The real issue in the West Dallas eviction crisis — the reason why it is a crisis and not merely a controversy — isn’t that hundreds of people are set to lose their homes at the end of a year-long battle between the mayor and a low-income landlord. That’s terrible, of course. The long, complicated story of why the Khraish family is moving forward with the evictions is not a simple good guy-versus-bad guy affair, but rather a battle in the gray zone of property rights, gentrification, poverty, politics, history, and race. It’s one of the uglier episodes in recent Dallas memory.
But the real issue in West Dallas is that the evicted tenants have no place to go. That’s because, in a city with staggering rates of poverty — the highest in the country of any big city, up 42 percent in 15 years — Dallas has an abysmal shortage of low-income housing.
The West Dallas residents facing eviction have been paying about $400 per month for their homes. According to a new housing study from BC Workshop, they are not alone. About 68,000 Dallas residents can afford to live only in homes that cost $400 or less. The study also found that the vast majority of homes available for those who make $25,000 or less — or a third of Dallas’ population — are in South Dallas. As a result, the mismatch in housing affordability pushes low-income residents farther from job centers, reducing potential for upward mobility, and further burdening them with high transportation costs and longer commutes.
You can peruse the whole housing report here, but let’s take a look at some more highlights, er, low-lights:
- Homeownership for Dallas’ minority households falls behind rates of white households: 56% of white households are owner-occupied, compared to 31% for black households, 43% for Hispanic households, and 38% for Asian households;
- The median sales price of recently constructed homes rose from $145,00 in 2011 to $522,000 in 2016;
- 32% of homes in southern Dallas are valued less than $50,000, which represents just 6% of northern Dallas houses.
The takeaway is that our neighbors in West Dallas who are about to be evicted are the 500 canaries in the coal mine. Right now, solutions to Dallas’ affordable housing problem are as pressing a need to this city as are solutions to the pension crisis, the city’s broken streets, and its public transportation mess.
Unfortunately, the housing bill that West Dallas representative Eric Johnson introduced to deal with the specific challenges facing that neighborhood was, as Eric predicted, pushed off the House calendar. The five representatives who voted the bill off the calendar were West Plano rep Matt Shaheen; Bedford rep Jonathan Strickland; Arlington rep Tony Tinderholt, Spring, TX, rep Valoree Swanson; and Farmers Branch rep Matt Rinaldi.
The suburban opposition is not surprising, particularly in light of this recent Frontline episode, which dove deeply into the affordable housing crisis that is taking place throughout the United States. Early in the episode, around the 9 minute mark, the reporters head to Dallas, and then out to McKinney, to interview a developer who is trying to fix the problem by building affordable units that qualify for Section 8 vouchers in the northern burbs. The developer has run up against opposition, and Frontline talks to a neighbor named Nicole Humphrey who, for better or worse, offers a very succinct, if somewhat horrifying, summation of the cultural attitudes that underpin this social justice issue.
“The lifestyle that goes with Section 8 goes with working single moms and people struggling to keep their heads above water,” Humphrey says, “and I feel so bad saying that, but it is not people who are I guess as the same class as us, which sounds bad, but I don’t mean it in a bad way.”
Humphrey continues with a familiar dismissal of the label of racism while backing up her rationale with a comment that can’t be described as anything but.
“I hear a lot of the ‘unfair,’ and ‘Oh, we haven’t been given this or that or haven’t been afforded things that you have been afforded,'” Humphrey says. “I don’t look at multi-millionaires and think well why don’t I have a yacht, why don’t I have a private jet? It is a mindset, I feel like. . . . But I think I hold a little big of a stigma against people who are different. We don’t want nomads. We don’t want people who don’t have roots. I just don’t want that to be what my community is about.”
Humphrey’s comments are a saddening reminder that there is more than tackling data points to solving our housing, poverty, and mobility conundrums.
Here’s a presentation about the report, which took place after the release last month: