds but that’s why the funds should be directed to those neighborhoods that have been neglected,” Ragsdale said.

Atkins, who is also the chair of the Economic Development and Housing committee that created the policy, recognized the issue between housing development in North Dallas and South Dallas.

“Until we take more of the equitable North and put more in the South, we’re still going to have an ongoing situation,” he said. “You have to share equity across the board.”

Felder indicated that the funding problem is more of a federal issue than local issue and that funding is limited as a result of inadequate federal funding.

“The only issues are the federal dollars,” he said. “We don’t have an endless supply of money.”

Despite the back and forth, community leaders and developers continue to bring awareness to the new housing policy and finding ways to ensure affordable housing is provided in those areas.

“We need to demand what we want,” Roberts expressed. “[People] need to monitor this housing policy and ask when am I going to get housing in my area.”

A City Council taskforce will be re-evaluating the policy yearly and may change different elements throughout the year. Atkins noted that the new housing plan is a starting point that is open to change from community members and residents are able to contact his office if they have any questions about the new policy.

“Rules are rules, but policy can be changed,”he said. “All the policies we make aren’t set in stone. These policies may not work. We have to find out down the road if they don’t work.”


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