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Dallas’ $200 Million Question

Next year, the city will ask voters to approve a $1 billion bond. It wants to use a chunk of that money to help stave off a housing crisis. But how much?
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Dallas will need a significant investment if it wants to keep up with housing demand. Photography by Leah Clausen

Dallas City Hall is finally poised to use bond dollars to pay for housing. The city has never seriously used the bond program to boost the supply of apartments and homes, a technique that has grown common in cities such as Austin and San Antonio.

The new attention comes as research shows a dire situation growing worse. The nonprofit Child Poverty Action Lab recently identified a gulf in supply of 33,660 rental units for Dallasites who make 50 percent of the area’s median income. That’s $31,150 for a single person, $35,600 for two, and $40,500 for three.

Forty percent of the labor pool here works lower-paying retail, service, and support jobs, which have median wages of under $40,500. If we do nothing, the shortage will nearly triple to 83,500 units by 2030. The city of Dallas now admits that these earners have to work multiple jobs just to afford a one-bedroom apartment.

The Dallas Housing Coalition wants to change the equation. The group of 90 organizations—businesses, chambers of commerce, nonprofits, churches—are calling for the city to use as much as one-fifth of the entire bond package on housing. That would be $200 million. The city is proposing a housing ask of $125 million, but that figure could drop to as low as $80 million.

The group recently had its formal kickoff at The Gate House in The Bottom District, the community at the feet of the Trinity River levees, where, in 2021, the city spent $3 million on infrastructure improvements ahead of plans for new housing.

“The housing supply is not keeping pace with the demand,” said Ashley Brundage, the United Way’s executive director of housing stability. “Without intervention, this current trend will exacerbate existing inequalities across the city of Dallas, hindering economic mobility for many of our neighborhoods.”

Rents in Dallas have increased more in the past two and a half years than they did during the previous six years combined. The median price of a home is now beyond reach for single earners who make Dallas’ median income of $58,600. Before issuing a loan, banks generally want to see a ratio where the cost of a home is no more than five times that of a person’s salary; the median home is now 7.5 times as much, “which excludes most single income households from home ownership,” CPAL found in its analysis.

That report is one of the most in-depth analyses of the rental market that Dallas has ever seen. Nonprofit analyst and architecture firm bcWorkshop has also published a report that analyzed broader housing trends from 2016 to 2021, the most recent year available for Census data.

Both reports combine to show a city that is rapidly losing “naturally occurring affordable housing,” which are rental units generally built between 1940 and 1990 that are affordable for lower- and moderate-income residents. These are important backstops for a rental market: older duplexes, triplexes, homes, and small apartment buildings that don’t require subsidies to be affordable.

As these older buildings get sold and demolished, Dallas hasn’t made enough of a public investment to make affordable projects pencil out for developers—especially not in communities near jobs, grocery stores, and other amenities.

And when those old buildings get torn down, the affordable units aren’t being replaced. It’s happening in high-demand neighborhoods all over town. Last year, about a dozen old apartment buildings and duplexes on 8th Street in Bishop Arts were torn down for 252 market-rate apartments. The 65 units, which rented for around $800 per month, vanished.

“Since they’re not subsidized, rising property values and rents can lead to their loss,” said Ashley Flores, a senior director at CPAL who oversaw the rental analysis. “There are not a lot of incentives in a hot real estate market to maintain the lower-cost rental stock.”

At a recent meeting, Dallas Housing Director David Noguera laid out parameters for how the bond could work. One bucket could go toward adding sewer lines, sidewalks, and other infrastructure to areas that could eventually hold housing. The city may explore gap financing for mixed-income and mixed-use developments, which would sprinkle in affordable units with market-rate. Another fund could be established to help preserve existing affordable housing.

Fifty-eight percent of Dallas residents are renters, but only 10 percent of new units added in the city since 2010 have been deed-restricted to be affordable. Dallas ranks 21st out of 32 cities in affordable unit production. And in 2033, the city could lose about half of its federally subsidized housing units. Low-Income Housing Tax Credits will expire for 66 properties that hold 10,592 units for low-income earners, according to a recent presentation. The city could use bond dollars to replace the subsidies and keep the units online at their present rates.

Over the last three bonds, in 2006, 2012, and 2017, housing collectively received a little under $50 million of more than $2 billion in total funding.

Voters in Austin recently approved a $350 million housing bond, and San Antonio in 2022 OK’d one worth $150 million. Next year’s bond is expected to be $1 billion, which gets sliced up and spent between all the other capital needs over the next five years. Housing appears poised to be the next large line item, muscling in next to bond program stalwarts like streets and parks.  

The bond election allows the city to issue debt that largely goes toward maintenance and upkeep, with some priority projects packed in. But the city has a lot of things that need maintenance and upkeep. And so there is jockeying over how that money is spent. A billion bucks can blow away in the wind.

Streets, sidewalks, flood control—you can expect those things to get half off the top. Parks get a bunch of money, because parks are great and we have to keep them great. There are city facility improvements for things like fire and police stations and cultural arts venues, which also have a renewed organizing effort. (To illustrate the line the city must walk in allocating bond dollars, Dallas’ cultural venues alone reportedly have $133 million worth of maintenance and restoration needs.)

The Dallas Housing Coalition is pushing the city to treat housing with the same importance as it does the greatest hits. Dallas has a goal to add 100,000 units in the next 10 years. It will need a significant public investment to get there.

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Matt Goodman

Matt Goodman

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Matt Goodman is the online editorial director for D Magazine. He's written about a surgeon who killed, a man who…
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