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Dallas City Council kills demolition ordinance that impacted historic Black neighborhoods

One of the better-preserved wood-frame homes in the historic Tenth District in Oak Cliff
Dallas City Hall
One of the better-preserved wood-frame homes in the historic Tenth District in Oak Cliff

An amendment to the Dallas development code will end a rule that made it easier for the city to demolish homes in minority and low-income historic districts.

The ordinance allowed demolition for residential buildings 3,000 square-feet or less that have been declared “substandard urban nuisances” in historic districts.

Dallas City Council unanimously approved the amendment, deleting the ordinance added to the code in 2010.

Prior to the vote, Deputy Mayor Pro-Tem Carolyn King Arnold thanked council members for their support.

“Just know we continue to need you as we continue to protect, as much as we can, that community from rapid gentrification,” Arnold said.

Although the ordinance applied to all historic districts in Dallas, many of the substandard houses were in minority and low-income districts, according to a case report by the Dallas Landmark Commission.

Between 2010 and 2023, 35 historic homes were demolished in the Tenth Street Historic District. Since 2010, six historic homes were demolished in Wheatley Place.

The Tenth Street District, located in Oak Cliff, is one of the historically recognized Freedmen's Towns in Texas.

Freedmen’s Towns, also known as freedom colonies, were either bought or adversely given to Black Texans and produced historically significant communities between 1865 to 1930, according to the Texas State Historical Association.

Tenth Street has faced challenges to city growth since the 1950s, when the construction of Interstate 35 led to the demolition of homes in the district. The community has struggled since.

“There are way too many homes that have been lost that cannot be regained,” said Carolyn Howard, executive director of Preservation Dallas.

In its case report, the Landmark Commission said it was losing the opportunity to work with property owners and city departments to maintain and rehabilitate the historic housing in the districts.

The ordinance also made it easier for historic homes to be torn down at a time when the city is struggling with affordable housing, according to the Landmark Commission report.

Several Dallas residents spoke in favor of removing the ordinance, commenting on the racially disparate impact it had on the neighborhoods.

Tenth Street resident Shaun Montgomery said the repeal happening during Black History Month felt like everything was coming full circle, but it was bittersweet. She referenced previous residents Mamie McKnight and Minnie Flanagan, who fought for their community years before.

“I wonder how they would feel to know this neighborhood that they were in — the Freedman’s Town that our people could go to, the only area — how would they feel to know that over 200 structures have been demolished in that neighborhood,” she said.

Both Council Member Omar Narvaez and Mayor Pro Tem Tennell Atkins spoke to the importance of preserving history and referenced Dallas’ Little Mexico neighborhood that has largely been enveloped by Uptown.

“We've got to think about what happened, how we can go forward,” Atkins said. “You cannot grow without history. You’ve got to have a history in order to grow.”

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Megan Cardona is a daily news reporter for KERA News. She was born and raised in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and previously worked at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.