By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Get it? Room 5A North tells you to go to Room 5A South. Room 5A South says you have to go back to 5A North. But when you get back to Room 5A North, it's locked. And then Room 5A South says, "We don't deal with the kind of people who can't get into Room 5A North."
Before they can get themselves un-tabled, their bank forecloses on them. Then the TIF says it can't do business with people who are in foreclosure. Room 5A South is now closed for business.
They say they lost $30 million. That's a ton of money. Thirty million bucks out of people's pockets is a ton of money, especially when they were the ones trying to do right by the law.
The city wouldn't let me interview officials in person, because the city expects a lawsuit out of all this. It's reasonable for the city not to allow its employees to sit down and blab into a recorder for a newspaper reporter when they know the information is all going to be used against them in court. I do get that.
I asked Lockey and MacKenzie if they intend to sue. They say there are ways the city could clean things up short of litigation. I'm betting on a lawsuit. But the city has way bigger problems in this than a lawsuit.
HUD sent the city a letter asking the city to respond to a list of specific charges made by Lockey and MacKenzie. The city provided me with HUD's questions and the city's responses. Based on my reading, I would say HUD is not buying the city's devil-made-me-do-it story about the TIF. HUD clearly thinks the city has been instructing developers on how not to meet the HUD guidelines for affordable housing.
"Please explain why the city would approve a program design and would solicit proposals that do not meet the minimum national objective requirement for housing activities," HUD says at one point.
The city answers that it's possible to get waivers from the national guidelines and, in fact, HUD has granted such waivers in the past. But HUD comes right back and says the city doesn't even tell developers what the guidelines are. It just tells them to low-ball the affordable housing piece.
Some of this is almost cultural. Lockey and MacKenzie complain to HUD that the Dallas City Council declared in a formal resolution a year ago that the city is officially divided into two halves—the "Southern Sector" and the "Northern Sector" demarcated by the Interstate 30 expressway—and that half of all HUD money should be spent in each half.
At first I thought, "Yeah? So what? Everybody knows we have a northern sector and a southern sector." But then I thought some more. I asked myself, "What does that mean? Sector?"
Are we worried about people getting lost? Do we want to know which end of town is closer to the South Pole?
No. In this, the 10th year of the 21st century, we have adopted what we think is a new and sophisticated way to say "Colored Town."
I'm sorry. I am fully aware what an offensive term that is. But we need to be fully honest about what these terms, northern sector and southern sector, refer to. Whitey-whites one way. Dark skins the other way. And that's how we're going to hand out the HUD money?
That's definitely not in the HUD guidelines.
In fact, the city's whole approach to affordable housing flies in the face of the HUD guidelines, which are aimed at improving life for poor and working people and reducing segregation.
When two guys come along and propose a deal that comports with the HUD guidelines, the city of Dallas shows them to the table. And we all know what happens there.
There is a stunning parallelism in this story, the Trinity River, North Texas air quality and light rail planning in Dallas. In each instance, Dallas has been accustomed for decades to flouting federal rules, because the feds in every case have smirked and stared at their shoes in silence.
HUD has been granting Dallas waivers right and left on affordable housing downtown at least since the Clinton administration. In 9 years, HUD has granted Dallas and Dallas County approximately $300 million in HUD money. A question the city declined to answer for me was how many affordable housing units all that money has produced downtown.
But in a briefing memo to the council a year ago, assistant city manager A. C. Gonzalez wrote, "Unfortunately, today there are no existing affordable housing units downtown."
That's not "unfortunate." That's reprehensible.
As we are finding in all those other stories, Washington, D.C., has changed. There's a new sheriff in town. I don't believe Dallas City Hall is really worried about a lawsuit. I think they're worried about the sheriff. And should be.