City Hall

Habitat's $100 Million "Dream Dallas" Initiative Will Uplift Neighborhoods, Not Just Houses

Dallas Habitat for Humanity, which already claims to be the biggest single-family home builder in the city, will knock down and build more than 500 more homes in a $100 million blitz on the city's blighted neighborhoods. The project, called Dream Dallas, was formally announced today at City Hall and is funded by a slew of deep-pocketed individuals and organizations, among them Marianne and Roger Staubach, the Harold Simmons Foundation and Allyn Media's Mari Woodlief.

Former city council candidate Brint Ryan, Highland Park United Methodist Church and the Rees-Jones Foundation all donated a million dollars or more to the project, which will focus on five neighborhoods: Bonton, South Dallas-Fair Park, Joppa, Lancaster Transportation Corridor, and West Dallas.

To get an idea of the initiative's scope, consider that in its 25 years of existence, the Dallas Habitat for Humanity has invested $95 million in tearing down and building houses -- meaning that in the next two years, the organization plans to spend more than it hasin the past 25. For the majority of its past, Habitat's focus has been on building one house at a time, but this project marks a notable shift from individual homes to "revitalizing entire neighborhoods," as Dallas Habitat CEO Bill Hall said at this afternoon's press conference in the Flag Room.

"This is big news," said Mayor Mike Rawlings. "South Dallas has a great future, but we need three things," housing, retail and jobs. He said the city of Dallas wants to work closely with Habitat for Humanity: "We want to make sure that your money is taken to the next level," he said, calling the future building of affordable homes "critical."

"Our goal is to raise and spend $100 million" by the end of 2014, said Mike Gruber, chair of the Dream Dallas Advisory Council. Such changes will reduce crime, foster education, and revitalize neighborhoods, he said. So far, nearly $50 million has been donated to the Dream Dallas project, and another $22 million has been secured.

"All we have to do is raise $30 million more," Gruber said, inviting a few chuckles and possibly a couple donation considerations.

"[Donating to Dream Dallas] was an easy decision," Ryan told the crowd. The numbers, he said, speak for themselves: Habitat homeowners have a less than three percent default rate on their mortgages, and the program raises more than $2 million annually in property taxes for the city. Every dollar donated to Habitat results in a $3.18 return on investment. He took a tour of neighborhoods Habitat planned to revitalize, and said he had no idea how run-down certain areas were. "Frankly folks, I didn't realize ... and that's what got me motivated," he said

Aisha Thomas, who moved into a Habitat home in 2006, called being a homeowner "a dream come true. ... I never thought we would own a home, but we do," she said.

Police Chief David Brown also spoke briefly, adding that "this is transformation in a public safety area as well."

This event also marks a huge boost to two of Mayor Rawlings's priorities: improving South Dallas and boosting the city's economy. Unfair Park talked to him about how improving housing in run-down neighborhoods can act as a catalyst in economic revitalization. Rawlings said he considers South Dallas "the community that we need to focus on to provide the biggest bang for the buck."

Investments in South Dallas have a greater rate of return than many other areas around Dallas-Fort Worth, he said. He added that when he says "South Dallas," he also means "West Dallas," where the "issues and dynamics" overlap greatly.

"The first step is to get affordable housing," Rawlings said. Now that Habitat has that in the works, the mayor's working on a plan "about economic development that will wrap around this development." He'll be releasing details in a month or two, he said.

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Leslie Minora