A Daily Conversation About Dallas

Real Estate

Why Is It So Hard For Dallas to Address Affordable Housing?

| 4 weeks ago

When he was in college, Michael Geblein wrote “Rent” on a piece of tape and stuck it on a jar where he put his loose change. It was a joke until it wasn’t. Early last year, he had to dip into it.

Geblein, 26, earns a salary of $48,000 at his marketing gig in Dallas. Rent for his Uptown apartment is more than $1,800, over half his monthly income after taxes. Before the pandemic, he drove Uber to make extra cash, but he stopped in March. By May, he cashed in his change to pay rent. Shortly after, he created an account with DoorDash.

“I had to do something,” he says, “and delivering food seems safer than driving strangers.”

Geblein is planning to move north of Dallas, knowing it will extend his commute. He says he’s struggled to find other housing options he can afford in the city. He is hardly alone. The Nelson family has already moved. Mark, a 32-year-old EMT, and Sarah, a 31-year-old social worker, work in Dallas and commute about 45 miles from their home in Farmersville, where they live with their two children.

“We just couldn’t find a big enough home in our price range,” Mark says. “The drive can be tough, but it’s what we have to do.”

Stories like these are part and parcel to Dallas’ ongoing struggle with affordable housing. Since acknowledging a shortage of 20,000 units in 2018, the city’s varied efforts to address that deficit haven’t worked. Plans to deliver as many as 6,000 units per year over the last three years were stymied in part by audits, corruption, controversy, and market forces the city has struggled to control.

Dallas is low on land, and affordable options for middle-income residents are becoming harder to find. The future looks bleak for the Gebleins and Nelsons of Dallas: people who earn a decent living yet can’t afford housing in the city where they work.

“People on council and people I talk to in my district are realizing that the middle group is the one we need to be focusing on,” says Chad West, the North Oak Cliff representative who was until recently the chair of the Housing and Homelessness Solutions Committee. “They’ve seen the numbers, and quite frankly, they’ve seen how scary the future looks. They know we need a change.”

Several developers and city employees interviewed for this story say there are steps Dallas can take to incentivize development for the middle class. But doing so requires willpower, creativity, the reining in of city council influence, and bringing in lots and lots of money.

“Our housing department has a $20 million budget,” says David Noguera, the city’s director of Housing and Neighborhood Revitalization. “$20 million doesn’t get you very far.”

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Hey Employers, Watch Out for the Emojis

| 2 months ago

When Terah Moxley graduated at the top of her Baylor University law school class in 2010, in the midst of the financial crisis, she had two words of advice for her classmates: don’t panic. From her current perch as a board-certified employment lawyer and partner at Estes Thorne & Carr, a women-owned boutique firm on Turtle Creek Boulevard, she offers the same advice for law school graduates now. Because, she says, just like the two terrier mixes she rescued a few years ago, you never know what might land in your lap.

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Where Do You Invest in the Most Uncertain Market Ever?

| 3 months ago

Since the pandemic began, I haven’t duked anyone. I’m beginning to worry that I might never duke anyone again.

By “duke,” I of course mean that I haven’t tipped anyone extravagantly—and in cash—in months. Way back in the times before our cash seemed to be crawling with contaminants, Frank Sinatra dubbed that kind of tipping “duking.” He was famous for carrying neatly folded $50 and $100 bills and pressing them into the hands of maître d’s and bartenders, anyone whose hard work might help fuel a gasser of a night. 

Me, I couldn’t afford to operate like the Chairman of the Board. When I was duking, I used twenties. Still, it adds up. And now that my wife and I haven’t hit the town since March, we’ve accumulated some cash. There’s a bit more to it than just a lack of tipping, but either way, we’ve added this savings to cash we shielded from investments just as the pandemic began. 

I don’t feel good about that money sitting in a bank account that earns almost exactly what I’d make if I’d stuffed the cash in my mattress. But what’s the alternative? Dipping into savings and playing the market right now, in a time when 8 million people have fallen into poverty, when more government stimulus is far from certain, when the fallout of the election is still falling out, and when the virus is still spreading and unpredictable, seems more like gambling than investing. It actually seems almost as irresponsible as duking people with stacks of twenties. And that’s why I’ve decided to do it. Here are a few things I’ve considered in preparing to place my bets:  

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The Incredible, Unsurprising Story of Dallas’ Dining Community Rallying Behind a Chef in Need

| 3 months ago

The week before Thanksgiving, when many of us were busy considering our smaller gatherings and hunting for family pecan pie recipes, word spread that Justin Holt had recently been diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a cancer of the blood and bone marrow. Salaryman, his Oak Cliff izakaya and ramen shop, closed immediately. The dining community reeled.

