Former Assistant City Manager Raquel Favela, the architect of the city’s first-ever housing policy, has rejoined the National Development Council to take what she did in Dallas and expand it across the country. She’ll be consulting for cities and regions to help them identify the problems they’re having developing affordable housing and to aid in creating strategies to address them.
She was the city’s chief of economic development and neighborhood services for just over a year. Her last day was on September 3. When she arrived, she learned that Dallas was short about 20,000 affordable housing units. This shortage happened despite the city spending decades doling out tens of millions of dollars in incentives to developers to deliver them. Investigators with the Office of Housing and Urban Development had begun officing out of City Hall as they dug into where the money went. Those housing dollars largely sailed unchecked into southern Dallas, resulting in a concentration of poverty and significant areas of disinvestment. There were other reasons at hand, too, some the city had no control over. Like the significant labor and materials shortage.
“We have a labor shortage for a specific reason and we don’t want to talk about it,” she said at D Magazine’s urbanism event in July. “We’ve scared away the immigrant population and … we can’t recruit enough people to come and work in 120-degree weather. It’s the reality.”
She leaned on a Market Value Analysis to guide the city’s housing policy. It used data to identify parts of town that were best positioned to attract residents with mixed incomes, where affordable units would fuel further development. It graded the city on a scale from A to I. Ideally, city officials would use that as a guiding document to determine where to steer housing dollars and approve rezoning requests, to avoid the errors of the past.
The policy includes a number of tools for the city to use. It can freeze property taxes in parts of town that are at risk of displacing longtime residents as a result of abrupt development. It can issue loans of up to 3 percent for developers who are rehabbing or building new units for households at or below 80 percent of the area’s median income level. There are fee waivers for developers who choose to build in an up-and-coming development zone, as ID’d by the Market Value Analysis. These were all radical changes to the way business had been done at City Hall.
She also led the effort to get major employers to relocate to Dallas, including Amazon’s HQ2.
“Based on the success in developing the comprehensive housing policy in a city where most thought it could not be done, the National Development Council has asked me to lead its efforts in helping other municipalities and states dealing with the housing crisis affecting the country,” Favela wrote in an email. “NDC received requests, as have I, for assistance in both understanding their housing markets as well as developing the specific prescriptive interventions that can address those deficiencies and provide for housing affordability that is conducive to a healthy economic development environment for the community at-large.”
The National Development Council is the nation’s oldest nonprofit consulting firm. It offers its services to governmental bodies and other nonprofits and aims to “increase the flow of capital for investment in low-income communities.” In addition to consulting, it offers training, raises money, and provides loans. Favela’s title is director, but her role is new.
“Communities are struggling with the implementation of policies because often they don’t have trusted advisors with both policy and practical expertise that are not conflicted, because often they look to developers or lenders who have transactions in the market,” reads her email. “I will be exploring new and innovative technologies that will help client cities adapt their workforce development efforts, lending guidelines, development and building codes to these realities.”
This is a homecoming of sorts. Prior to joining the city of Dallas, Favela spent a decade with the NDC as a field director. The organization’s new initiative will be based out of San Antonio, but it will retain an office in Dallas.