Dallas mayoral candidate Eric Johnson says he’s filing a bill this week that would remove elected officials from the process of awarding low income housing tax credits. The announcement comes just days after a former Dallas City Council member admitted to accepting $40,000 in bribes tied to the program.
In a press conference on Monday afternoon announcing the legislation, Johnson called public officials “ripe targets” for real estate developers looking to influence, and said the credits have been the “mother’s milk of political corruption in Dallas.”
The federally funded program figures significantly in Dallas’ housing policy. The tax credits are doled out in 4 percent and 9 percent varieties, and the city has not been awarded many of the more transformative 9 percent projects in recent years. Credits that were awarded in past years have concentrated poverty by steering money into neighborhoods that sit far away from jobs and robust city services. The housing policy intended to redirect that money so that affordable housing lands in communities where residents have the resources to improve their lives. The system to score the projects has been a topic of heavy debate.
Johnson proposes putting the process back in the hands of the people; as it stands, the City Council gets to agree on which projects it puts forward for the funding. In scoring various projects vying for credits, only support from community organizations and neighborhood associations would be scored, he said. It’s unclear what organizations that responsibility would fall to here. Details were scant.
Former Councilwoman Carolyn Davis pleaded guilty on Friday. Politically active low-income housing developer Ruel Hamilton has been indicted, as well, and the indictment also says he gave $7,000 to an individual identified as “Council Person A.” The timeline of that individual’s service on City Council matches that of Dwaine Caraway’s, who resigned in August after pleading guilty to accepting kickbacks in a separate case. The feds have not named Caraway in the case, but the U.S. attorney did say that no one currently sitting on the City Council was involved.
“It wasn’t just what happened on Friday,” Johnson said during his presser. “It’s been a few cases in Dallas sadly that have led to the conclusion that this program is being abused and it’s being abused in a certain way that can only be addressed here in Austin.”
Johnson has made ethics reform a central argument in his run for Dallas mayor. He focused on campaign finance accountability at a mayoral forum last Tuesday night. But when asked about the legislation’s connection to his ongoing bid, he demurred.
“I have no intention of conflating what I’m doing running for mayor with this,” he said.