City Council Backs Down From Fight with State Over Housing Discrimination

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The city of Dallas is not going to be the test case for the state of Texas' ban on ordinances that require landlords to take affordable housing vouchers. Wednesday, the Dallas City Council voted 9-6 against enacting an income non-discrimination, later adopting a half-measure that will require builders getting certain tax breaks from the city to rent a small percentage of their units to voucher recipients.

Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings voted against the ordinance. He admitted that Dallas residents seeking housing with vouchers were being discriminated against by landlords who don't want low income tenants, but said that he did not believe the city could win a fight with the state over the proposal.

"I have no problems getting into a fight," said the mayor, who once initiated a federal lawsuit by pushing to ban the Exxxotica convention from the Kay Bailey Hutchinson Convention Center. "But I've gotten very clear coaching that there is like a minuscule chance of winning this."
Rickey Callahan, who represents some of Dallas' poorest neighborhoods in his Pleasant Grove district, also voted against non-discrimination. He said requiring landlords to take vouchers will discourage development and the free market.

"This will discourage responsible investors and developers," Callahan said. "It runs counter to a free, democratic, fair and just society. [Taking vouchers] should be voluntary."

The coalition that voted for the ordinance stressed that a fight was one worth picking. "This is the city of Dallas. Developers are going to continue to make money. They're going to do just fine in the development community and the apartment community," said council member Scott Griggs. "Today, we have to think of those people that need an opportunity for jobs, schools and public transportation. We have to undo these patterns of inequality in the city of Dallas and introduce choice for everyone." 

As things stand, most Dallas apartment complexes willing to accept housing vouchers are concentrated in areas of Dallas that lack the type of access Griggs talked about. Council member Carolyn Arnold, who voted with Griggs, called landlords refusal to accept vouchers "red-lining" referring to the Jim Crow-era practice of restricting services from certain neighborhoods.

After the full non-discrimination ordinance was shot down, a more restrictive ordinance passed the council by the same 9-6 margin. It requires landlords taking city subsidies or zoning variances to make 10 percent of their units available to residents using vouchers.

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