By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
FU NIMBY: Hey, Dallas Housing Authority and Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance, here's a little unsolicited advice on how to win hearts and minds as you go about your work of sheltering the homeless: If you're going to flip your fellow citizens the bird, try not to make them sit through a three-hour meeting before you raise that middle finger.
Apparently, someone at DHA and MDHA missed a few lessons in etiquette. Monday night, three hours into the first meeting of a task force intended to settle residents' worries over plans to turn 100 units of Cliff Manor into housing for the "chronically" homeless, the agencies revealed they were going to go ahead and move 17 residents from The Bridge homeless shelter into the Oak Cliff apartments next week.
Mayor Tom Leppert had asked council member Dave Neumann to create the task force to see if perhaps there was some kind of compromise that could be reached between the agencies and residents, who believe the southern sector has become the first and only choice for housing the city's homeless.
"Basically, we're all very frustrated at the way the whole thing has played out, especially because there was very solid progress last night," says Mayor Leppert's chief of staff, Chris Heinbaugh. "The community was engaged. They began laying out their concerns and expectations."
They went from engaged to enraged around 9 p.m., upon learning DHA and MDHA will begin moving residents from The Bridge right away because of a letter attorney Mike Daniel sent to DHA President MaryAnn Russ and MDHA President Mike Faenza on June 23. The letter threatened a lawsuit on behalf of the homeless under the Fair Housing Amendments Act, which prohibits housing discrimination against the handicapped, whose numbers include recovering addicts.
To say the task force members were surprised by the announcement would be "an understatement," says member Brett Willmott, vice president of the Fort Worth Avenue Development Group.
"Everybody left frustrated and pretty much feeling like we wasted the entire evening," he says. "To go three hours and then have it dropped on us that the first 17 are moving in next week is frustrating, because there are issues remaining that need to be resolved—like the zoning and the fact that more than 70 percent of these projects are being put in the southern sector....We really want to work out a compromise, but we're being viewed as an elitist group that doesn't want them coming in. That's not the case. We want to help our neighbors. We just can't absorb everyone."