Crime, Housing, Homelessness Key Issues in District 2 City Council Race | Dallas Observer


Crime, Housing, Homelessness Key Issues in District 2 City Council Race

At 46%, Hispanics make up the largest share of District 2. Another 30% of the district is white, 14% are Black and 4% are Asian.
At 46%, Hispanics make up the largest share of District 2. Another 30% of the district is white, 14% are Black and 4% are Asian. Getty Images
It doesn’t happen often, but Dallas City Council member Jesse Moreno had a free hour in his schedule one day last week. He said he took that time to drive around his district and report any issues he saw to city staff.

Moreno, 38, is a first-time council member now running for reelection. While he’s just wrapping up his first term, he came to the position with years of experience working at City Hall. Still, the last two years have been a learning opportunity for him.

“I joked with folks saying ‘Once I’m on council it’s going to be like having three jobs at once.’ I’ve got to tell you, I misspoke,” Moreno said. “It’s like having five jobs at once.”

A resident in his district named Sukhbir Kaur, 51, said she thinks she can do the job better. Under Moreno’s leadership, Kaur claims, the city has become complicit when it comes to things like homelessness, litter and public safety. That’s why she’s challenging the incumbent in the District 2 race for City Council.

The district is home to neighborhoods the Cedars, Oak Lawn, Deep Ellum, Dallas Love Field and parts of downtown. Moreno was born and raised in the district and served on Dallas’ Park and Recreation Board before he was elected to City Council.

Despite how demanding it can be, Moreno said, the job is gratifying. “It is so rewarding to see the outcomes that we’ve been able to reach and the projects we’ve been able to start and will be able to implement in the next term,” he said.

Moreno was largely responsible for bringing the Santos Rodriguez statue to Pike Park. Rodriguez was 12 when he was shot and killed by a Dallas police officer in 1973 during a Russian roulette-style interrogation. Moreno advocated for a statue of Rodriguez to be built in his honor and put in Pike Park.

“Everybody deserves an affordable, quality, safe home to live in." – Jesse Moreno, District 2 City Council member

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He said he’s done a lot of work on the district’s flood control as well to make sure local residents and real estate are safe. The Mill Creek Drainage Relief Tunnel, for example, is on its way and will save lives and property, he said.

Moreno said he’s been working for some 10 years now on bringing more green space to the downtown area. On City Council, he’s also voted in favor of policies to tackle housing and homelessness, protect legacy residents in his neighborhoods and make Deep Ellum safer.

But there’s a lot of work left to be done, he said.

He wants to expand Dallas’ streetcar network so residents have other forms of public transportation, for example. He said Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) has been both unreliable and costly at times. Dallas’ street cars could be a good alternative.

With violent crime down in Dallas, Moreno said the city now needs to focus more on what he calls “crimes of opportunity” like break-ins and thefts in apartment complexes. Moreno has been endorsed by the Dallas Police Association, the Dallas chapter of National Latino Law Enforcement Organization and the Dallas Fire Fighters Association. He said people can tell he's doing something right on public safety based on these organizations' endorsements.

But Moreno said the biggest issue facing Dallas today is housing. It was also the biggest issue facing the city when he was elected, he said. But over those two years, Moreno said, progress has been made in his district and throughout the city. He said hundreds of affordable units have been made available in his district since he was elected. Some, he said, are within a stone’s throw of his home. These efforts need to continue, he said.

On top of making more affordable units available to Dallas residents, Moreno said he wants to focus on improving the quality of life in the city’s existing homes.

He wants to focus on making sure people are living in good conditions by bringing places up to code. But he also fears that being too heavy-handed will cause displacement of residents. “Everybody deserves an affordable, quality, safe home to live in. That should be a basic right,” he said.

But bringing a place up to code and trying to provide better living conditions for residents who live there could end up pricing those same residents out. “That’s the last thing that I want to do – to displace those same people who called upon our help,” he said.

Moreno said the city can do its part in preventing this by providing tenant protections in its housing policy, which is going through a series of changes to align with Dallas’ racial equity goals.

Moreno said the state of the housing market has an impact on the city’s affordability efforts. “We need more units. That’s the bottom line,” he said. “People are moving to Dallas at a rapid pace, and so we need to be able to have more housing.” For the first time Dallas will have a bond proposition on housing in the near future that will allow the city to provide vouchers to people to offset increased costs, he said, and the bond proposition will also help fund first-time homebuyer programs and home-repair programs.