Call it the times. The news of the closure and Holt’s diagnosis galvanized chefs and devoted diners in a way that points to something that’s true of the Dallas dining scene: that it supports its own. In this tumultuous year that has made us painfully aware of what is broken—the absent safety nets, the missing precautions—the camaraderie of the culinary community hasn’t waned. Indeed, it’s grown. And in these moments, it becomes something beautiful to see.

Trina Nishimura, Holt’s partner and an integral part of the Salaryman team, expressed her gratitude for the outpouring of support, finding herself “so fortunate to be part of the Dallas dining community.” A GoFundMe immediately set up by one of her closest friends began with an initial $25,000 goal. It rapidly rose more than $75,000 and counting.

Then came another fundraiser spearheaded by Meat Fight’s Alice Laussade, Jeff Bekavac of Zoli’s NY Pizza, and fellow chef Danyele McPherson, with “mystery boxes” for sale, filled with goods made by chefs and culinarians, available for pick up drive-thru style. The sign-ups began last Monday morning, and by midday that day, Laussade says they had sold 148 of 200 boxes to the public. The rest of the box sign-ups whisked away in short order, raising more than $25,000 for Holt. Laussade updated me later that evening: “We have officially sold out. [Six] hours and they flew.”

“Honestly, I don’t know if that would happen anywhere else,” says Nishimura, noting the “incredible, heartwarming efforts on all sides…. People have given not only from their hearts, but from their pocketbooks—a bright spot in the otherwise dumpster-fire of a year.”

But gratitude at the deluge of donations hardly seems to encapsulate it. Donating was matched by small kindnesses of a more intimate kind, like “little notes that people leave on the GoFundMe page [which] are inspiration” or “the funny texts that Justin gets from other chefs, just giving him shit,” says Nishimura.

Large kindnesses, too, soon came.

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SMU Football Picked a Horrible Year to Be Relevant Again

| 4 months ago

Any other year and Bishop Boulevard would be a wall of SMU football fans awaiting kickoff. It’s the school’s 100th homecoming celebration. The college football polls have SMU ranked 16th. They’ll play the 9th-ranked team, the University of Cincinnati. On this late afternoon, at the end of October, they’re two of the last nine undefeated teams in college football’s top level. It has been decades since SMU has played a homecoming game that mattered. Any other year and this place would have been full of life.

Beginning at Mockingbird Lane—past the short, curved brick wall that bears the university’s name, past the dozens of thick Southern live oak trees that stretch north to Dallas Hall—Bishop Boulevard would have been closed. Large tents would have been there to match the large crowds dressed in red, white, and blue. Music and laughter and grill smoke would hang in the air. Past and present students and former players would have celebrated SMU football’s resurgence. It has been decades since the team mattered.

SMU football—the program synonymous with death—is breathing again. This comes after over 30 years in which it had more head coaches (eight) than winning seasons (six). In that time, SMU won three or fewer games in a season 14 times. They even considered playing in a lower division; they’ve been so poor, they contemplated demoting themselves.

But last season, for the first time since Ronald Reagan was president, the team won 10 games. For the first time in decades, polls ranked the Mustangs among the top 25 college football teams in the nation. The team is back to playing important, nationally televised games, like this one, under the lights in a dark Texas night, against Cincinnati. And yet, since the pandemic has made this a strange and deadly time, there’s hardly anyone here, in person, to bear witness to SMU’s revival.

There’s no crowd tailgating, which would have grown louder as kickoff approached. No SMU Mustang Band playing while marching down the middle of the street. No cheerleaders trailing behind them. There are no mirror image coeds drinking and laughing. No young children of alumni, playing catch beneath the shade of so many trees and atop lush green grass.

Instead of cheerleaders animating the crowd, they walk without drawing attention, together, across campus on their way to the Gerald J. Ford Stadium a few hours before kickoff. Instead of the band playing while marching through a gauntlet of admirers, they practice by Doak Walker Plaza, beside the stadium where workers check the temperature of the few people allowed entry. And instead of a pre-game celebration on Bishop Boulevard, where it would have all taken place, there’s a white sandwich board sign with red letters that read “No Tailgating.”

The only thing that remains the same is that Bishop Boulevard is closed. Always cautious of who they welcome, university workers and campus police—all hiding their faces—open the barricades only for those who have business being on the lonely campus during game day. Despite this being the most important game played here in the last 30-plus years, the campus, ranked among the most beautiful in the country, is abandoned.

On this late October afternoon, on a day that’s been cold, cloudy, and misty throughout, the only sign of warmth are the lights wrapped around the trees near Dallas Hall. They look like the Christmas decorations that, soon after Thanksgiving, brighten the cold fall and winter nights. They’re a reminder of what a subdued celebration it’ll all be. Of what a painful year it has been.

SMU football is breathing again, right as it feels like the rest of the country struggles to do the same.

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