Real Estate

What Can You Do With an Old DISD Portable? How About Make a New House in South Dallas.

Earlier this morning, Jason Roberts posted to his Facebook page the photo you see here, along with the note: "Zac & his non profit are taking former school portable buildings & making them into amazing homes in S Dallas." Turns out, Zac is Zac Lytle, co-founder of Bike Friendly Oak Cliff, on whose website Roberts just posted further info about his project.

In South Dallas, Zac and his team are taking DISD portable buildings that were set to be discarded, and using them to infill blighted neighborhoods around Bexar Street with new housing stock. Once they've acquired the buildings, they're completely stripping the insides and installing new floors, walls, bathrooms, roofs, adding front porches and more to give the structures a new lease on life. The ultimate in recycling!
The area in which Lytle hopes to build these is near Bexar and Starks Avenue, within Phase I of the Bexar Street Redevelopment Corridor that has been on the city's to-do list for five years. What you see above is what Lytle calls a model home, where only the exterior's been rehabbed in anticipation of a show-and-tell scheduled for city officials at 10 a.m. on April 7 -- when Mayor Dwaine Caraway and other officials will gather for what's billed as the "Bexar Street Ceremony" on the mayor's calendar, involving the city's rehab project.

"This will be part of a five-unit senior housing piece we're proposing," Lytle tells Unfair Park today. "It's not official yet, but the hope is to have a five-unit development made up of these portables. This one we're doing now is a prototype, because we're looking for the city and neighborhood's approval before going forward."

Lytle, incidentally, only recently returned to Dallas: Roberts tells Unfair Park that when Lytle decamped for North Carolina in '09, when his wife was accepted to medical school, "we were pretty depressed, because Zac was the heart of our effort." He was also, rather famously, responsible in large part for that dumpster-diving swimming pool.

While in Raleigh, Lytle joined a chapter of Builders of Hope,

which specializes in moving older homes scheduled to be razed to neighborhoods in need of affordable workforce housing, where they're rehabbed. He returned last year when his wife got into residency at Parkland and hooked up with developer and home builder Bennett Miller, who's now working as a consultant on this Bexar Street project.

"I just thought it would be a great fit for Dallas, since there are so many houses and buildings torn down here," says Lytle, who has to call his organization Ecological Community Builders to avoid having it confused with Dallas's Builders of Hope. He says he and Miller hit upon using portables after talking to someone in the city's code inspection office.

"They told us the district has an excess of these buildings they destroy, and they spend a lot of money doing that," Lytle says. "We have a good solution where we can repurpose these perfectly good buildings." The one you see in the photo above didn't come directly from the district, Lytle explains, but from a guy who moved some on behalf of the DISD and had it ready to go.

Jon Dahlander, spokesman for the Dallas Independent School District, tells Unfair Park that DISD demolishes most of its portables -- and that there, at this very moment, 176 of them scheduled to be scrapped. Dahlander says "there are issues involved when you sell them -- usually, who's going to pick 'em up and when."

If Lytle and Miller want them, Dahlander says, they can have them: "But they have to move 'em, and there are plenty of issues when it comes to moving them." Such as: They're heavy as hell and tall enough that transporting them becomes a power-line issue. Dahlander says that about five years ago, the district sold about 70 to a man in Fort Worth who wanted them. He only retrieved about 15.

But the district's happy to make a deal: One-hundred dollars going once, going twice ... OK, maybe not even that much.

Miller says they'll get that sorted out soon enough: "We're just beginning this adventure," he says. But Lytle hopes this works, because he'd like to see this expand into Fort Worth and other cities where Builders of Hope has offices, including New Orleans, Charlotte and Raleigh.

Says his old friend Jason Roberts, "It's pretty awesome."