About ten Lake Highlands residents rose to speak to Dallas City Council members at their meeting Wednesday at the Lake Highlands North Recreation Center, but others who had arranged to speak were apparently turned away at the door by Dallas Police officers because every seat was taken inside the gym. (This reporter was also turned away after a quick bathroom break but managed to slip back inside.) Though a proposal to build supportive housing for homeless persons near Greenville and Forest was not on the agenda, every speaker who made it to the podium urged elected officials to stop the plan’s progress and locate the housing elsewhere.
“We are full of affordable housing in Lake Highlands,” said Susan Fountain. “Please do not insult the residents of Lake Highlands by using our tax dollars to build yet another apartment complex facility.”
“This particular site is absolutely inappropriate,” agreed former councilmember Donna Halstead. “It is very near two areas where the crime rate is so high, we have a multi-jurisdictional force working to try and curb the crime that exists. Secondly, it exists within a stone’s throw from housing for the handicapped and the most vulnerable, and it’s a stone’s throw from a historically significant community – Hamilton Park.”
Marion Witt, a homeowner in Lake Highlands for more than 30 years, expressed frustration that officials in the city’s Office of Homeless Solutions (OHS) have kept residents out of the process.
“We’ve not been involved,” she said. “There’s no transparency. Bulldozing ahead, we have no say. That leads to the perception that there’s corruption or something going on, or (that the city’s) just trying to meet that goal within 3-5 years of 1000 units.”
“There are those that oppose any affordable housing,” said Susan Morgan, “but you will find through our AllInD10 Collective Impact program we have many community advocates willing to work with OHS on this issue. We’ve been meeting monthly for years, but instead of attending our meetings they chose to quietly hold an ill-publicized meeting in the wrong zip code without consulting our council representative.”
Ben Oppenheim, who moved back into the neighborhood after growing up in Lake Highlands, shared concern about the homeless individuals who’d be living in the proposed development.
“Lake Highlands is overburdened with elements of affordable housing. You’re not positioning these people for a fresh start. You’re putting them and other residents in one of the highest crime areas of the city – one that people are actively trying to fix.”
“Under our previous mayor’s leadership,” said Lynn Davenport, “we basically traded a refugee crisis for a homeless crisis. He said, ‘as Christ-followers, we should welcome refugees with open arms.’ In District 10, we do. We gladly do and we do this daily. I can’t say the same for Rawlings’ neighborhood. We get labeled as NIMBYs – not in my backyard – but that’s not what we’re saying here. We’re saying not in our backyard without ample discussion with our residents and those most affected.”
Mike Andereck, another resident who lives near the proposed site, also expressed concerns.
“I would think the City of Dallas would want hard-working people that take care of their homes and communities and pay taxes and create jobs and help people who are less fortunate. I would think you would want people like that to remain in Dallas, but your actions are going to run a lot of people off. Don’t run people off. If you approve this project on Greenville Avenue, a lot of very good people are going to leave Lake Highlands and that will be bad for the city and bad for the community.”
In addition to hearing from residents about housing, council members handled several agenda items – including approval of the construction contract for the new Forest Green Library.
“Unlike the current Forest Green,” said Municipal Library Board member Karen Blumenthal, “this library will have GED and English Language Learner classes, an actual auditorium for story time, plentiful computers for job searches and applications and a pothole-free parking lot.”
“I can’t thank people enough for supporting this,” said Deputy Mayor Pro Tem McGough. “It’s been a long time coming. This will be a generational project for this area of our community and our entire city.”
The meeting had a decidedly Lake Highlands flair, with the LHHS Highlandettes welcoming attendees at the door and Steve Hardin offering an opening prayer. The new Lakeridge Village Taco Joint hosted the council for lunch, and McGough introduced LHHS student Osadolor Osawemwenze as his nominee to represent District 10 on the city’s youth commission. McGough’s sons, Noah, Cooper and Eli, and their friend, Jack Thomas, passed out cookies from Salt Sweets by Carrie DeCicco to the council to fortify them for the afternoon, and One90 Smoked Meats served dinner.