City Hall

Federal Lawsuit Threat Scares DHA Into Moving 17 From The Bridge to Cliff Manor Even Before Task Force Gets Down to Discussions

When last we left the furor over Cliff Manor, where the Dallas Housing Authority and Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance plan to turn 100 units into permanent supportive housing for the "chronically" homeless, Mayor Tom Leppert had council member Dave Neumann create a task force. Its mission: see if perhaps there was some kind of compromise that could be reached between residents, who believe the southern sector has become the first and only choice for formerly homeless housing in the city, and the DHA and MDHA.

Last night at Dallas City Hall, the task force, handpicked by Neumann, met with DHA and MDHA officials to debate the ol' what's-next. Also present was Mayor Leppert's chief of staff, Chris Heinbaugh. As far as homeowners' groups and residents are concerned, there are myriad questions left to be answered -- chief among them, is Cliff Manor even properly zoned for permanent supportive housing and is that number of 100 residents immovable. Last night's meeting was expected to be the first of several intended to sort through and solve the problems.

Except: At around 9 p.m., three hours after the start time, the task force was told that DHA and MDHA will begin moving residents from The Bridge into Cliff Manor beginning next week. At which point, according to several sources, the meeting descended into what one City Hall official acknowledges was "chaos."

Messages have been left for MaryAnn Russ, president of the Dallas Housing Authority, and Neumann, who task board members say insisted last night he only learned about the deal "five minutes before the meeting."

But Heinbaugh tells Unfair Park this morning, "Basically, we're all very frustrated at the way the whole thing has played out, especially because there was very solid progress last night. The community was engaged. They began laying out their concerns and expectations in terms of security, measurements --  how do you measure success and accountability and sharing the challenge citywide. And everyone was engaged."

Until they were told: Sorry, but the deal's been done.

Heinbaugh explains: DHA and MDHA made their decision because of a letter attorney Mike Daniel sent to Russ and MDHA's president Mike Faenza on June 23 -- only a couple of days after the task force's creation was announced during a heated, lengthy confab at Methodist Hospital. Says Heinbaugh, DHA felt that it could procrastinate no more: Either it began moving in the some 17 residents already accepted into Cliff Manor or risk facing a federal lawsuit.

"Clearly, the neighborhoods would have liked more time," Heinbaugh says. "The mayor and Mr. Neumann would have liked more time. But with the threat of a federal lawsuit, DHA clearly felt it was between a rock and a hard place and had to move forward with the people they already approved."

To say the task force members were surprised by the announcement would be "an understatement," says member Brett Willmott, vice president of the Fort Worth Avenue Development Group.

"I think they had good intentions, but everybody left frustrated and pretty much feeling like we wasted the entire evening -- and we were there four and half hours," he says. "And to go three hours and then have it dropped on us that the first 17 are moving in next week is frustrating, because there are issues remaining that need to be resolved -- like the zoning and the fact that more than 70 percent of these project are being put in the southern sector -- those things aren't being addressed. And we can't get the answers form DHA we've been asking for. It's the same every time: They say, 'We're going to get the answer, and the next meeting they act like they've never heard the question before. ... We really want to work out a compromise, but we're being viewed as an elitist group that doesn't want them coming in. That's not the case. We want to help our neighbors. We just can't absorb everyone."

But despite last night's bombshell, Willmott says, the task force has agreed to meet again next week with DHA and MDHA officials -- if only to get further details about the breaking news. And Heinbaugh says this isn't the end.

"It's not over," he says. "All of the things that everyone was discussing -- security, measurement standards, quality of care, where future PSH residents will go in the rest of the city -- all of those issues are still there," he says. "And those discussions will have an impact, so it's critical the community stay engaged."

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky

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