Photo by Dave Hensley via Flickr.

Housing

Dallas Finally Has a Housing Policy

The City Council voted unanimously to adopt a new policy intended to increase affordable housing here. It's a first step, but it's a big one.

Dallas now has its first comprehensive housing policy, and along with it, actual hope that some of the city’s most pressing problems can be addressed. After long months of tense debate, the City Council on Wednesday morning was (mostly) optimistic, acting efficiently, by the standards of city government, to adopt the policy. The mood, congratulatory. The policy itself, whatever its remaining flaws, supported by market data and proven research. The vote, 15-0, unanimous. Finally.

Not everyone sitting at the horseshoe was happy about everything. In particular, Kevin Felder, who represents South Dallas-Fair Park, was upset that his district could not be made a homestead preservation district—because, according to city staff, it does not fit the state’s requirements for that designation. (The housing policy calls for the creation of a task force to lobby state legislators on such issues.)

There also remains some apprehension among southern Dallas council members about the policy’s designation of specific reinvestment zones, neighborhoods where city investment would buttress private development. It’s a clear break from the unsuccessful approach of the past several decades, which concentrated government money in the most impoverished areas without much heed for market conditions—placing low-income families in low-income neighborhoods without allowing for the sorts of catalyst projects and neighborhood income diversity necessary to lift people out of poverty.

But today’s unanimous vote seems to be a signal that council members were willing to set aside what council member Scott Griggs called “fiefdom politics.”

“This is a housing policy where we’re looking at the city as a whole, and we recognize that if we don’t prioritize something, we prioritize nothing,” Griggs said.

Today’s unanimity also leaves open the possibility for later disagreement. Every council member spoke to some variation on the idea that this policy was “version 1.0,” and that further edits may be necessary as the city works to create 20,000 more housing units over the next several years. Other initiatives recommended by the policy still need approval. Earlier this week, for example, officials pushed along a move to allow the kind of accessory dwelling units called for in the policy. Every 18 months there will be an evaluation of the reinvestment zones, with the possibility that they could be changed or reshaped in the “living document” that is the housing policy. There could yet be new target areas in different neighborhoods.

The document doesn’t ignore the rest of the city. Most of the policy’s pages are devoted to city-wide initiatives—tax freezes, homeowner incentives for firefighters, cops, and teachers, rental assistance, and so on—that will help guide city investment and set down rules for developers. Mayor Mike Rawlings made it a point to say the city will continue work in areas not targeted as reinvestment zones.

The policy doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Neither does the city. Far North Dallas council member Lee Kleinman made the suggestion of taking the policy on a “road show” with stops at the offices of Dallas County, DART, Dallas ISD, and the other public and private agencies that bear responsibility for helping rebuild Dallas’ vanished middle class. Next on the list of long-needed city policies that may finally become a reality: economic development, which the city will tackle later this year, and transportation, coming up early next year.

But housing had to come first. Housing inequity and segregation are behind many of the city’s biggest problems, an alarming refrain that’s grown louder over the last several years. For Dallas to live up to its promise, people need to be able to afford to live here.

As first steps go, this is a big one.

Look at it. Beautiful.

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