Change Is Gonna Come

With some help from his friends, Don Williams intends to save South Dallas one block at a time

"The interest in the South Dallas neighborhood was always there," Lott says. "That was always on Don Williams' heart. I knew that, and that's why I approached him for the help. As a matter of fact, when we had received the announcement we were going to get the grant, while I was elated I was also concerned that our property was going to be the best-looking housing in the neighborhood, and that would have been a failure. It's a lot of money to put into a decaying neighborhood."

It took several years to get the money, but on March 5, 2003, HUD approved that $20 million HOPE VI grant, and DHA went forward with its plan to renew Frazier Courts. Last year, the courts finally came down, and the people who lived there were given vouchers to live in other public housing developments till their new homes were ready.

"It felt great to see the housing come down," Lott says. "It was so much... brighter. And I felt like, 'It's happening,' and it feels even better to see the new housing going up. Ten years from now we'll be able to drive by there and say, 'We made a difference.'"

J. McDonald Williams--"Don" to everyone who knows him--is attempting to prove private investors can do what public money can't.
J. McDonald Williams--"Don" to everyone who knows him--is attempting to prove private investors can do what public money can't.
Ann Lott at the Dallas Housing Authority says she was stunned to find that urban designer Antonio DiMambro lived in Boston.
Ann Lott at the Dallas Housing Authority says she was stunned to find that urban designer Antonio DiMambro lived in Boston.

But it will make no sense to have nice public housing surrounded by blight and decay, which is why Tate has been charged with trying to acquire land in the neighborhood for projects DiMambro has put in his extensive plan. It will not be easy: For every one property owner you can find in South Dallas, there are dozens who are out of town or impossible to find, since many of the houses down there have been passed to generations of residents who have long since disappeared. Lott says that since seizing them under eminent domain is not an option--each instance has to be approved by HUD when public-housing entities are involved--"it will be a challenge, but you have to keep the faith."

For years, that is all the folks in South Dallas have had to go on: faith that things will get better.

"South Dallas is not going to really change with the help of a few people here and there," Williams says. "So many of my friends in Dallas don't believe anything good can ever come in lower-income areas. So we've got to prove that there can be change other than through kicking out people and moving them somewhere else. I think if we can get that kind of comprehensive revitalization going, it will demonstrate the model works, and I think a lot of people will come on board. Now that is what we're trying to do, and if that is a pipe dream, then it is a pipe dream. But that's what we're trying to do. "

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