You'd think I'd learn.
But, for some reason my naivete overwhelms my street smart almost every time.
Most people live with an irrational fear of the poor.
A project idea we had to build a gated community for very low income persons, most of whom are currently homeless.
I emphasize it was an idea, strictly in the conceptual stages. Before we could even discuss it thoroughly or enter into conversations about it, a well-organized neighborhood group came together to make sure it never saw the light of day.
Let me explain with more detail.
Last year the Jules E. Muchert United States Army Reserve Center was declared surplus property by the federal government. The City of Dallas made the property available for a public benefit conveyance to organizations working with the homeless, as required by the McKinney-Vento Act. The process began when the City of Dallas issued a request for proposals regarding possible future uses for the property.
Central Dallas Community Development Corporation made a proposal, along with a number of other organizations, including the City of Dallas Parks and Recreation Department and the Dallas County Sheriff's Department.
The City is currently reviewing the various proposals. No decision has been made about which proposal would be endorsed or which organization would be awarded the property. We aren't even sure about the timetable for the transfer, but believe it could be over a year or more from now.
The property is located in Lake Highlands, a part of North Dallas, at 10031 E. Northwest Highway next door to a public safety facility.
When we submitted our response to the City's RFP, we also informed Bill Blaydes, the Dallas City Council Member representing the district in which the property is located. In our communications with Mr. Blaydes we noted the short timeline for responding to the request for ideas and assured him that we would not go forward without his support.
Mr. Blaydes did not endorse our plan, but, as any good representative should do in my opinion, promised to hear us out at the appropriate time. He also informed people in his district about the future of the property in question.
Mr. Blaydes has a reputation as a tough leader with strong opinions, but we have found him to be very fair. In the case of the homeless in Dallas, Mr. Blaydes feels strongly that every area of town needs to do its part in addressing the need for appropriate, permanent housing. He is committed to not locating all such housing in the Southern Sector. We agree with him on this.
I feel like our proposal, created by my partner and Central Dallas CDC Executive Director, John Greenan was very unique.
It called for creating a small, gated enclave of cottage-style houses on the southern two thirds of the property. The plan saw us using the north third of the property as a green space/buffer zone. Entrance to the property would be only from Northwest Highway and cut off from any surrounding neighborhoods. If it had been selected, one of the current structures on the property would have been used as a community center. The remaining current structures would have been demolished, allowing for a good bit of green space in the development.
Let me be clear here. Central Dallas CDC does not build, run or own shelters, halfway houses or any type of transitional facilities. Central Dallas CDC develops permanent housing, including housing for those who have formerly been homeless.
Our proposal left lots of room for negotiation, discussion and open debate with elected officials and community residents.
We envisioned a development limited to 25 to 30 cottages. Our plans for these single-family or single-person houses can be seen at the following website: http://www.cusatocottages.com/index_content.html.
Our CDC doesn't work with people moving directly out of homelessness. Instead we partner with agencies that work at helping people make the transition out of homelessness. Typically these agencies run eighteen to twenty-four month programs and then move graduates of those programs into permanent housing.
Central Dallas CDC is interested in providing that permanent housing, for which there is a critical shortage in our city.
The property in question here would have most likely been developed to house a specific segment of the homeless population--perhaps families, seniors or veterans, but many of these details were to have been worked out with the neighborhood if, and when, Central Dallas CDC was awarded the property, a decision that remained far from certain.
Back to the neighborhood and the neighbors.
Word got out that we were building a "homeless shelter" in Lake Highlands. As I have said, no such thing was ever even considered.
In spite of fairly good media coverage explaining that this was not the case at all, the rumors were not to be quelled and petitions began to circulate based on the same misinformation.
With a few exceptions the neighborhood said, "Don't confuse us with the facts! We don't want homeless persons in our area."
For the life of me I don't know how a person can be homeless if they live in a house!
People are afraid of the poor. Lots of the fear is simply irrational.
People mention their children to us as a concern. I wonder how many convicted molesters in Dallas County over the past 20 years have been homeless? My hunch is few or none. By the way, for the sake of full disclosure, two of my grandchildren live in Lake Highlands!
People worry about property values. Our project was designed to add value, not diminish it.
People are afraid of the poor.
We just have to face that fact and keep working.
People think we are crazy.
We just know lots of low-income folks.
As a result, we aren't afraid.
One more thing. At the request of Mr. Blaydes, and in line with what we promised him initially, we will be formally withdrawing our proposal from consideration in the next few days.
Sunday, June 16, 2013
12 hours ago