Code Words and Affordable Housing Near Klyde Warren Park.

Words, words, words. What do they really mean? Always a favorite game of mine. Recently I found myself back on a familiar reporting beat — affordable housing. I know what affordable means: something that non-zillionaires can afford.

A week ago a member of the Dallas Plan Commission, Paul Ridley, proposed a way Dallas could provide affordable rents in very high-rent districts, like the area all around Klyde Warren Park downtown. I won’t go into all of it here. Basically the idea is this. It happens when developers come in and ask the city for favors – usually extra development rights not already in the law, so they can make extra money.

The city would say, “Sure, but how about you do us a favor, too, and provide some affordable units in your building?” It would be a trade-out. No gun to anybody’s head. The developer only does it if he sees that he can make more money by agreeing to do the affordable. If he doesn’t want to do it he doesn’t have to, although he may not get the extra rights he was seeking.

So here is where the words come in. It’s almost a new language. Let’s call it the language of “Affordabalish.” I first started hearing Affordabalish spoken when some pretty good sources of mine told me about behind-the-scenes negotiations already going on in Dallas between some of the big developers and the people who are pushing this new idea about trading affordable units for extra development rights.

The first example was this. Supposedly a major developer said to a person involved in this effort, “If we agree to do affordable, can it be just for artists?”

Another example: somebody else supposedly said they might be more willing to do affordable if it were just for seniors. Another one: just for veterans.

So, wait. Why are artists easier for the developers to swallow? Have you ever been around places where artists live? Paint splattered on the floor, mattresses on the floor, random chunks of marble tossed out in the hall. And then it really gets scary when you meet the artist.

If I got hit upside the head with a two-by-four and woke up a right-wing bigot, frankly the first sign I would stick in my yard would say, “No artists.” Of course that won’t happen, because I’m such a libtard, but if I were to go over to the dark side, I would start with the artists.

Seniors? Really? The developers would rather do affordable for seniors? That’s very noble of them, but, having spent a good deal of time in senior living facilities myself (as a reluctant visitor), I would suggest the landlords in these places might want to provide all of their high-rent clientele with hand-crafted teak clothespins for their noses. Not to be unkind.

Veterans, I’m not going to make any jokes about veterans. Veterans are cool. I can see specializing in veterans, but I do wonder how veterans wind up getting lumped in with artists and geezers as an especially sought-after demographic for the affordable units. What do veterans have in common with geezers and artists?

In the language of Affordabalish, is there some other meaning for the terms “artist,” “senior” and “veteran?” What is it about artists, seniors and veterans that distinguishes them from other people who might be candidates for affordable housing, meaning most non-rich people?

I’ve got my thinking cap on now, giving my crystal ball a shake to see what floats up. Hey, wait a minute. Something is coming into view, a message of some sort. It says, “Now is a good time to ask that special someone for a date.” OK, this is a very old crystal ball. I’m going to ignore that one and wait for another message.

Here it comes! It says, “square dancers.”

Gosh, let me think: elderly artistic veterans who are square dancers. Yeah, I’m getting a picture, but it’s very hazy, very dim. Can’t quite make it out yet. Affordable housing only for elderly artistic veterans who are square dancers. What would that mean? I’m going to give the ball one more good shake.

Here it comes. It says, “Camping.”

Elderly artistic veterans who like square dancing and camping. Oh, yes. I see it plainly now.

White people.

In Affordabalish, the terms artist, senior and veteran, when combined in the right order and elaborated with certain other qualifiers like square dancing and camping, all mean “white people.”

It’s easy. I say to you, “Not that it makes any difference, but what kind of people live in that building you just moved into?”

You say to me, “Artists.” Or, “Senior veterans.” Or, “Campers and square-dancers.” You might add, “Although, there is one black family.”

OK, I get it now. Because the developers would never want to say, “If we do affordable, can it be just for white people?” That would be racist.

Now here’s another conundrum. What does it mean in Affordabalish – what are they really up to — if the developers say, “Can it be just for senior gay people?”

Isn’t language fun?

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Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze

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