Moreno said the funds provided through the mixed-income housing bonus program that he voted for could help fill the affordability gap. This program allows developers to opt out of providing affordable units by paying a fee into a city fund. He said the program will provide some $6 million every year that can be used for housing assistance or the construction of new homes.

On homelessness, he said the city needs to add mixed-income housing in every council district. “Every district has to be willing to be embracive,” he said. “Until we do that, we’re going to continue to have, one, an affordable housing issue, but also a homeless issue,” he said.

When it comes to homeless encampments, Moreno said the city needs more permanent supportive housing. He said the city is already doing a good job of this but it needs to do more.

He added that the Central Business District should not be the sole provider of homelessness services. “You know, 20 years ago, there wasn’t people living downtown,” he said. “This is a neighborhood now and we need to treat it as such.” He doesn’t want providers in the area to be removed. “We’re just saying, we have our share and now that share must be spread out throughout the rest of the city.”

He also wants the Texas Department of Transportation to promptly clean the encampments on the agency's property in the city.

Dallas is getting ready to approve another bond package, and Moreno said he’s the right person to help guide and secure funds that should help address some of these issues in his district.

Kaur voted for Moreno in 2021, but now she thinks District 2 isn’t safe enough and the quality of life for residents isn’t what it could be.

Kaur said she was born in North India and immigrated to the U.S. with her family in 1999. That’s when she moved to San Francisco, where she started working in the airline industry as a customer service representative. She’s been working for airlines ever since. She lived in North Carolina from 2012 to 2017 before moving to Euless. In 2019 she bought a house in Dallas’ Southwestern Medical District. She’s single and doesn’t have any children.

She said the quality of life isn’t what she thought it would be. She said the area is rife with drug activity and random gunfire. People would sit and do drugs behind her house, she said. She’s tried communicating with the city and police department to make the neighborhood safer and cleaner, but said she gets the sense that no one at the city seems to care about her concerns. “My priority is to be safe and at peace in my neighborhood,” she said.

“My priority is to be safe and at peace in my neighborhood." – Sukhbir Kaur, District 2 City Council candidate

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She said city services don’t seem to work unless problems are reported multiple times. She's made over 100 service calls to improve the neighborhood, getting shrubs removed and an alley repaved. She said she had concerns about panhandling and trash that accumulates in the district’s underpasses. She claimed that the city banned panhandling and has tried to call to have the ban enforced by police or code enforcement but to no avail.

The city hasn’t banned panhandling, though. It recently passed an ordinance that made it unlawful for people, including panhandlers, to stand on narrow medians. However, the city was sued over the ordinance over claims that it is a violation of the First Amendment. As a result, the ordinance has not been enforced. But Kaur said the ordinance should be enforced until the court makes a ruling on its legality.

While Kaur said things have gotten a lot better since she first moved to Dallas, there’s still a lot of work to do. She believes she’s the right person to do it.

If elected, she said she would want to focus on making sure code compliance officers and police are handling concerns of residents. “Right now, what I’m checking is they are not filing a proper report. They don’t even show up sometimes, most of the times,” she said.

She also would want to focus on helping residents understand their rights and how to report problems in their neighborhood to be handled by city staff or police.

Besides what he’s read in local news reports, Moreno said he doesn’t know much about his opponent. But he’s heard concerns from residents that are similar to hers. They tell him, for example, that their 311 reports aren’t being addressed, despite filing the multiple times.

He said he understands residents’ frustration when 311 requests seem to go unanswered. He said sometimes if there are multiple 311 requests about the same thing, they’ll get bounced back or closed.

With nearly 95,000 residents in his district and only a handful of people on staff in his office, Moreno said, “it is a difficult job to try to ensure that we are getting to everyone’s priorities in a timely manner.”

If reelected, he hopes to continue working with city staff to develop better systems to address resident concerns.

“I come from a family that’s called Dallas home for generations,” he said. “Dallas is home to me, and I will fight tooth and nail to ensure that our district is at the front end and to ensure that our district does not get left out.”

May 6 is election day in the Dallas City Council race. Residents have until April 6 to register to vote, and early voting begins on April 24.
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Jacob Vaughn, a former Brookhaven College journalism student, has written for the Observer since 2018, first as clubs editor. More recently, he's been in the news section as a staff writer covering City Hall, the Dallas Police Department and whatever else editors throw his way.
Contact: Jacob Vaughn

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