The city of Dallas plan to address a serious shortage of affordable housing does not take into account the effects of racist housing policies and practices, a new city council-ordered equity review of the city’s comprehensive housing policy found.
The Dallas City Council’s Housing and Homeless Resolutions Committee last summer called for an equity review of the city’s comprehensive housing policy. The city commissioned TDA Consulting to carry out the study.
One of the stated goals of the Comprehensive Housing Policy is to “overcome segregation patterns and concentrations of poverty” in Dallas. But it does not set out a “vision or strategy” to achieve these goals in a way that increases equity by reducing racial inequalities.
The audit says city guides must take significant action and be willing to spend “significant dollars” if they are serious about building decent affordable housing and reducing “major racial gaps in Dallas housing results.”
âThe time is right for us to implement the [auditâs] Recommendations that will fill the racial justice and housing gaps in the city of Dallas, âCouncilor Casey Thomas said on Monday evening. He requested the audit when he became chairman of the Council’s Housing and Homeless Solutions Committee.
In order to make serious efforts to improve equity in Dallas and reduce racial inequalities, the city needs to rethink its housing policies and set clear priorities so as to not only address housing inequalities, the audit said. But the legacy of divestments in urban services and infrastructure has limited the economic potential of historically black and Latin American neighborhoods. This also requires significant investment of public funds.
“The City of Dallas has built equity into its budgeting process, but only a significant financial commitment will make up for the historic divestment in south Dallas and accelerate the strategic and equitable large-scale production of affordable housing,” the audit said.
Thomas said the exam was a step in a broader process of realigning the city’s business and politics with the goal of promoting racial justice in the city of Dallas.
“Now that we know where the gaps are, are we going to move on to recommending where the gaps are?” said Thomas.
The council passed a resolution on racial justice earlier this year, in which it doubled its commitment to “promoting equality through all city policies”. It uses racial justice as a lens throughout the budget process and is currently developing one Citywide Racial Justice Plan. The city launched its Office of Racial Equity three years ago.
Injustice through design
The report describes how the geography of Dallas was profoundly shaped by a history of racist politics and institutional barriers that “excluded Black and Brown residents from safe, quality, affordable housing” and other wealth-building opportunities.
Neighborhoods where people of color lived and owned houses were devalued by federal housing policies, and restrictive agreements prevented the sale of houses in white neighborhoods to non-white residents.
The city directed far less infrastructure, funding and services to neighborhoods where people of color lived than to whiter, more affluent neighborhoods.
Toxic industrial sites were built in color communities. Federal highways created large barriers between the neighborhoods and increased racial segregation.
These and other policies and practices “supplant” [people of color] to live in areas with poor infrastructure and environmental hazards, âthe exam reads. It helped white families build generational wealth while black and Latin American families were deprived of basic services.
Decades after Congress outlawed segregation and discriminatory housing practices, the injustices of this system largely persisted because the city made insufficient efforts and funds to reduce inequalities, the report said.
“Today’s deficit results from decades of underinvestment and the unfair distribution of public funds,” the report said.
The city guides have recognized the history and this damage, but “that recognition has not resulted in significant budget allocations to level the playing field for historically neglected parts of the city”.
The result is a huge gap between predominantly white neighborhoods in the north of the city and predominantly non-white neighborhoods in the south and west.
Black and brown Dallasites have significantly lower home ownership rates, lower home values, and higher rental and homelessness rates. Southern Dallas, home to 64% of the city’s residents, accounts for just 10% of the city’s property tax, the report said.
The comprehensive housing plan, according to the audit, “is a better guide to compliance with federal, state and local regulations than an outline of strategies to change the status quo for affordable housing.”
The plan was ambitious in its goal of creating 20,000 affordable homes in the city when it was passed in 2018, though it wasn’t particularly specific about how that would happen, said Cullum Clark, who heads the George W. Bush Institute. Economic growth initiative of the SMU.
However, the plan also limited incentives for affordable housing development to âhigh opportunityâ neighborhoods in Dallas. The city was recently sued for the concentration of poverty by subsidizing affordable housing, especially in low-income neighborhoods, he said.
And those boundaries made it difficult to develop affordable housing in the neighborhoods where most of the city’s lower-income households lived.
âThe idea of ââthe comprehensive housing policy was that we would take tight public sector funds and deploy them in relatively resource-rich ‘high opportunity’ areas, which are now areas with white majority and relatively wealthy with relatively high land values,â said Clark.
The restrictions could also have curbed the development of affordable housing in general, he said.
“[Building affordable housing] is a really difficult thing to do for many, many reasons, âsaid Clark. “And if you severely restrict where in town you will do this, the net result is you may end up creating fewer new units than you did before.”
What should I do?
The examination calls for a departure from this model. It lists nearly a dozen âcritical decisionsâ [city] Executives must, if they are authentically committed to addressing the appalling variety of housing disparities. “
The general question asked is whether the city guides will undertake to “make themselves responsible for the fact that the competitive conditions in favor of predominantly white areas in the north are balanced by substantial investments in the south of Dallas”.
To do this, the city must draw up a comprehensive roadmap for equal access to affordable housing and develop tools to measure progress.
The recommendations also call for the city to use infrastructure improvements, economic revitalization funds, and urban planning to build generational wealth in historically black and brown communities.
Gentrification and NIMBYism are also addressed. The exam calls for affordable housing to be built in every municipality, not just in poorer parts of the city. And the city must develop a “comprehensive, integrated strategy to prevent displacement during the revitalization of the district”.
The city will also have to spend a lot more money if it is serious about equity. Compared to comparable cities like Atlanta, Seattle and Austin, Dallas spends significantly less of its budget on creating affordable housing and investing in infrastructure improvements in historically deprived neighborhoods.
The audit indicates that a dedicated source of income is required to fund these efforts.
These are big steps, admitted Thomas.
“I think it depends on whether the council has the political will,” he said.
Thomas said he expects to start a series of community council meetings in the coming weeks to gather input from residents on what they want and need from a racial justice-based housing policy in Dallas.