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KERA's One Crisis Away project focuses on North Texans living on the financial edge.

One Crisis Away: As West Dallas Transforms, Many Longtime Residents Have No Place To Go

Allison V. Smith
KERA news special contributor
The Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge can be seen in the distance, from a modest block in West Dallas.

KERA’s ongoing One Crisis Away project looks at life on the financial edge. Next week, we launch a series set in a neighborhood that’s been on the financial edge for more than a century.

West Dallas, just across the Trinity River from downtown, is being transformed. High-end restaurants and apartments are crowding out bleak warehouses and weathered rent houses. That means many families who have lived there for generations suddenly have no place to go.

Renters Paying $300 A Month

When Dallas strengthened its housing code policy back in September, old rental houses were in the spotlight. A chunk of 305 homes -- primarily in West Dallas and owned by HMK Ltd. -- no longer meet code. The company's owner says it would be impossible to bring these 1940s-era dwellings up to standard, so he's closing his rental business. Tenants must move out by June 3. Because many of these renters are paying between $300 and $500 a month and West Dallas has gotten so expensive, they have no plan for move-out day.

Praying For A Miracle

Some residents have moved into spare rooms with relatives, some have moved to South Dallas, and some have moved out of the city. Some don't know where to go and are still in their houses, praying for a miracle. Joe Garcia is one of them. He survives on a small disability check and lives with his 84-year-old mother.

“Our money situation is always a stretch," Garcia says. "It’s always a stretch for it. This, West Dallas is mostly right now, like older people live here. And they don’t know where to go.”

Garcia says he’s applied for Section 8 housing and was told he didn’t qualify. He also hasn’t had any luck getting a mortgage to buy his house—which he’d like to do.

Change That Came On Fast

All the development in West Dallas happened quickly -- in the five years since the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge opened. Santiago Calatrava designed those soaring white cables to link downtown to West Dallas. Back in 2012, some people used to sneeringly refer to that bridge as the “bridge to nowhere,” which was pretty offensive to the thousands of people who live there.

Doug Swanson is an author and former reporter with The Dallas Morning News who spent a lot of time in West Dallas in the 1980s.

“I mean you could obviously see the change coming, and then the apartments started going up, and I thought, ‘well I’m really an old-timer now’ because I never would have thought that you would see any development like that in West Dallas," Swanson says. "And I also thought: 'What’s going to happen to the people who have been living here?'”

One Crisis Away: No Place To Go explores that question. The series kicks off on KERA 90.1 FM on April 25 at 6:20 p.m.

Courtney Collins has been working as a broadcast journalist since graduating from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in 2004. Before coming to KERA in 2011, Courtney worked as a reporter for NPR member station WAMU in Washington D.C. While there she covered daily news and reported for the station’s weekly news magazine, Metro Connection.