Lake Highlands Councilman McGough acknowledges that when people associate affordability with crime and vagrancy, it gives ammunition to critics who would call our neighbors NIMBY or worse.
“There are going to be outliers and people who say things that they’ll interpret as racist and other things,” he says. “And it absolutely kills me when it happens, because that is not my experience with the majority of people in this community. We have had a lot of thoughtful, not ignorant, discussions, and people here genuinely want to help figure this out.”
That 2021 Council meeting where members debated an HTC project in Lake Highlands exemplified what happens when we do not have constructive ways to discuss housing.
One resident said she “spoke for the whole neighborhood” in opposing the project due to its proximity to a “homeless camp.” The next agreed and spent the rest of her time testifying about drug deals and public nudity near the site. A resident of Hamilton Park complained that developers of lower income apartments would let just anyone live there. Another said Lake Highlands already has plenty of diversity.
Councilmember Adam Bazaldua said he was “blown away” by the “disturbing” citizen comments.
“I heard a bunch of NIMBYs who were not only saying to people — people like cooks and front line, essential workers, people who make around $30,000 a year — that we do not want them, and then going even further and comparing the working class to criminals.”
Lee Kleinman, who then represented North Dallas, said what happened at that meeting was the result of built-up frustration over a neglected part of the city where drugs and crime historically have run amok. While the two things are not connected, he says, those conditions breed skepticism.
“The lack of trust is strong in those two or three neighborhoods surrounding the proposed site, and when you piss off a neighbor-hood, they are going to rally when they have the opportunity for their voices to be heard,” he says.
And after Rep. Turner quashed the project, local media weighed in. “It turns out, in Texas, angry neighbors can override their city council,” WFAA’s David Schechter reported at the time. “All they need is a letter of opposition from their state representative.”
The case typified “the kind of implicit bias and unfettered antagonism” that will make it impossible to build adequate affordable housing,” Central Track reporter Doyle Rader wrote.
So how do we get to a place of less anger, more understanding and collaboration to more smoothly bring housing to all Dallas neighborhoods?
EDUCATION — WHERE WE STAND
We need all types of housing — from multifamily buildings and condos to townhomes and expensive houses on large lots.
The City also has Community Development Block Grants to build single-family homes, a repair program to preserve single-family homes and a downpayment assistance program, says Kyle Hines, assistant director of Dallas Housing & Neighborhood Revitalization.
Homeownership re-mains the primary driver of household wealth.
But when people give up on homeownership, because of high prices or too much competition, they enter the rental market, explains Councilman Chad West. Then there is less supply and more demand in the rental market. “People who could pay more and cannot find a place go down to the next level and it can trickle down until the people in the lowest AMI category are out of luck,” he adds.
Noguera says he doesn’t want housing conversations to be pigeonholed into discussing housing for a particular group of people, because our city needs more housing at all price points. “It’s critically important that whatever we’re investing in as a City serve a mixture of incomes,” he says.
An “affordable dwelling” costs 30% of a person’s gross income, whether you are at the lower or upper-mid point of the income spectrum.
“At all levels, if you’re spending more than a third of your income on housing, it impacts your ability to pay for the basic things like food, gas, car insurance and health care.”
Affordable housing is not just for poor people, he says. However, those with lower incomes have a tougher time obtaining housing, which is why subsidized housing receives more attention.
The median annual income for Dallas households is about $62,000, he says, while the typical for-sale home is about $340,000and the rent is approximately $2,500 a month.
“That is the issue. Those gaps,” Noguera says.