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Find out how Dallas prepares to re-write its housing plan with a focus on racial equity

Exterior of Dallas City Government Building
Library of Congress
Wikimedia Commons
Dallas City Hall

The Dallas City Council adopted 11 recommendations to address “equity blind spots” in its Comprehensive Housing Policy. Now, city staff members are charged with turning those recommendations into official city policy and practice.

Rewriting the city’s housing plan with a focus on racial equity is intended to undo some of the damage from a long history of discriminatory City of Dallas policies, which denied Black and Latino neighborhoods the same support that helped produce prosperity in white communities.

“Dallas will never be the city it can be until Dallas becomes an equitable city,” said Councilmember Casey Thomas, who chairs the council’s Housing and Homelessness Solutions committee. “We have to understand equity, put equity first, and move forward.”

Thomas led the push to revise the city’s current policy, starting with hiring consultants to audit the city’s current Comprehensive Housing Policy.

That policy, passed in 2018, sets out three goals, including using the city’s housing plan to “overcome patterns of segregation and concentrations of poverty through incentives and requirements,” and building more fair housing options.

Nonetheless, the consultants’ audit found the city housing policy laid out “no vision or strategies” to achieve those goals. A recent complaint to the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development argues the city has actually increased segregation in low-income housing since 2018.

The recommendations adopted by the city council Wednesday are meant to provide the missing vision and strategy for building racial equity into Dallas’ policies and practices around housing.

The recommendations also fit into a larger effort by the city to put racial equity front and center across all of the city’s departments, Thomas said.

The resolution to formally adopt the recommendations passed unanimously.

One step forward

The council’s adoption of the recommendations doesn’t actually change city policy. Instead, they provide a roadmap for how city staff members should re-write the Comprehensive Housing Policy. That updated policy will need to be reviewed and approved by the city council. That’s expected to happen this fall.

To actually implement the recommendations and work toward racial equity in the city’s housing and other initiatives, the city council will also need to approve money and enact policies that support the communities that have been underserved and marginalized by city policy.

“The staff can bring forward projects and we can dream up all sorts of great ideas, but unless we have the leadership behind us to bring these projects past city council – past approval – we can’t do it,” said the city’s housing director, David Noguera.

Among the recommendations is a dedicated revenue stream to build affordable housing that is “scaled to the magnitude of Dallas’ affordable housing shortage.” That will likely take the form of a voter-approved bond package, though City Manager T.C. Broadnax said exactly how large and exactly how it might work has not been determined.

The city will also add a goal to the city’s housing plan to remedy the infrastructure deficit in southern Dallas stemming from “generations” of underinvestment.

“We have to understand that if we want to level the playing field, it’s not about spreading resources equally,” said Council Member Jaime Resendez, who represents southeast Dallas. “We need significant financial investment focused on infrastructure and really addressing the opportunity gaps in southern Dallas, a place that has been historically neglected.”

Lending practices

But making significant progress toward a more equitable housing landscape will take more than the city acting alone. Several council members and speakers at the meeting pointed to the role banks and other financial institutions will have to play.

Equitable access to capital is crucial for Black- and Latino-led housing developments to get off the ground, and for people of color to become homeowners. The banking industry has a long history of discriminatory lending practices that have undermined the prosperity of communities of color in Dallas and the rest of the country.

Many lending institutions continue to underserve communities of color in Dallas and around the nation.

Council Member Carolyn King Arnold suggested the city take look at the performance of the institutions it banks with.

“We have to take a Rosa Parks approach to the folks we’re taking our money to as the city. If they’re not going to do business with [Black and Latino communities], they’re going to continue to redline…we need to stop doing business with them and we need to call them out.”

Arnold said she hears regularly from Black contractors who want to build in the southern sector, but can’t get loans from the bank to start their projects.

The recommendations

The recommendations are, functionally, marching orders for city staff. They’ll spend the rest of the year figuring out how to take the recommendations and turn them into city policy and practices.

The first three recommendations call for the creating of a vision statement for “how the affordable housing playing field will be leveled for all racial groups,” a city-wide strategy for how to get there, and setting clear benchmarks for progress.

Another recommendation calls for an education campaign for staff, policymakers and the public about what racial equity means in the context of affordable housing.

One of the recommendations adopted by the city relates to the placement of affordable apartment developments subsidized by federal tax credits. It calls for the placing these projects “in both high opportunity areas with low poverty rates and distressed areas with higher [poverty] rates.”

The city is currently facing a complaint brought by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development on behalf of a Dallas resident who argues the city has concentrated these subsidized affordable housing developments in Black and Latino neighborhoods in violation of the Fair Housing Act and other civil rights laws.

There are also recommendations that address the potential for backlash against expanding affordable housing. That includes a “myth busting campaign” to dispel misinformation that fuels NIMBYism, and a focus on building affordable housing across all 14 council districts.

Got a tip? Christopher Connelly is KERA's One Crisis Away Reporter, exploring life on the financial edge. Email Christopher .You can follow Christopher on Twitter @hithisischris.

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Christopher Connelly is a reporter covering issues related to financial instability and poverty for KERA’s One Crisis Away series. In 2015, he joined KERA to report on Fort Worth and Tarrant County. From Fort Worth, he also focused on politics and criminal justice stories.