| Housing |

City Staff Push Policy Change That Reinforces Racial Segregation

At a recent city council committee hearing, Council member Scott Griggs grilled the city's director of housing over the identity of parties behind a request for a change in the city's recently adopted housing policy.EXPAND
At a recent city council committee hearing, Council member Scott Griggs grilled the city's director of housing over the identity of parties behind a request for a change in the city's recently adopted housing policy.
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Monday The Dallas Morning News made some great points in an editorial about racial segregation in the city and the Trump administration’s troubling initiative to de-emphasize desegregation in national housing policy. The defect in the editorial — the thing always left unsaid in Dallas — is that segregation is what the old entrenched black leadership of the city wants.

As we speak, African American City Council member Casey Thomas is trying to take a sledgehammer to the city’s recently adopted housing policy, because he wants to enable a real estate venture that will lock poor minority families into a decades-old hell-zone of crime and segregation.

I was unable to reach Thomas in person. I am basing my characterization on his public statements and actions.

The Morning News editorial cited Harvard studies and a plethora of other sources proving that racially segregated neighborhoods with high poverty and crime rates are bad for children. That finding would be more impressive if the same thing had not been proved 64 years ago by Doctors Kenneth and Mamie Clark, inventors of the brown and white doll test.

Racial segregation is bad for human beings. We know that already. Or do we?

Dallas City Council member Scott Griggs, who is white, was suspicious of a recent housing initiative by the city manager. Griggs caught city staff deliberately misleading council members by concealing names obviously known to the staff. The deal is being championed by Thomas, in whose district it will take place if approved by the full council.

And guess what kind of deal it is. It’s a deal that will pour more millions of public dollars into an already heavily subsidized segregated hell-hole. To get it done, the city must amend its much vaunted new housing policy, which was supposed to be aimed at moving poor minority families out of areas of so-called “impacted poverty.”

Is this deal underway because somebody has spotted a window of opportunity in the new Trump policy? Does someone think now we can spend millions of public housing dollars and not even try to achieve racial desegregation? Maybe.

If so, let’s remember this: If there is a will to abandon desegregation and reinforce segregation in our city, at least some important element of that will comes from the old entrenched southern Dallas black leadership.

Griggs was alarmed when city staff came to the council’s housing committee asking for what looked on the surface to be a highly technical and minor change in procedure. The city manager wanted the committee to alter the timing by which the council reviews applications by housing developers who are seeking public subsidy money. When staff got suddenly vague about the why and wherefore, Griggs suddenly smelled something rat-like.

By demanding emails and other communications, he learned that this specific request originated not with staff but with a private for-profit housing developer — something staff had neglected to mention.

On Aug. 29, Allan Izzo, development manager for a national affordable housing company called Steele Properties, wrote to a mid-level city housing official with a problem. Izzo’s company wanted to enter into a partnership with the Dallas Housing Authority (DHA), a quasi-independent arm of city government, to rehab a notorious housing project called Ridgecrest Terrace Apartments on South Walton Walker Road in far West Dallas.

But Izzo had a problem: “As part of the approvals and application process,” he wrote, “the project needs a No Objection Resolution from the Dallas City Council. However, the Housing Policy adopted on May 9th does not allow for a deal like Ridgecrest to get this resolution in time.”

More digging in the emails revealed to Griggs that City Manager T.C. Broadnax was already lining up support among his top aides for the change that Izzo was seeking. Broadnax wrote to his cabinet-level staff: “I attended a meeting last week where this issue came up and there seemed to be merit to us being less rigid and flexible in our review and consideration of timelines for review of these types of projects.”

Broadnax said the change in the review process was a good idea, “… particularly if there is no fiscal impact to the City, but a benefit as it relates to projects moving forward and assisting us toward our housing goal.”

Not all of Broadnax’s own staff agreed with him about the impacts and benefits. In particular, Raquel Favela, the top assistant who was the primary author of the city’s recently adopted housing policy, expressed alarm.

Rather than shoot back directly at her own boss, Favela wrote to David Noguera, the city’s housing director, whose rank was equal to or slightly less than her own: “I’m concerned that you are so flippant about just changing the policy if you cannot articulate the intent,” Favela said.

