City Hall

West Dallas Landlord Offers Mayor Deal That Could Sell Disputed Houses to Habitat for Humanity

Khraish H. Khraish, the landlord locked in battle with the city over houses in West Dallas that the city says are substandard, says he met with Mayor Mike Rawlings and City Council Member Monica Alonzo Thursday morning to offer a settlement including the sale of more than 300 properties to Habitat for Humanity.

Rawlings declined to allow Bill Hall, CEO of Habitat, to attend yesterday’s meeting.

Khraish, a principal in HMK Ltd., which the mayor has painted as a slumlord company, also offered to build an assisted living center for his most elderly tenants. Khraish says he told the mayor he will offer to sell houses he owns in other parts of the city to his tenants in deals he would finance himself.

The city has accused Khraish of trying to shut down his business, which includes hundreds of small low-rent houses in southern Dallas and West Dallas, to spite the city for passing tougher rental housing standards last month.

Khraish has suggested the city’s aggressiveness toward the firm he owns with his father has less to do with concern for the welfare of their tenants than with real estate interests in the district just west of the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge, a hot area for gentrification.

The mayor has insisted his only interest is in the welfare of the Khraish tenants, who, he has said, are subjected to intolerable living conditions. But we published a story here two days ago that included an audio recording of a 2015 meeting between the mayor and the Khraishes in which the mayor declined to talk about living conditions in Khraish-owned homes and pressed them instead to consider selling their property. He also pressed them for financial details of their business including the amount of debt they carry and the name of their bank.

The younger Khraish has told me that he and his father want to leave the house renting business because of what they see as a hostile relationship with city officials. Leaving the business, he says, is the only way he can shelter himself and his father from a potential of millions of dollars in fines and criminal penalties.

He says he filed a notice to the city required by state law of his intention to shut down the business in 30 days, but he says he has not moved to evict any tenant based on that notice. Khraish says he is involved in a small number of evictions for nonpayment of rent, which he calls a normal ongoing aspect of his business.
As part of his offer to the mayor yesterday, Khraish says he promised to allow the 300 families in his West Dallas properties to remain in their homes until the end of the school year but only if the city will grant him a moratorium on fines and criminal penalties during that time.

Khraish says he wants to sell all of his West Dallas properties to Habitat for Humanity “in order to keep the community together” and protect the area from rampant gentrification and large expensive condo developments. Habitat CEO Hall accompanied Khraish to yesterday’s meeting with the mayor, but Rawlings would not allow Hall to attend.

Hall confirmed to me that he showed up for the meeting but was not allowed in. Hall told me in an email: “Habitat is not taking sides in the disagreement, we just want to see the families have time to relocate. If there was or is a future role for us to help make that happen, we are happy to listen and help if wanted by both sides.”

Khraish says the city is actively recruiting tenants to join a lawsuit against his company. He says a settlement will be difficult if that activity continues.

I described all of the points related to me by Khraish in a memo that I emailed to Scott Goldstein, the mayor’s spokesman. For the second day in a row, Goldstein did not respond to my requests for comment or clarification.

Khraish tells me the mayor and Alonzo were noncommittal concerning his offer.

The main points of the Khraish offer, then, are these: 1) All 300 West Dallas families except those who don’t pay rent or are suing him can stay in their houses temporarily. 2) He and his father will pursue the sale of all of their West Dallas properties to Habitat or some other partner. 3) He and his father will build an assisted living center on land they own in West Dallas. 4) The Khraishes will offer for sale their houses in South Dallas to their tenants on a seller-financed basis.

In exchange, the city must agree to cease recruiting tenants to sue them and must grant a moratorium on fines and criminal prosecution.

If the city won’t agree to these or other terms satisfactory to the Khraishes, they will proceed with clearing the 300 West Dallas houses and with the demolition or conversion of the houses to other uses.
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Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze