At least 500 neighbors packed into the Hitt Auditorium Monday night to discuss a plan to open 100 units at Cliff Manor Apartments to otherwise homeless people who have mental illness or a past drug addiction. Overwhelmingly, the crowd was against the Dallas Housing Authority’s plan. And they lined up by the dozens to face the city’s homeless czar and housing authority representatives with questions, comments and scornful criticism.
The meeting, which District 3 Council member David Neumann organized, also included Mayor Tom Leppert, who agreed to put the plan on hold until Oak Cliff residents could have a say. The meeting teetered on the brink of chaos, and at one point, the mayor himself calmed an irate neighbor who yelled at homeless czar Mike Rawlings out of turn.
In the end, Rawlings agreed that there were “about half a dozen things that have been said tonight that were substantive, and we are going to take them into consideration.”
Leppert suggested that for the plan to be successful, neighbors not only would have to accept it but also embrace it. Otherwise, he said, it might not be a worthwhile pursuit for the housing authority. But that “we can turn it around. I’ve seen it happen.”
Here are some of the main points from the opposition:
- Council District 3, which includes parts of West Dallas and North Oak Cliff, already has a disproportionate number of housing authority properties compared to other districts. Some argued that the neighborhood is a “dumping ground” for low-income housing.
- Cliff Manor is fewer than 200 feet from Stevens Park Elementary School.
- Jobs in Oak Cliff are scarce, so it would be difficult for 100 people to find work in the neighborhood.
- Fort Worth Avenue is undergoing redevelopment, and there is some concern that developers could pull out for fear that the change would affect property values.
- The quality of the building is outdated, and the neighborhood already is a hotbed for crime, including prostitution and drug sales.
And here are some points from the housing authority and the plan’s proponents:
- The residents who would move to Cliff Manor are people who have done work to prove that they are responsible enough to live on their own with help.
- A fulltime case worker would be onsite for them. The housing authority has hired a property manager who also has a background in social work. And all the staff is trained to deal with the particular problems these residents are likely to have.
- There would be zero tolerance for drug abuse or violent crime among residents.
- Properties adjacent to successful permanent supportive housing communities in New York City and Fort Worth have increased in value.
- Homeless people often are misunderstood. Statistics show they are unlikely to be criminals.
More town hall meetings are expected.