“If you are asking me to change the policy, can you tell me what problem I would be solving for?”

But the problem was the problem. The real problem, Izzo’s problem, has been a secret carefully guarded by Noguera, at least in public. I don’t know if Favela ever found out what was really behind the policy change. I haven’t been able to reach her. But I do know this: Not long after her exchange with Noguera, Favela, who up until that time had been Broadnax’s star performer, abruptly resigned from the city.

Dallas Housing Director David Noguera steadfastly declined to name the groups behind a request for a change in the city's housing policy.
Dallas Housing Director David Noguera steadfastly declined to name the groups behind a request for a change in the city's housing policy.

Several reasons have been floated publicly for seeking the scheduling change in the way the City Council reviews projects seeking a tax subsidy. The one insisted on first by Noguera at the recent council committee meeting — a simple streamlining and removal of red tape — is the least honest.

When it started to look as if the committee would delay its decision, Noguera quickly defaulted to Reason B, that any delay would cost the developer, whom he would not name, a shot at lucrative and necessary public financing. But even that explanation doesn’t get close to the biggest issue at hand.

Under the city’s new housing policy, if the Steele project were to compete head-on with all other applicants, it would come up a clear loser, according to the policy. The whole point of the new policy is to move people — especially children — out of segregation and out of entrenched hell-holes.

Both of these are what Ridgecrest is and has been for decades. Hacking the policy by setting up a separate approval date will allow Ridgecrest to get city approval ahead of other projects more competitive under the new policy.

In 2010, Ridgecrest Terrace was the focus of a national scandal. The police department hated the place. In spite of conditions described at the time by a church outreach worker as “absolutely horrible,” the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) over a period of years had sluiced subsidy money into the pockets of the owners.

When an embarrassed HUD belatedly tried to crack down, a mysterious fire occurred in which a firefighter died. Soon afterward, Ridgecrest passed to its current owners.

More tax dollars were spent to rehabilitate the project again. It is now already in such terrible condition again that the city is suing the new owners over building code violations and high crime rates.

The new deal, if approved, will mark the third time tax dollars aimed at rehabilitation will pour into a project that always dives straight back to the bottom as soon as the work is done.

During these periods of decline, before the fire and after, the agency responsible for inspecting Ridgecrest and enforcing federal housing standards has been DHA, the housing authority. In other words, all of the miserable failure there has occurred on DHA’s watch.

Another part of the proposed new deal for Ridgecrest, also not revealed to the City Council by staff, is that Steele Properties intends to reward DHA for this history by taking it on as a full partner in the new venture. A new entity called a public facilities corporation, also not mentioned to the council, already has been formed so that the new Steele/DHA venture will escape paying property taxes.

And lastly, also not mentioned to the council, is that DHA will get a “development fee” for partnering in the deal and will pocket even more lucrative fees later on when the public facilities corporation issues bonds. A person with close personal knowledge of the transaction, speaking not for attribution, said the cash windfall to DHA could be in the neighborhood of $7 million.

I tried to reach both City Manager Broadnax and DHA President and CEO Troy Broussard by detailed email and by phone and did not hear back.

Appearing before a recent meeting of the council’s housing committee, Noguera, the city’s housing chief, insisted at first the amendment to the new housing policy sought by staff was only about removing red tape. He refused under repeated questioning by Griggs to name the people seeking the change.

Griggs knew all the names by then, of course, but he wanted Noguera to pony them up on the record for the rest of the committee to hear. He said, “You’ve already got the information. We are being asked on this committee to make this guess in the dark based on staff representations.”

Noguera refused.

But Thomas, in whose district Ridgecrest lies, praised the proposed policy change and said he didn’t need to know any names. He argued that the developers, whoever they were, needed money.

“I think the fact that we are not in line, and possibly those projects are in jeopardy of not receiving the type of support, regardless of what the project is, I think that is reason enough for us to consider this,” Thomas said. “I don’t need a list of the projects to see that this is something we need to do.”

At Griggs’ urging, the committee postponed consideration of the policy change. It comes back to the committee for reconsideration on Oct. 22. But Griggs sent a memo to the city manager Wednesday (below) complaining that city staff has ignored the delay vote of the council committee and is proceeding with the Steele request anyway. That's some hustle.

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