Dallas needs more affordable housing. On Thursday, four leaders from stakeholder organizations spoke openly about the challenges to bringing it to fruition.
The panel discussion came just two weeks after the Dallas City Council amended its first-ever comprehensive housing policy, the bulky document that directs the city’s efforts to undo years of economic and racial segregation. The policy passed a year ago. Things went poorly when the city tried to amend it in the fall. This time, City Council pushed through changes to how it will evaluate housing projects that seek federal tax credits without so much as a conversation—a win for city staffers who’d spent months preparing those amendments.
The Dallas Habitat for Humanity corralled Thursday’s panel at its ReStore location off Singleton Boulevard in West Dallas.
“The city can’t do it alone,” said Councilman Omar Narvaez, whose district encompasses that area, during his introduction. “We just passed our first-ever housing policy a year ago, which is fantastic, but now we’ve got to implement it. Great we’ve got a piece of paper with some words on it—that we worked many, many years on—but if we can’t implement it, it means nothing.”
A few soundbites from the morning:
Maureen Milligan, assistant director of the city of Dallas’ department of housing, on creating mixed-income neighborhoods:
“That is something we deliberately focused on within the city of Dallas—focusing on incomes up to 120 percent of area median income. Not only do we want to focus on middle-income families but we want to very deliberately and intentionally find ways to create neighborhoods that are a mix of incomes. We recognize that that can create opportunities and foster really vibrant neighborhoods.”
Tosha Herron-Bruff, VP of government relations and public affairs for the Dallas Area Habitat for Humanity, on the high stakes of the affordable housing crisis (or close-to crisis):
“There’s such a high population of economic stress in a lot of our neighborhoods that people are leaving because they are not being provided the resources they need for their family in their community. … I was in line at a restaurant picking up my food and a lady came up to me and she started a conversation and she asked me where I worked and I said Dallas Habitat. There’s always this kind of reaction, ‘Oh, wow, that’s so great.’ And then the conversation went south, really quickly.
Because what she said to me was, ‘Those people need help.’ I’m like, ‘What people?’ Because the people in those economically stressed neighborhoods are our people. What’s impacting those neighborhoods impacts our entire city. When those neighborhoods are failing, our schools are failing, our children are failing, our economy is failing. The economic vitality of the city is going to hinge on us rectifying the housing crisis.”
Matthew Church, government affairs director at Metrotex Association of Realtors, on educating potential homebuyers:
“One of the things we can do a better job of up here is working together to educate not just the folks who are already engaged in the transaction process but before they ever get there. The city of Dallas and the city of Fort Worth and other municipalities offer first-time buyer assistance programs. How many of you know that first-time home buyers can get assistance from the city of Dallas? Not very many people. There’s access to money there they don’t otherwise know is available. It’s working with the lending community to help educate people on their personal finances. If you have a debt to income ratio that is not sustainable, you’re not going to be able to get financing for a home. It’s helping them understand the consequences and help improve their financial situation.”
Dr. Myriam Igouffe, director of housing services at the Dallas Housing Authority on how DHA institutes its programs:
“Something that is not often known is that we also have a home ownership program. It functions very much like the voucher program, but instead of DHA contributing toward your rent we are contributing toward your mortgage. That’s something we are looking to grow. Similar to what’s been discussed here, we are very intentionally focused on providing supportive services to have those families flourish. We talk about home ownership and we also have to take care of the renters, who are the potential home owners of tomorrow. We have to be very cognizant of the neighborhoods in which these families are located to make sure it’s conducive to economic growth.”