Houses Divided

A fight over public housing pits working-class East Dallas homeowners against their poorer neighbors in a battle tainted by claims of racism

Rebuilding West Dallas, Lott says, has improved the spiritual lot of its residents. "Now they can see their way clearer to owning a home," she says, "whereas before 10 years ago they never thought it was possible." What about neighbors who don't want DHA's annexes in their back yards? Hard feelings, Lott admits, won't subside overnight. "Housing is where you live, it's very personal," she says. "We just hope for tolerance."


Ann Lott offers one method at her disposal for soothing citizen anger: public assistance. They can "come to the table," she says. "They can benefit from some of the resources" at Roseland Homes, including day-care facilities and other programs. Or they could sign up for public housing. "They are probably eligible," she says.

Attorney Edwin Olsen, left, and neighborhood leaders Elizabeth Castro, center, and Carl Smith, right, hope a last-ditch legal effort will block construction of additional public  housing projects in their area.
Mark Graham
Attorney Edwin Olsen, left, and neighborhood leaders Elizabeth Castro, center, and Carl Smith, right, hope a last-ditch legal effort will block construction of additional public housing projects in their area.

It's true that many struggling families in predominantly Hispanic Fitzhugh-Capitol, at least those who are legal residents, are probably eligible for public housing, although, it appears most are at least marginally better off than the average project dweller. Yet eligible doesn't mean willing.

The controversy has unsettled the area's political landscape and unearthed resistance, even antipathy, among Latinos and Asians to public assistance programs. "A lot of Hispanics are brought up that you pull your own weight," says Elsa Tovar, a single mother of four who lives in the area and challenged Ehrhardt in last year's Democratic primary for state representative. "The sad part is these families have worked hard for their homes. It's really going to hurt their property."

Tovar is typical of her working-class neighbors who passionately oppose DHA's entrance into Fitzhugh-Capitol. Her monthly take-home is about $1,500, and she recounts a recent $322 gas bill and child-care costs that set her back dramatically. "I'm barely making ends meet," she admits. "However, I know I can do it."

Peter Pich, an Asian community leader and teacher at Kennedy Elementary, reports similar dismay among the community's Cambodian, Laotian and Vietnamese populations, who note that public housing construction goes forth in their neighborhood even as schools remain crowded and roads suffer disrepair. "We feel like we've been pushed over many times," he says.

Meanwhile, Ramos' newfound political activism may be a harbinger of the future when strife among minority groups, even those low on the economic scale, leads to disenchantment: Like working-class whites, they turn conservative. A former Democrat, Ramos and another resident shocked neighbors last fall by erecting large "Re-elect Pete Sessions" posters on their lawns, a first for Capitol Avenue.

Ramos and other neighbors are certain Sessions' intervention won them a hearing in Judge Buchmeyer's court. As a result, Sessions has earned the trust of many in the community. Last September, Ramos hosted a well-attended "town hall" meeting with Sessions and other GOP candidates in his home. "If a man comes into our neighborhood," Ramos says, "and says, yes, you were not treated fairly, he deserves our support."

Indeed, a bad aftertaste lingers in Fitzhugh-Capitol that may remain long after DHA renovates Roseland Homes. "It hurts when an official calls you a racist," Ramos says. "They don't know us."

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