West Dallas’ Trinity Groves development

Politics & Government

State Rep Challenges Dallas Mayor to Take Lead on Fighting Gentrification

In a letter sent to Mayor Mike Rawlings, State Rep. Eric Johnson offers policies that could protect residents from being displaced by development

Before we get to the letter State Rep. Eric Johsnon sent Mayor Mike Rawlings this morning, let’s set the scene:

This past legislative session, State Rep. Eric Johnson, who represents West Dallas, the Cedars, and parts of Oak Cliff, South and East Dallas, introduced a bill that intended to mitigate the effects of rapid development on low income communities. That bill failed after a block of Republican legislatures, acting on behalf of Democratic legislators who didn’t want to go on record opposing the bill, moved to have it taken off the house calendar. One of the representatives who asked the Republican crew to do their bidding was State Rep. Roberto Alonzo, whose sister, Monica Alonzo, is (for a few more days, at least) the Dallas city council member representing West Dallas.

Development, displacement, and gentrification was the central issues of a tightly fought re-election campaign that Monica Alonzo lost over the weekend. Alonzo was also a staunch council ally of Mayor Mike Rawlings, who has been locked in a conflict with a low income landlord for more than a year.  After the mayor moved to enforce tougher code compliance guidelines on large-scale owners of low income rental properties, the landlord declared he could no longer afford to run his rental business. He threatened to evict hundreds of West Dallas residents from their homes. At one point, the mayor suggested the landlord sell his property to an investment group that included Roger Staubach, whose redevelopment, presumably, would have followed the guidelines that are rapidly transforming impoverished West Dallas into a fashionable upscale neighborhood. Now, in a remarkable turnaround, the landlord, Khraish Khraish, is selling the homes to his renters.

While gentrification is often an insidious, subterranean force, in West Dallas it took melodramatic form — developers and politicians fighting for the fate of a neighborhood, its residents, its history, and its future on the public stage.

Now, largely because of that fight in West Dallas and its impact on the election, the Dallas city council has a completely different makeup. Less than a year ago, it wouldn’t even support a measure that would have forced landlords to accept housing vouchers. The mayor, has lost many of his allies on council.

That all serves as the backdrop for this letter that State Rep. Eric Johnson sent to Mayor Mike Rawlings this morning. It asks the mayor to take up his fight for creating measures to to “provide relief to residents involuntarily displaced as a result of gentrification.”

“Gentrification, which has often resulted in such displacement when it has occurred throughout the United States, is a complex phenomenon that needs to be better understood if it is to be undertaken without causing significant harm to longtime residents of areas like West Dallas, South Dallas, and Oak Cliff, all of which I represent in the Legislature,” Johnson writes.

Johnson then goes on to say that, while his legislative effort failed, the city can still move to adopt three policies that could mitigate the effects of gentrification. You read the whole letter here, but here is the meat of it:

Fortunately for the City of Dallas, my failure as a legislator does not have to be your failure as a mayor. I humbly request that you consider taking the following actions as soon as possible:

1. Form a task force on gentrification. This task force should comprise primarily residents of the areas most threatened by displacement due to gentrification – West Dallas, South Dallas, and Oak Cliff – but should also include academics specializing in gentrification and affordable housing policy, affordable housing real estate developers, and other relevant experts. Task them with consulting House Bill 2480 and other national best practices and recommending to the Dallas City Council new ordinances and policies to address the issues House Bill 2480 attempted to address.

2. Adopt a policy requiring a study before building in or near “housing insecure” communities. The City of Dallas should consider implementing a policy requiring that any major infrastructure project such as a signature bridge, deck park, or other large scale improvement that has been proposed to be built in or near a “housing insecure” community be studied to ascertain what impact the project will have on the availability of affordable housing in the surrounding area and the likelihood the project will result in the involuntary displacement of low income residents.

3. Adopt a policy of moving forward with building only if there is a relocation plan. The City of Dallas should consider implementing a policy that any project that is expected to reduce the availability of affordable housing in the surrounding area or displace low income residents cannot begin construction until a relocation plan has been adopted by the City of Dallas. Further, it should be the City of Dallas’ policy that such relocation plans must prioritize options that will keep displaced individuals in their communities over options that would require these individuals to move out of their communities

Your move, Mayor Rawlings.