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Candidates In City Council District 6 Share One Goal: Fix West Dallas Housing

Allison V. Smith
KERA News special contributor
The Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge as seen from West Dallas. The gentrifying neighborhood is the subject of KERA's One Crisis Away series: "No Place To Go."

West Dallas is undergoing a transformation with new apartments and restaurants. Meanwhile, the city is implementing tougher housing standards, and longtime residents are getting moved out. That's the primary issue for the five challengers to incumbent Monica Alonzo in the race for City Council District 6 in Saturday's election.

A gentrifying neighborhood 

As KERA's series "One Crisis Away: No Place To Go" is chronicling, about 300 families are facing a June 3 deadline to move out of their West Dallas rental homes . HMK Ltd. owns the houses, and the landlord says stricter city housing codes have made it too expensive to repair these aging structures.

That's what motivated Gil Cerda, a retired Dallas police officer, to run.

“I really got anxious to run due to the fact what was happening with the gentrification in West Dallas," he says. "I felt that the city didn’t take the residents into account and were just really focused on the development side of the issue.”

He’s worried about the HMK renters. Many of them have lived in those houses for decades. Just about all of them are low-income families.   

“What are we going to do with all of these folks? You got the elderly there, you got veterans there, you got many families with children that were still in school. And no thought process was ever developed to how do you move all of these folks out gently without causing pain and suffering?”

Cerda thinks the city should provide financial aid to families who have to move.

Helping residents find stability

Omar Narvaez is a trustee for Dallas County Schools, the agency that runs buses for the public school districts in the county. He says he’s running in District 6 because folks in West Dallas said they weren't being heard.

“They felt that they have been underrepresented at City Hall and [are] ready for somebody to listen to their concerns and champion those concerns at City Hall. They saw that through my record of leadership …That they wanted that kind of proven track record to be the person to lead them and represent them at City Hall," he says.

Credit Allison V. Smith / KERA News special contributor
KERA News special contributor
Joe Garcia, and his 84-year-old mother, live in a rental home owned by HMK Ltd. As the June 3 deadline looms, they still don't have a plan.

Narvaez says incumbent Alonzo, who's also currently mayor pro tem, hasn’t done enough for this part of Dallas.

“When it comes down to the housing crisis," he says, "this is your district and you’re silent. You haven’t said a word. And the best she has come up with? A task force she put together. ‘Oh, we’re going to have a survey to find out what these folks need.' I could have told you without having to do a survey that they need a place to live. I think it’s the city’s job to have done more."

Narvaez is referring to the survey conducted by Catholic Charities to find out the needs of the HMK tenants.

'It's not just experience'

Alonzo says she has been working on West Dallas housing. She disagrees with the critiques from her challengers.

“It is incorrect," she says. "We’ve been working not only the tenants but with attorneys with the mayor’s office in getting not only to discuss with the owner as we are responding with the tenant's request. The most important tenant request is 'We want to stay there. We want to stay in West Dallas,." 

Alonzo who’s been on the council since 2011, says she’s the right person to fix the housing problems.

“It’s not just experience — it's experience, it's leadership, it’s getting along. ... Being able to be a consensus builder, the experience that I have with the colleagues today, to be able to move the items forward." 

The other three candidates in District 6 are Tony Carrillo, a landlord and auto parts store owner, Alex Dickey, an Irving high school teacher, and Linus Spiller, a human resources assistant. And no matter who wins this city council race Saturday, the affordable housing crunch is one certainty in a changing West Dallas.

Jessica Diaz- Hurtado is an NPR Kroc Fellow. As part of her fellowship, she’s spending several months reporting at KERA.