Money, Honey

That's all the city council cares about in the big debate over downtown development

Chaney said he thinks it will be possible to use the money any number of ways. "I can do home repair. The Legislature left it kind of vague how we address affordable housing. It could be new home development."

The idea of a significant stream of cash for housing development is going to be very attractive to the leadership in Southern Dallas, where the need is great and where clergy and other leaders have banded together in recent years to form their own housing ventures. Mayor Miller says she understands all that and is not unsympathetic, but she had hoped to keep affordable housing out of the downtown debate at least long enough to decide the downtown tax increment financing (TIF) districts on their own merits.

"We were going to do Madison and Palladium on their merits," Miller told me, "and [then later] have a discussion about whether or not we were going to do affordable housing outside of the TIFs as a policy, because we have never spent TIF money outside a TIF ever for anything."

Mayor Pro Tem Donald Hill says he'll vote for new tax breaks for the Hicks/Perot arena development if the developer will agree to put millions of dollars in his district.
Peter Calvin
Mayor Pro Tem Donald Hill says he'll vote for new tax breaks for the Hicks/Perot arena development if the developer will agree to put millions of dollars in his district.

She said the same council bloc pushing for TIF money for affordable housing is also pushing to get an even larger amount for housing from the city's next general obligation bond issue. She said some council members are sympathetic to the idea of using money from the bond issue for affordable housing, but she suggested both ideas--TIF money and bond money--can't fly at the same time. "You pick your horse."

Leo Chaney disagrees.

"I want my money," he told me. "I want my money on top of the monies I get from the city. That's the way I can revitalize and reinvigorate these neighborhoods."

Chaney and Donald Hill are not trying to get this money for their own pockets. They are fighting for help for their constituents against a historical backdrop of malignant neglect.

But here's what gets me. The City Center-Madison TIF had taken the affordable housing thing out of its paperwork to the council. One week after Hill made his end run around the mayor and got Palladium's deal slated for a vote, the board of the City Center-Madison TIF voted to formally put a matching "five percent" offer for affordable housing back on the table in their deal.

I asked Miles Zitmore, chairman of that board, if City Center had seen Palladium getting some traction with Hill and his group on the city council and decided, "Hey, we better get in that housing game, too."

He said, "I don't think anybody actually verbalized that, but, well, yeah, this seems to be what is being requested and we ought to do it."

And here's the bad joke. After some lengthy discussions with city staff, I finally figured out that neither Palladium nor City Center-Madison is offering five percent of their own money. They're offering us our money.

I know. It took me awhile, too, to get this hat on my head, I think because of the sheer gall factor. Let me try to run it down:

The developers don't get to keep 100 percent of their own taxes anyway. Under the proposals, Palladium would keep 95 percent of its taxes and Madison just over 50 percent.

They're telling the council it can use the part that the developers don't get to keep--the portion that is already the city's own money anyway--for affordable housing. Well, duh. It's the council's money. The council can do what it wants with its own tax revenue. Exsqueeze me, but did we not fight a war with the British over this?

Wong of Palladium says it was his understanding all along that it was the council's prerogative to decide whether to spend its own share of the revenue from his project for affordable housing. He says his group never promised anybody it could actually deliver any money for housing. "We said, 'We're open to that, but you guys make that determination, not us.'"

And guess what else? That 5 percent that Chaney thought might produce $12 million from Palladium? Staff says when you take a real sharp pencil to it you should count on more like $3.4 million.

You know, all week long while I worked on this, I kept having this little nightmare daydream in which some guys come to me, and they tell me they intend to rob me at gunpoint in the near future. They say that they don't have a gun yet, so they wonder if they can borrow some money. And when I ask why I would go along with that, they tell me as an incentive they will agree to leave me enough money for dinner and a movie.

And because I have been thinking about this stuff too long, I say, "Any movie I want?"

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