The City of Dallas and its partners have made great strides toward positioning this community for robust growth. The revitalization of downtown Dallas has definitely been a game-changer, but we still have many hurdles to overcome. If we are to experience long-term economic strength, city leaders must now adopt mixed-income housing policies that will attract the forgotten middle class back to Dallas.
The middle class is waning in Texas, especially in Dallas, where the gap between high income and low income households is among the highest in the nation. This gap exists, in part, because it is far more affordable for middle-income families to live in the suburbs than in the city. Growing demand for housing in the region has resulted in Dallas having the highest rental rates in Texas. Additionally, fewer opportunities for middle class home ownership are exacerbating this rental squeeze, as the number of homes being constructed for less than $200,000 has dramatically decreased.
Although there is a severe deficit of options for the middle class, there are essentially no policy tools or funding streams available to help them secure affordable housing. Until this changes, Dallas will not be in a position to encourage developers to help scale middle-income housing options.
This housing crisis is a complex issue, and it’s one that The Real Estate Council members have been studying for more than four months. After diligent review and comparison of the housing policies from 17 peer cities across the nation, as well as an analysis of national, regional and local market trends, our members determined that the most efficient way to tackle this housing issue is to develop policies that will facilitate the creation of mixed-income housing.
A sample of the recommendations TREC recently presented to the Dallas City Council Housing Committee include creating new sources of funding for the creation of affordable housing; a review of existing zoning policies to allow greater density; and creation of a Housing Trust Fund and a Land Trust. These recommendations were recently reinforced by an Urban Land Institute Advisory Services Panel, which was composed of representatives from around the country.
In addition to economic diversification, bringing the middle class back to Dallas has a number of social benefits. For instance, studies show that low income student performance improves when they are combined in classrooms with middle-income students – with no detrimental effects for any of the students. Low income families also benefit from lower transportation costs, as more affordable housing options are created closer to major employment centers.
We firmly believe that TREC’s recommendations will expand housing options in high-opportunity areas of Dallas, especially in areas that have suffered from lack of investment for decades. Now, it’s time to take the next steps to adopt a predictable and transparent housing policy that will establish the framework for mixed-income housing.
Linda McMahon is president of The Real Estate Council. Contact her [email protected]