Deep-State Dallas City Hall, More Tenacious Than You Might Believe

One thing about segregation never changes: the money.
One thing about segregation never changes: the money.
Alvaro Diaz-Rubio
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Dallas City Hall is like Washington. We have a Deep State, and for all the same reasons.

A new regime is in charge here, too. It's making big policy changes. Those new policies have serious consequences in the real world. Some people in the real world are very unhappy, so those people are looking for the soft spots, the handles, the backdoor accesses they need to defeat the new policies.

Is this about philosophy? Yes and no, but on the surface anyway, mostly no. The immediate battles here are about deals. The new policies are a threat to some people’s old deals. They just want to keep the gravy train on the tracks.

An almost hilarious — because it’s so stupid — attempt to do a Deep State end-run around the new regime is a behind-the-scenes effort gathering steam as we speak to get the city to build affordable housing at airports. Because, you know, that’s really where poor people with kids need to be, at the airport.

You think I’m making this up? Listen, I probably can’t even express to you how much I wish I were. I’m not. It’s surreal, but it’s real: Coming soon to an airport near you, subsidized affordable housing! Because Deep State.

We’ve actually seen round one of this publicly in The War of the CHODOs. CHODO is City Hall slang for a community housing development organization. CHODOs are nonprofit groups that get federal grant money channeled through City Hall to build affordable housing.

The CHODOs and some for-profit developers have built most of the city’s subsidized housing for decades in the city’s poorest, most racially segregated neighborhoods in southern Dallas. That pattern violates all kinds of federal laws and administrative rules, flies in the face of a recent landmark Supreme Court ruling and also doesn’t make much sense.

If you’re going to spend tax money building homes for people, hopefully you’re doing it to achieve some measure of social good. Otherwise, just don’t spend the money. But definitely don’t spend tax money to make things worse.

Building subsidized housing in historically segregated, very poor neighborhoods has the effect of tethering poor people to those areas. Especially for children, not much good and a whole lot of bad tends to happen to them there.

Dallas City Manager T. C. Broadnax and a top staff of newcomers to City Hall are proposing a radically new policy designed to correct past mistakes and also try to get Dallas right with federal law. Many of of those people bring prestigious credentials from posts at other city, state and federal agencies. The new housing policy they propose would be a rational analytical system, not a simple decree or fiat.

Under the old regime at City Hall, everything was good-old-boy. You got a deal because you were one. If you weren’t one, you didn’t get a deal.

Under the proposed plan, all of these investments — because, you know, that’s really what they are — would be carried out according to a rational framework that would aim to put new affordable housing where it will do the most good. That means almost entirely north, almost never south.  And, by the way, I am hearing a whole lot of very interesting thinking going on, a lot of it aimed at avoiding the total gridlock and defeat that can be threatened by NIMBYism.

NIMBY — not in my backyard — is real. Organized affluent neighborhoods with political clout are going to fight some forms of public housing. That’s just how it is.

That does not mean a housing policy should be passive, crater and give into NIMBYism without fighting back, but less money spent fighting legal battles is more money for housing.

So, for example, one of the better ideas being floated out there these days involves building affordable housing on or over the parking lots at Dallas Area Rapid Transit stations. The housing wouldn’t be ramming head-first into established neighborhoods. A transit station seems like a convenient place for working and poor people to be near, although I admit that’s a very unexamined assumption on my part.

Another great idea is coming from the private sector and involves targeting some forms of affordable housing to public servants. Between the real estate market and the city’s pension problems, we have gotten to a point where too many firefighters, cops and teachers have to get out of town at the end of every day in order to live somewhere they can afford.

In other words, Broadnax’s proposed new housing policy already is spurring a lot of creative thinking, all of it aimed at ameliorating the deeply entrenched, socially corrosive effects of race and income discrimination and segregation. A growing consensus in the city sees solutions ahead to what used to feel like intractable problems. That consensus provides wind beneath the wings of the new regime’s ideas.

But, oh yeah. We were going to talk about affordable housing at airports, were we not? Where does that one come from? I can tell you.

CHODOs, by federal regulation, spring from specific neighborhoods and communities. The original idea was to foster neighborhood improvement through empowerment. The CHODOs are anchored to the neighborhoods that give them birth. Some of these outfits have done multiple millions of dollars in development business with the city over time, all of it in their target areas. Some have done good work in terms of construction, but even those good projects have had the effect of reinforcing segregation.

The southern Dallas CHODOs are looking at the proposed new housing policy, and of course what they see first is financial support being directed out of their turf. The reaction of some of the CHODO leadership, on view at a recent hearing on these issues at City Hall, has been to argue against some basic precepts of the new plan. Steering this important source of public support out of poor neighborhoods, some said, is another bitter nail in the coffin of the city’s most beleaguered neighborhoods.

That’s fair. That’s debate. That’s how we’re supposed to do things in a democracy. The Broadnax proposal, no matter how smart it may look at first blush, needs to stand up to honest challenge. Can’t argue with that.

That’s not what the airport thing is. The idea of building subsidized housing at an airport is focused on one airport only, Dallas Executive Airport in southwest Dallas, and on one agency of city government only, the city’s Department of Aviation.

Somebody thinks the aviation department offers an end-run around Broadnax. Aviation falls squarely within the city manager’s domain, but the department has always enjoyed a good deal of informal autonomy because it makes its own money, mainly from concessions, landing fees, rents and parking at Love Field.

Because of its close ties to the airline industry, especially Southwest Airlines, the aviation department has always had powerful friends in its corner. Many view it as as a fiefdom apart and out from under the immediate thumb of City Hall.

The scheme to build affordable housing at Dallas Executive Airport, when it emerges more fully and gets fleshed out, will be a plot to build affordable housing apart from and out from under the thumb of the proposed new housing policy. Dallas Executive Airport will provide a haven for the CHODOs that want to keep doing what they’ve always done — getting money from the city to put new subsidized housing in already segregated areas.

It’s not just about getting out from under the thumb of the new regime. It’s a thumb in the new regime’s eye. It’s the City Hall Deep State telling the new city manager that people like him come and go but the Deep State is forever. Give the old patronage machine the time it needs, and it will find its way to water.

The idea of poor people living at the airport is only an opening move. Beneath it, pushing it along, is a rejection of the value of assimilation. Ahead of it lie decades more of racial segregation, rationalized and justified as empowerment.

Some people might even advise Broadnax to let this one slide. Let the southern Dallas CHODOs have a bite. Let them build affordable housing at a southern Dallas airport. It’ll keep them busy. Maybe it will keep them off the new regime’s back.

Of course, allowing this luridly stupid plan to go forward also spares the most important legacy of the old regime — the dual sets of rules, one north, one south. It’s always been that way in Dallas, part of the racial truce that defined the old regime at heart. But this would be the old truce with a new twist.

Under the original setup, before the Latino community was a big factor, the clear division in the city was between the old white oligarchy and the segregated black community. Justice, education, economic development: All of it was one way south of the line, another way north, based on race. Guess which side had the money.

If the Deep State stands and the old southern Dallas leadership is allowed to find a way around the new regime at City Hall, then we will still have a north-south divide. But different things will be divided.

South of the new line, we will have yesterday. The legacy of racial segregation will be reinforced and fortified, emboldened by its ability to flout the policies of the new regime.

North of the line will be tomorrow. Hopefully, the Dallas of tomorrow will be a city where people really are empowered, not by the false comfort of separation but by the challenge of full citizenship, full access, full participation, full and equal right to everything that’s on the table to be won. And guess which side will have that money.

So, yes, we have a Deep State here, too. The difference for me is that I like the one in Washington.

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