More Subsidized Housing is the Last Thing Poor Neighborhoods Need

The Dallas Morning News owes me at least five bucks for all the business I steer their way -- and, believe me, I hate doing it -- but once again they have an op-ed piece in the paper today that's really a must-read for people who care about the city or have any involvement at all with City Hall.

It's a carefully written, closely argued plea from two guys who could be viewed as occupying opposite sides of the tracks in a typical day-to-day context. They're basically saying that subsidized housing for the poor can become a social poison and that southern Dallas needs less of it, not more.

Man, that certainly has been the evidence of my own eyes watching this stuff over the years. In fact, I'd like to see the point taken to the next level: It's time to stop demonizing the honest private-sector landlords who rent to the poor -- stop calling them slumlords, like they made slums happen -- and recognize that many of them provide a valuable service.

Maybe next year.

This time around, the two men making a case are Bob Stimson, former City Council member and president of the Oak Cliff Chamber of Commerce who is ... well, you know, he's the president of a Chamber of Commerce ... and Peter Johnson, a soldier of the civil rights movement who still carries unhealed internal injuries from Bloody Sunday, March 7, 1965, the battle of the Edmund Pettis Bridge during the March to Montgomery.

In this essay the two men join voices to argue that concentrating government-subsidized housing in already poverty-plagued districts of the city only pours fuel on flames of despair:

Studies determined that high concentrations of restricted units correspond with low school performance, high crime rates and more. Many of the apartments are in areas that lack jobs, grocery stores, medical facilities and other necessary services. Those communities are unlikely to attract these basic necessities until there is more disposable income in the area. Hence, a cycle of poverty that is hard to escape.

What they don't say is that subsidized housing has worked a terrible curse of corruption on the city as well. Don Hill, the bright idealistic young lawyer and City Council member who is now going to die an old man in federal prison, didn't rob banks. He robbed his own constituents by taking bribes from a subsidized housing developer.

And you know what else? That developer, Brian Potashnik, started out on his own road full of idealism, according to everything I have ever been able to find out about him. I'm not letting him off entirely -- he knew what he was doing -- but it certainly seems like the process of getting City Council approval for lucrative subsidized housing deals is a school for scoundrels.

For some reason, this money is just poison -- poison for the developers, for elected officials and, most important, for communities that can't handle any more poison than they already have.

There is still a huge shoe to fall, by the way, in the complaint against City Hall by developers Craig MacKenzie and Curtis Lockey, who have told federal investigators that city officials tanked their downtown development deal because MacKenzie and Lockey dared to obey federal law on low-income housing instead of playing the city's game, which they argue has been racist, segregative and flat-out corrupt over a long period of years.

That's not going away. City Manager Mary Suhm keeps pooh-poohing it to the council, telling them Lockey and MacKenzie are just two really pissed off guys whose deal didn't work. To which, if I were a council person, I would respond, "And, Mary, why is their anger something from which I should draw comfort?"

Today's case -- the one Stimson and Johnson make in that newspaper that's not worth reading otherwise -- is that more subsidized housing crammed into southern Dallas will only work greater evil on people who have suffered enough of it already. That point alone needs to be digested.

Way down the road, we need to rethink poverty. It's not caused by the people who rent to it or sell it pots and pans. I have met some really great people who work the tough end of the street as landlords, the poor end, and they sometimes have tenants who have stayed with them for 30 years.

The really bad Dallas landlords always turn out to be some consortium of ophthalmologists from the Pacific Northwest, not the people who live here and collect their own rents.

Not all of the people who live in poverty are simply defective in some way. Some of these are people who have decided they ain't going to work on Maggie's farm no more, and, by the way, they don't want to take Maggie's healthy living classes, either.

I have to imagine I'd be on their side if I were in their shoes. Show me a bright new government apartment where I have to take healthy living classes, and I'm going to say, "Please point me toward the closest shack where I can just pay my damn rent and be left the hell alone."

Oh, I know. What about the kids? Very tough questions here, not many answers. If you look at the top of the page, it says, "Dallas Observer," not "Bible." But you knew that.

Anyway, take a gander at this piece if you get a chance. Then, please, quickly avert your eyes and click away from the page. I wouldn't want you to be exposed to the kind of stuff they have in the rest of that paper.