First Some Crow to Eat, Then We Dig Into the Good Stuff

Corvus mellori, also known by the colloquial name, what Jim's got for lunch today.
Corvus mellori, also known by the colloquial name, what Jim's got for lunch today. Toby Hudson Wikipedia
Last week I got an important fact wrong in a story about a troubled apartment complex in far West Dallas. I said the agency responsible for enforcing basic standards there over a period of years was the Dallas Housing Authority. That was not true.

In fact, an entity in Austin has been responsible for policing standards at Ridgecrest Terrace Apartments, a large complex just south of Arcadia Park near the intersection of South Walton Walker and West Jefferson two miles east of Mountain Creek Lake almost in Grand Prairie.

“We will provide you with a response in a timely manner, but not likely today. I would advise an article misrepresenting the facts not be published in haste. Talk soon.”— Jacqueline Chen

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The complex has been plagued by crime and building code violations on and off for a decade. The issue of enforcement in that time is relevant, because DHA is asking the city to jump through some legal hoops to enable it to gain new federal funding to fix up and operate the place.

I described this idea as rewarding DHA for a poor job of enforcement in the past. That was unfair, because DHA wasn’t responsible for enforcing standards there in the past.

Now, with the crow-eating part behind me, I’m ready for the good stuff.

DHA’s proposal to take over and renovate Ridgecrest Terrace stinks. In spite of that, the deal is getting a full-court press from City Manager T.C. Broadnax and Dallas Housing Director David Noguera.

The stinking isn’t just my opinion. Far from it. Top members of the career staff just below Broadnax and Noguera have warned them in strong terms to drop this sack of woe.

In an email sent Sept. 2 to both Broadnax and Noguera, two assistant housing directors just under Noguera warned that Broadnax and Noguera were making a big mistake with their decision to present the Ridgecrest deal to the City Council. Assistant Housing Director Avis F. Chaisson and Interim Assistant Director Maureen Milligan sent their superiors a co-signed memo:

“The decision reeks of the choices made under the previous housing administration," they said, "which included bowing to pressure and providing flawed and incoherent strategies that lead to a perceived lack of credibility.

“The administration has worked tirelessly to buck this trend, and we should not slip backwards due to the pressure of one.”

Chaisson and Milligan say in their memo that a presentation Noguera has prepared for the City Council will give the council the dishonest impression that the Ridgecrest idea is coming from the city’s Housing Policy Task Force, a citizen advisory panel:

“This is simply untrue,” the two assistant directors warn, “and could destroy the relationships our department has begun to build with a diverse group of individuals, including tenant advocates, nonprofit developers, legal aid attorneys, as well as for-profit developers.”

For Broadnax and Noguera, it’s a blistering attack from their own staff. Chaisson and Milligan are not protected by civil service, but one can’t help wondering if this kind of resistance from below had anything to do with Broadnax’s unsuccessful attempt last week to persuade the council to strip the entire housing department of civil service protection.

The day before I wrote my piece last week, I wrote to DHA President and CEO Troy Broussard, who has always been open to my questions in the past. In fact, he and I just met recently about some other DHA issues that were then not yet related to this story.

My note to him was a general heads-up that I was writing about DHA and needed his help on some questions, not all of which did I list in my note.

I stated my deadline. One day might seem like a short leash to you. It is.  I was not able to get to this story earlier, because it did not come to me earlier. There were reasons it needed to get done when it needed to get done. Welcome to the world of news — not a place I can recommend as a vacation spot.

This time Broussard did not respond. Instead I heard from a public relations person, Jacqueline Chen. She wrote: “I received your inquiry below. There is a clear misunderstanding of how the housing choice voucher program works vs. development or rehabilitation of existing affordable housing.

“We will provide you with a response in a timely manner, but not likely today. I would advise an article misrepresenting the facts not be published in haste. Talk soon.”

At the end of the week I still had not received her promised “talk soon” response, but she did discuss the issue on social media, and maybe these days that's a response.

click to enlarge City Council Member Scott Griggs is asking why the Dallas Housing Authority would not use new-found money to meet its prior obligations. - DALLASCITYHALL.COM
City Council Member Scott Griggs is asking why the Dallas Housing Authority would not use new-found money to meet its prior obligations.
In fact, Chen and Broussard both were not answering — note, I am not saying “ducking,” just not answering — a central question in the piece I wanted to write last week. It seemed to me that DHA was expending a lot of time and energy to get a highly unorthodox deal done at Ridgecrest, one in which DHA would play a role more like a private developer than a public housing agency, when I knew that DHA was effectively defaulting on another deal it had made some time earlier.

