Nothing polarizes an assembly of citizens and municipal leaders like a discussion about affordable housing.
So when the Dallas City Council, determined to address a shortage of accessible housing throughout the metro, met last year to consider building several low-income housing tax credit projects, drama ensued.
A proposed project along the Central Freeway has won support from housing advocates who said it would have provided 200 homes, half of them affordable, in a “high opportunity area”.
Oak Cliff Councilman Chad West, pointing to a consolidation of public housing in South Dallas, expressed enthusiastic support for more construction in the northern areas.
But a number of Lake Highlands residents and their council representative, Adam McGough, opposed it. Dissidents cited homeless camps, drug trafficking and public nudity already underway in the area.
City Council Representative Adam Bazaldua warned those who confused people earning less than the median wage with criminals. He thought those objections were, “frankly, about race,” he said.
Following the combative session, the Board voted 9-6 to approve the project. But the neighbors battled State Representative John Turner, who had the power to overrule the city’s decision, and those apartments were never built.
The case has drawn criticism from local media and city leaders, who are under pressure to build homes and reduce what Up For Growth researchers say, as of 2020, is a shortfall of 87,000 units .
As house prices and rents rise and conversations about housing become more strained, it’s debatable who’s right — landlords demanding a say in neighborhood planning or those arguing we need to build more housing at every opportunity?
The answer, of course, is both. And no more.
Policy makers cannot ignore neighborhood desires and concerns. They would be out of a job if they did.
“We have a responsibility to make sure we represent everyone,” West says. “But we certainly have to keep in mind who puts us in power and who can take us out.”
The pressure to build more homes will only increase, and negative public opinion about affordable housing may be a major obstacle to meeting Dallas’ growing needs, city planners say.
Unaffordability can lead to housing insecurity, homelessness and a host of societal issues that affect all socioeconomic brackets, says David Noguera, director of the Dallas Department of Housing and Revitalization.
Ensuring our city is a place where people of varying incomes can rent, finance or buy a home starts with public support for all types of housing, he says.
“We can help create and preserve affordable housing for people earning around $50,000 a year, or we can let them find out for themselves,” he says.
The problem with the latter is sprawl and the loss of valuable members of society, he says. Residents are moving further afield or leaving Dallas for a more affordable location.
“Dallas is seeing a level of growth that we haven’t seen in years,” Noguera says. “We are not building enough housing fast enough. Drop the word affordability altogether – we need more, period.
Research from Up for Growth, in a report titled US Housing Underproduction 2022, supported that.
“Spotting and responding to underproduction trends can improve lives, economies and the planet,” said Mike Kingsella, CEO of Up for Growth, a nonprofit committed to solving the housing shortage and crisis. affordability.
He attributed the underproduction in more than 200 metropolitan areas to “NIMBY-ism (not in my backyard) and exclusionary zoning”.
Noguera has seen examples of people saying they support affordable housing but don’t want it in their neighborhood.
“When people hear ‘affordable housing’, they think it’s going to attract unwanted neighbors,” he says. “I think, from a certain point of view, we need to educate our residents about what that means and the impact of our decisions.”
In some cases, he says, purported concerns about traffic, parking, building height, property values, the environment, or the character of the neighborhood mask biases and racist attitudes.
“I’ve heard things at these meetings that leave me speechless,” he says.