Dallas City Council Divided on Housing Equity, United in Wanting Austin to Butt Out

Have a housing voucher? Don't plan on living downtown.
Have a housing voucher? Don't plan on living downtown.
Dodd Communications

The Dallas City Council Housing Committee may not agree on the best way to disperse affordable housing throughout the city, but they are on the same page when it comes to what they don't want. No one wants Texas state lawmakers in Austin to tell the city of Dallas what to do.

City council members like Philip Kingston, Tiffinni Young and Casey Thomas, favor passing an ordinance that would make housing discrimination based on source-of-income illegal in Dallas, although passing such an ordinance would go against state law. 

But Lee Kleinman, who favors a more market-based approach than anything the council has hinted at doing so far, is also content to leave Austin out of it. "As our legislative chair, I will always fight for local control even if I don't agree with the local decision," he told council members. "The policy that I think this committee is trying to move forward is precluded by state law. So, when we discuss it around the horseshoe I will probably fight you on that concept, if you guys want it as part of the legislative agenda ... let's get it on the agenda."

Theoretically, Dallas' Housing Choice Voucher program should give people who need affordable housing vouchers that are good for market rate rent in any zip code.  Landlords are supposed to get a good deal, too, with a guarantee that they'll get paid the rent to voucher holders. 

Of course, it's not nearly that easy, as the Dallas City Council Housing Committee found out again on Monday. That's why the council's going to do something — and likely pick a fight with the state of Texas in the process.

Even though vouchers used in other parts of the city are worth considerably more, four of the top five city council districts for housing vouchers are the four South Dallas districts represented by African-American council members. Thomas' District 3, centered in South Oak Cliff is home to the most families in the city using housing vouchers (4,568), despite having some of the lowest average rents in the city of Dallas. 

In other parts of the city, like the 75201 and 75202 zip codes downtown, there are no units available to those seeking vouchers, according the DHA website, despite the fact that many buildings downtown have units with rents well under the maximum voucher amount.

Kingston and other members of the city council like Thomas say landlords don't want people using vouchers living in their units. That keeps Dallas residents receiving the vouchers concentrated in southern Dallas.

"The reason for non-participation by landlords isn't really monetary, at least it's not rent-based," Kingston said. "We do believe, in addition to non-participation [due to the bureaucratic hassles of taking the vouchers], there is discrimination not just on source of income, but also on race."

In June, the city council debated two types of potential source-of-income non-discrimination measures before agreeing to delay a vote until the fall.  The council could pass an ordinance that bans discrimination based on source-of-income only insofar as the ban stays on the right side of current state law — SB 267 allows for ordinances that prevent source-of-income discrimination against veterans — and then wait for a legal challenge to the state law.

The first would simply ban the practice outright, setting the Dallas up for a legal battle with the state. "So state legislators who voted in favor of this, thank you for your kind commentary on how we run our city, but we’ll handle it ourselves," Kingston said during a June council meeting.

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