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Dallas lets polluters build in Black and Latino neighborhoods, complaint alleges

A pile of toxic waste known as Shingle Mountain extended through an empty lot next to Marsha Jackson’s home at Floral Farms in Southeast Dallas for nearly three years. Photo taken on Nov. 19. 2020.
Keren Carrión
/
KERA
A pile of toxic waste known as Shingle Mountain extended through an empty lot next to Marsha Jackson’s home at Floral Farms in Southeast Dallas, on Nov. 19. 2020.

Dallas residents allege that the City of Dallas allowed Black and brown residential neighborhoods to be zoned next to industrial pollutants and are requesting a federal investigation.

The Coalition for Neighborhood Self-Determination describes that zoning as racist and discriminatory. The neighborhood coalition and local environmental justice advocates recently filed a complaint with the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development. The complaint alleges that the zoning is harming health and economic prosperity in communities of color.

“Many of the industrial uses emit pollution and cause harmful and nuisance effects for Black and Hispanic residents of those homes. This burden is disproportionately placed on neighborhoods of color. The City has been asked to change the zoning but has not acted to do so,” the complaint states.

KERA contacted the City of Dallas for comment but had not received a response prior to publication.

Residents of low-income communities of color have long complained that they bear a disproportionate burden of exposure to toxic chemicals coming from industry. Examples of toxic sites in those communities can be found across Dallas.

For example, residents of the Floral Farms neighborhood in southeast Dallas are still fighting to get the property next door zoned for a park — more than a year after a massive pile of discarded roofing materials known as Shingle Mountain was removed.

“Shingle Mountain wouldn’t have happened if the land next to my home were not zoned heavy industrial,” Floral Farms resident Marsha Jackson said recently.

“The nightmare is ongoing because the property next to my house is still zoned heavy industrial, and is currently being used as an illegal truck storage lot, and is permitted for metal scrap and salvage.”

Another example: Residents in West Dallas say the GAF asphalt factory located a block away from their homes is polluting their air. They are pushing the city to kick the factory out. GAF has said the company is leaving West Dallas in 7 years, but has not released any details on how that would happen or an exact date.

The HUD complaint details how Dallas’ industrial zoning adjacent to single-family neighborhoods of color violates the Fair Housing Act.

“The City’s industrial zoning unfairly makes dwellings and the financing for the sale and repair of dwellings unavailable for Black and Hispanic neighborhoods while unfairly sparing White non-Hispanic neighborhoods from the same restrictions” the complaint states.

The neighborhood coalition said residents are harmed by the inability to sell or buy homes and obtain loans for their homes because of the way their homes or properties next to their homes are zoned.

The group proposed a way to fix the zoning issue earlier this year. They wanted the city to work with them to identify where in Dallas homes are in industrially zoned areas, and homes are adjacent to areas zoned for Industrial Research and Industrial Manufacturing. And then through the creation of an “Environmental Justice overlay district” both entities could work to change the zoning from industrial to residential.

"Let's get rid of the current polluters and future polluters by changing the zoning itself. And then also respect the neighborhood's sovereignty by giving them the status of being homes residentially zoned,” said Evelyn Mayo, who heads the environmental group Downwinders at Risk and is a fellow at Paul Quinn College.

Mayo said there is a connection between the environment and land-use planning. She said this is a local policy issue and city government has the power to work with communities to find solutions.

"Unfortunately, the city often doesn't pay attention to issues until there might be some kind of federal or legal implications for their inaction. And so we're hoping that this is the push they need to finally take this issue seriously,” Mayo said.

Got a tip? Email Alejandra Martinez at amartinez@kera.org. You can follow Alejandra on Twitter @alereports.

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Alejandra Martinez is a reporter for KERA and The Texas Newsroom through Report for America (RFA). She's covering the impact of COVID-19 on underserved communities and the city of Dallas.