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Dallas’ Ambitious Homelessness Plan Crosses a Major Milestone

About $10 million in private donations will go toward enticing landlords to accept tenants using government subsidies to pay rent.
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Camp Rhonda was originally an encampment in South Dallas. After the city ordered the landowner to displace them, they moved to Pioneer Plaza, right outside City Hall.

Landlords in Texas can reject tenants who will be paying their rent with government subsidies, a state of affairs that contributes to the extreme concentrations of poverty we see in Dallas’ poorest, most segregated neighborhoods. That kind of voucher discrimination is a problem for ambitious plans to curb homelessness using government-funded rent payments, such as the Dallas Real Time Rapid Rehousing Initiative, which was announced with much fanfare earlier this year.

And it’s part of the reason why the Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance, the nonprofit leading the initiative, held a press conference Monday—with only a little less fanfare—to announce that it had raised $10 million in private donations to support the rapid rehousing plan.

Similar plans have worked in other cities, says Peter Brodsky, the board chair of MDHA. “What they found in those other cities is that with an incentive, landlords are much more willing to accept our clients as their tenants,” Brodsky says. MDHA could use the newly raised private money to, for example, double a tenant’s deposit. “If a landlord has a concern that this is someone from an unstable population—whatever preconceived notions the landlord may have about the people we’re serving—then we can come back to them with this private money and say, ‘OK, well how can we address that?’”

The rapid rehousing initiative revolves around rent payments, premised on the idea that the most effective way to end homelessness is fairly simple: get people in a home. Most of the overall $72 million plan will be funded by about $50 million in COVID-relief money from the federal government, distributed mostly through the city and Dallas County. In the next two years, more than 2,000 people who are now homeless will have their rent paid for a year. Another 600 will receive vouchers for permanent supportive housing.

Along with the landlord incentives, the private money will help pay for “move-in kits,” says a press release. “Move-in kits provide clients with basic necessities upon moving into a new home, such as a bed, linens, dishes, etc., without which they would be less likely to remain in the housing provided. Finally, the privately-raised dollars will be used to pay for necessary administrative and capacity-building expenses necessary for partner agencies to manage the volume of clients they will be serving.”

Representatives of many of the 19 corporate, nonprofit, and family donors who kicked in toward the $10 million in private funds—including Bank of America, Margot Perot and the Perot Family, the Communities Foundation of Texas, and Downtown Dallas Inc.—were on hand for the photo op Monday.

“What we’re announcing and celebrating today is the piece of the equation that can only be met by hearts and dollars, that will align to the overall mission of making the experience of homelessness rare, brief, and non-recurring,” says Joli Robinson, on Day 50 in her new role as CEO of the MDHA.

Part of Robinson’s job will be shepherding this money and making sure the many area agencies that address homelessness are sticking to one cohesive strategy.

Those agencies, like The Bridge and other nonprofits, are “in a hiring frenzy” to staff up to 100 case managers, and they will have an important role to play, Brodksy says. There’s more to this plan than rent payments.

“If all we were doing was putting people in apartments and saying, ‘Thanks, best of luck to you,’ this would be a failure,” he says. Every person put in housing will be assigned a case manager, and given wraparound services that could include job training, physical and mental health care, and child care.

“The people who are receiving this one-year subsidy are people who are situationally homeless,” he says. “There is no fundamental reason—there’s not severe mental illness or severe physical illness. These are people who have found themselves very much down on their luck.”

Other cities that have adopted similar plans have seen more than 90% of those clients become self-sustainable, Brodsky says. He expects that the vast majority of people given the one-year rent subsidy by this program will remain housed after the Dallas Real Time Rapid Rehousing Initiative has spent the unprecedented amount of federal and private funds now available.

That means roughly 2,700 people would housed in a region that counted about 4,570 people without homes earlier this year. This initiative is a big deal. But, in a city where the cost of housing continues to skyrocket and hundreds of people are evicted every month, it can’t solve every problem.

“What we can’t control is how many new people will fall into homelessness,” Brodsky says.

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