“Will the Steele Properties DHA joint venture deconcentrate low income housing at Ridgecrest terrace Apartments by renovating the property to be a mixed income property with some market rate tenants?"— Scott Griggs

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That deal was what Broussard and I had discussed some weeks earlier at his offices. DHA had promised to deliver a large number of federal housing assistance vouchers to a project under development in northwest Dallas by Catholic Charities of Dallas, called the St. Jude Center Senior Housing for Homeless.

The development deal there assumed DHA was going to come across with vouchers to fund the ongoing budget for the place. But DHA backed out belatedly, claiming an unforeseen budget crisis. DHA basically told Catholic Charities to go try their luck at City Hall for money.

So my question this week to Broussard, had we been able to talk, was going to be this: You guys are working really hard to get new federal money into your bank account for Ridgecrest, which, by the way, meets none of the new requirements for pushing assisted housing out of bad areas with high crime and compacted poverty. In fact, Ridgecrest is so big, it is the bad area.

Why not devote some of this same energy to St. Jude? You’re flaking on a commitment there already. Why not spend all this time keeping the promises you have already made?

I agreed to drop this issue from the piece I was writing until l heard back from Chen on it definitively, but I did not agree not to write. We really just don't do that in our business.

In her responses on social media, Chen waltzed around what I assume is the real answer to the question I just asked theoretically here (since I haven’t been able to put it to Broussard in person): DHA stands to make what I have been told is around $7 million in development and bond syndication fees from the Ridgecrest deal.

After my piece ran, Chen said online that the development fee won’t come to $7 million. Yeah. I said development and bond syndication.

Chen also said that whatever money they do make will go back into the fine work they do. Great. That's what I do with my money, too. I put it in my pocket. But Dallas City Council member Scott Griggs is asking them (see below) why they can’t take some of that money and give it to St. Jude. If they’re going to get rich, they might as well use some of the loot to meet their obligations.

Money from HUD that winds up being used for housing assistance is always funneled through an intermediary agency. I misunderstood — and Griggs misread and the City Attorney misread — an 800-page application DHA had filed for federal funds to redo Ridgecrest.

I thought DHA had been running a federal housing voucher program at Ridgecrest called the Housing Assistance Program or HAP. They had not. The Austin outfit was doing that, and they were the ones responsible for standards (not) being met. By the way, Ridgecrest has been redone before with federal money. The redo lasted maybe five years before it became a hell-hole again.

As part of its proposal, DHA wants the HAP program at Ridgecrest, the voucher money, reassigned to DHA. But that has not yet happened. In a letter to Broussard at the end of last week (see below), Griggs said first and foremost that he also got it wrong on DHA’s past role at Ridgecrest. He’s not ducking that. Neither am I.

But Griggs asks Broussard the same question I had tried on him earlier in the week and got no answer to. If I may paraphrase him, Griggs says basically, Dude if you want the city to help you score something like seven million bucks, how about using some of that to do things that will support the desegregation goals in the city's new housing policy instead of defying them?

“Will the Steele Properties DHA joint venture," Griggs asks Broussard, "de-concentrate low income housing at Ridgecrest Terrace Apartments by renovating the property to be a mixed income property with some market rate tenants?

“Will the Steele Properties/DHA joint venture advocate to amend the HAP contract to allow are last a portion of the tenants to live in a higher opportunity area like St. Jude or other location?”

The fact remains that the Ridgecrest deal is flaky on a number of fronts. It flies in the face of all of the new housing policies put in place recently by the Dallas City Council. It defies the out-of-court settlement the city came to with HUD some years ago over matters brought to HUD’s attention in the Lockey and MacKenzie litigation accusing Dallas of illegally increasing racial segregation in housing.

In fact Ridgecrest is exactly what we’re not supposed to be doing under federal law or according to past promises or under the city’s own new housing policy. We’re supposed to use federal desegregation money to move people out of poor segregated areas, not lock them into them.

That’s not an excuse for my getting an important fact wrong or for leveling an unfair accusation against DHA. For that, I apologize. But I also think I may be the least important element in this sordid saga.

2018-09-20_Letter to DHA_Tr... by on Scribd

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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