Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings responded Tuesday to federal housing officials who say the city is violating civil rights laws with its affordable housing practices. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development alleges that the city has steered most of its housing for low-income residents to southern Dallas.
At an Oak Cliff Chamber of Commerce luncheon, Rawlings said he’s concerned about the federal investigation.
“The allegations in the letter are serious. They deserve special attention and we need to get to the bottom of it,” Rawlings said.
HUD began its investigation after developers Curtis Lockey and Craig MacKenzie filed a complaint with the agency. They also sued the city in federal district court after being denied millions in subsidies for their plans to redevelop a downtown tower at 1600 Pacific Ave. The project would have designated at least 40 percent of its housing for lower-income residents. Their case was dismissed, but the developers have since appealed. They claim the city’s actions were discriminatory.
Rawlings takes issue with that.
“It’s my understanding that we backed away from that deal for legitimate reasons and not for some of the reasons that were laid out,” Rawlings said. “The developers were asking for nearly all the city’s section 108 funds, brought very little equity to the table and really didn’t have their finances in order.”
In its 29-page letter, HUD says the evidence doesn’t support the city’s reasons for not backing the Pacific Ave. tower project. It says that projects with fewer affordable housing units were not treated the same way and that the city has a pattern of rejecting affordable housing projects in northern Dallas.
Oak Cliff Chamber President Bob Stimson said HUD’s investigation is long overdue.
“Our position is that we need to be developing more mixed income projects that have income streams from different sources, both affordable units and market rate units and maybe even some commercial,” Stimson said. “You know retail or office space mixed in, in order to make them more economically viable.”
HUD officials say the city has 30 days to respond to the agency’s letter. The city could agree to a voluntary resolution, which could mean a long-term fair housing strategy and an ordinance requiring publicly funded housing projects to accept housing vouchers or other government assistance.
Rawlings said city officials plan to meet with HUD.