Over the last 12 years, Dallas has faced a daunting series of challenges and opportunities: the 2008-2011 Great Recession; one of the longest periods of economic expansion from 2012-2020 with historically low unemployment; and now COVID and the highest rate of unemployment since the Great Depression, along with protests and racial tensions not seen since the 1960s. These highs and lows have affected us all. Still, they have massively impacted on those at the lower end of the economic scale, creating extreme pressure points around racial relations and economic and social inequality.
A recent article in The Atlantic, entitled “Inequality Matters,” illuminates the challenges we face as a nation:
- Although education, family structure, and race impact on poverty, the number one factor is the growth in inequality. Socioeconomic status and inequality of opportunity connect directly to inequality of outcomes.
- Inequality limits opportunity in three ways: increasing residential segregation, reducing access to quality education; and restricting access to economically beneficial social networks.
These forces are reaching a critical juncture, where we either face the problems and craft-focused, creative solutions, or our society and our economy will be adversely affected for decades. Fortunately, over the last couple of years Dallas, with technical assistance from The Real Estate Council (TREC), has already begun to focus on counteracting pre-existing inequality and patterns of segregation, with solutions like the Housing and Homeless Solutions Committee led by Councilman Chad West, DART task-force initiatives to place mixed-income housing at our train stations and new City policies encouraging mixed-income housing in higher opportunity areas with lower poverty and segregation and better schools.
We need a call to action, unlike anything we have ever attempted. Government, churches of all faiths and colors, and our incredible business community should rally to address dynamic and aggressive regional solutions to inequality, including:
- Funding sources for mixed-income housing.
- Racial integration, including reducing barriers to affordable housing in urban and suburban areas.
- Racial reconciliation and understanding.
- Direct recruiting and mentoring of minority employees to create a future workforce that is representative of our overall society.
All of us involved in commercial real estate are so blessed—to be part of this amazing industry from which we have benefited economically and socially. It would be so easy to rest on our laurels and ignore what is going on around us. But to do so would be short-sighted, hampering our future. Instead, we need to pivot, to reflect humbly on the history of opportunity and challenges in Dallas, turn around and help those next in line and seek solutions for and with our brothers and sisters who have been devasted by the inequality created by past and recent events.
In 1896, the Spanish philosopher George Santayana provided enduring wisdom for this age:
Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
We know the problems that inequality has caused in Dallas, but the status quo is not intractable. We can and should set a new course to alter our future, rather than to repeat our past. The DFW real estate industry is world-class, and we should offer our time and talents to move Dallas forward to a new era of equality and racial harmony.
Bob Voelker is senior vice president and general counsel for StreetLights Residential.