Subsidized housing: DHA, not city, is the authority

When the Dallas Housing Authority recently announced plans to place permanent supportive housing units in various locations around the city, it didn’t sit well with some of the nearby residents. In Oak Cliff, neighbors enlisted the support of Councilman Dave Neumann, and in Lake Highlands, neighbors took issue with Councilman Jerry Allen’s resigned approach.

But, as DHA CEO MaryAnn Russ explained at an Oak Cliff Chamber of Commerce committee meeting last week, neither of these councilmen has the authority to determine where the DHA can and cannot place subsidized housing units, either permanent supportive or otherwise. The DHA operates as an arm of the federal HUD, and “the city does not have sign-off on this process,” Russ says.

So the argument that our tax dollars are paying for apartment units that house the formerly homeless and incarcerated? That all depends on what tax dollars are being referenced.

Russ was clear that the DHA receives no money from the state, and no money from the city. The tax dollars with which it operates come from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), so they are federal tax dollars. The DHA also collects rent paid by individuals and families living in its housing, and has some income through interests, Russ says.

This week the DHA is sending out proposal requests for 350 additional permanent supportive housing units, part of its goal (along with the City of Dallas and the Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance) to create 700 permanent supportive housing units by 2014. If a proposal comes from an apartment or condominium complex in Oak Cliff, councilmen Dave Neumann and Delia Jasso won’t be able to veto it, and neither will any other Dallas elected officials or staffers.

Can neighbors have any influence at all? Sure, and the Woodside Condominiums situation in Lake Highlands may be a good example of how. Neighbors raised concerns that the DHA was planning to place 20 formerly incarcerated individuals in Woodside Condominuims at Forest near Abrams, a location known for its high crime rate. When the DHA looked into the concerns, Dallas Police Department data showed that, indeed, the average crime rate right around Woodside was higher than in both the surrounding neighborhood and citywide, so those units were abandoned. For formerly incarcerated individuals — and also for the formerly homeless, who “often have a lot of mental health issues,” Russ says — the DHA is mindful that they “don’t need to encounter issues when they walk out their front door.”

Ultimately, though, it’s the DHA’s decision of where to locate subsidized housing, not the city’s, so asking a Dallas councilman for help is barking up the wrong tree.

Not that we’re suggesting this, but a lawsuit could produce better results — the recent settlement of Inclusive Communities Project v. HUD has produced a new zip code-based structure and a new scoring system for the DHA that may help to fix a problem that some Oak Cliff and Lake Highlands resident voiced during their protests of permanent supportive housing units in their respective neighborhoods: that the DHA should spread the poor, so to speak, equally into all Dallas council districts instead of concentrating its housing in a few. Read more on the DHA changes — and whether some of 350 units currently being requested could end up in our neighborhood — this afternoon and tomorrow on Back Talk.


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