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During Debate Over Supportive Housing Near Farmers Market, Suhm Reveals City Will Seek Private Operator For Market Within 10 Days

For the last two days my inbox has been flooded -- flooded -- with emails from residents and property owners around the downtown farmers market, each one of which more or less says the same thing: Those two supportive housing projects being proposed downtown -- Larry Hamilton and John Greenan's Cadillac Apartments on Cadiz and S. Ervay in the shadow of City Hall and First Presbyterian and Family Gateway's Evergreen Residences at nearby 1701 Canton -- are bad for the area, especially given their proximity to The Bridge. They each point to high crime around the market, and the crumbling buildings that line that side of the Central Business District. No more homeless, they say; enough's enough. Which all sounds very, very familiar.

And so, once again, the familiar names and faces -- among them Dallas Farmers Market-area property manager Tanya Ragan, resident Leslie Ingendorf, architect Craig Melde -- lined up to offer the council their myriad reasons for opposing the projects. Said Melde, who wants to do more development in the area, putting more supportive housing down there "will not contribute to that positive environment" the city claims it wants for the market; added Ragan, "Last year we opposed two supportive housing projects in the farmers market area ... and fortunately both were stopped. Flash forward one year, and there are two more."

But Melde noted during his speech in opposition that he's on Economic Development's task force looking at privatizing the Dallas Farmers Market -- this, after an earlier effort to do so came up short. At which point City Manager Mary Suhm chimed in with further explanation, telling the council that Assistant City Manager Ryan Evans has been working on the request for proposals for "the last several months" while also "working with individuals who are interested" in taking over the market.

"An RFP will be going out in the next week, 10 days," Suhm told the council. "I believe that's a very viable opportunity to improve and expand the life of that area."

Angela Hunt asked Suhm to come to her Quality of Life Committee sooner than later with a briefing outlining plans to grow the area. Because, said Hunt, she too has spent several months, along with Mayor Mike Rawlings, meeting with The Bridge higher-ups and Downtown Dallas Inc. execs about crime in the area and issues involving "the accessibility of nonprofits during the day" and how "that leads some of the homeless to the farmers market area and leads to many of the problems we've heard about."

Said Hunt of the Dallas Farmers Market itself: "Having been at the farmers market numerous times I've seen those problems, and we need a plan to address that, a plan of action of how we're going to work with those property owners to get this resolved to the best of our ability. The farmers market is such a big asset, I feel like we're floundering, and I hate when I go to these other cities and see their markets thriving, I'm so jealous. I don't want to be jealous."

Hunt's colleagues Sheffie Kadane and Sandy Greyson joined with the so-called Farmers Market Stakeholders -- as it read on their red T-shirts -- in opposing the projects. Kadane says it's too much, too close. Greyson asked what happened to the "zero tolerance" to crime the council was promised when it voted to put The Bridge on that side of downtown. Said Kadane, "That's one of the things told to the owners and businesses there [and] they've got more crime down there most anywhere in the city, from what I've seen, and we still have not taken it to zero tolerance."

Those housing developments, of course, are no sure thing: Jerry Killingsworth, head of the city's Housing Department, told the council that they're still a ways off on deciding which of these project should be eligible for those low-income housing tax credits being offered by the Texas Department of Housing & Community Affairs, which has just $7.6 million to spread around Dallas, Denton, Collin, Tarrant and Grayson counties this year. Only one or two Dallas projects will get some of that money, he reminded council, and those that don't probably won't survive.

Rents, he explained, would be paid for using vouchers. And that, he said, "is not sufficient to cover the debt service without the tax credits. Either one of these projects, if they don't get tax credits, these deals don't go forward." Which is why, for now, council voted to keep moving ahead with letting city staff rank the projects before forwarding them to Austin. We hit the "pause" button till June, as the city begins discussions with neighborhood groups affected by the proposed projects.

"We gotta get all over this farmers market thing," said Rawlings, who noted that he's thrilled the city is once again putting out an RFP for the market.

"We have a huge, huge opportunity in Dallas," he said. "Urban environments have demonstrated you can have economic growth and homeless and be successful. I remember seven years ago when people were blaming lack of growth downtown on the homeless." But, he insisted, those days are over. Now, he said, "The problem is this: The only answer to our homeless issue is permanent supportive housing, the projects Jerry is talking about. That's the only solution. Otherwise they stay on the street, the Family Gateway, The Bridge. That's the only plan that's going to work."

But nobody wants it in their backyard, he said. "Nobody wants it close." But, he said, permanent supportive housing isn't another homeless shelter, far from it. "Permanent supportive housing has demonstrated time and time again when done correctly it increases property values and crime goes down because of the supportive services that are there. That is math that has been proven across the nation. Long story short, we've got to power through this."


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