What happens when the city of Dallas takes a small-time custom-home developer, one with little or no track record building publicly subsidized multifamily projects, and gives him millions of dollars to build a large affordable housing project for veterans? And then, as it becomes clear that said developer may not have the chops to complete the project, offers up even more money in hopes of keeping it afloat?
What happens is Patriot's Crossing, which was supposed to have already been built on a piece of land across from the VA hospital in Oak Cliff, but, six years and $4.4 million later, is instead empty except for weeds.
This should have happened long ago. At the very least it should have happened last fall, when the city first served Lelah with notice that he was in default on his loan. Instead, city staff brought in Matthews Southwest, which has both an established track record and strong connections at City Hall, in a last-ditch attempt to salvage the project.
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This leaves a couple of questions, one practical, the other more philosophical. First, what will become of the land? City Manager A.C. Gonzalez told The Dallas Morning News that he's intent on seeing it developed and not turned into a parking lot for the VA. The VA, bursting at the seams, also needs space for clinics and offices, but it's not clear if that's what Gonzalez has in mind either. Perhaps a high-density mixed-use complex of garbage and weeds?
The big-picture question is whether City Hall has learned from its embarrassing housing mistakes, which invariably involve giving money to unproven developers to build large, typically ill-conceived projects that look nice in renderings but which either never get off the ground or turn out to be a disaster. Patriot's Crossing is the most prominent example of the former, but you also have the nearby Oak Glen Apartments, which are rotting. For evidence of the latter, look no further than Bexar Street.
Perhaps the city's new Housing Plus initiative is a signal that the city will direct its housing dollars away from big, high-profile developments and into smaller-scale projects that make more sense and carry less risk of failure. But given how hard the city has fought to keep Lelah afloat, don't bet on it.
Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.