If Dallas City Hall Is a Ship of State, Who in the Hell is the Captain?

Normally I'm not here to say the left hand at City Hall does not know what the right hand is doing. Whenever I can, I hope to be able to say much worse stuff than that. But this here is a left-hand/right-hand missing-each-other type deal, I do believe.

Mid-morning last Sunday Scott Goldstein at The Dallas Morning News put a pretty damned amazing story up online saying the new city manager has ordered a sweeping investigation and reorganization of the city's housing activities, with specific reference to two stories I've been harping on here -- the recent federal investigation that found Dallas engaged in racial segregation, and a subsidized housing project on Lancaster Road called Patriots Crossing.

It's in the paper again this morning -- a major signal that Dallas is abandoning its initial line -- telling the feds to stuff it -- and may be ready instead for a scorched-earth reform. So there's your left hand.

On the other hand, here's a story I haven't seen in the news cycle (and forgive me for not putting it there sooner myself, but I've had a head cold): Two weeks ago Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings made a big-time last-minute Hail Mary to bail out that specific project, Patriots Crossing, that the city manager now wants to investigate. Rawlings' intervention was especially notable because Patriots Crossing is so emblematic of the very thing the feds are accusing Dallas of doing -- cramming subsidized housing into already segregated high-crime areas.

So why would the mayor stick his neck way out for a project if the city manager is just about to list it among projects he wants to investigate? Two weeks ago the project was coming up for an approval or denial by a state board that provides financial assistance. Dallas fair housing advocate Mike Daniel had written to the board saying they should not approve another project that would cram still more minority families and children into high-crime areas.

Rawlings wrote the board a rebuttal letter and even got a police official to write something about all the good deeds the department has done trying to make the area safer. I buttonholed Rawlings at a press conference about something else and asked him what made him to decide to go to bat for Patriots Crossing.

He said he didn't send a last-minute letter to the board a day before its scheduled vote on the project to help the project. He said he only wanted to correct an unfairly negative portrayal of the neighborhood in Daniels' letter. The board of the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs ultimately voted with Rawlings, to allow the project to proceed to the next level in the approval process.

Yeah, fine. One week the mayor of Dallas reaches way in to help Patriots Crossing. The next week the city manager lists it as one the city needs to investigate in order to "verify consistency with council approvals and identify any potential conflicts with existing policies, rules and regulations."

Tell me that isn't the sound of two hands trying to clap but missing each other.

In his memo to the City Council calling for a major shakeup of the city's housing programs, City Manager A.C. Gonzalez also refers pointedly to a need to fix and reform a federally required process called the "analysis of impediments." Yeah, I know. When I first saw that term, I thought, "Well those aren't really impediments. They talk that way at City Hall on purpose to keep us from understanding them." But it's not that kind of impediment.

The analysis of impediments is a requirement the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development makes of cities that want HUD housing money. It's an analysis of everything that can and does stand in the way of achieving truly fair and racially integrated housing in a city.

One of the key points in the HUD letter summarizing its four-year investigation of Dallas was that Dallas' analysis of impediments was a joke, kind of like two guys gazing out from a window at City Hall saying, "Nope, can't see any from here." The fact that Gonzalez is zeroing in on the analysis of impediments means that City Hall is taking the HUD letter very seriously and must want to make things right, notwithstanding all the macho so's-your-old-man rhetoric right after the letter came out. One reason cities don't like to anger or upset Mother HUD is that she has the right and ability to cut off federal funding, which no city wants.

Clearly Gonzalez is charting a course of major reform for the city's housing programs. Clearly the mayor is not totally on deck with that yet. It all just makes me glad the municipal ship of state is not an actual ship.

Rawlings Letter to TDHCA by Schutze

AC Gonzalez Housing Memo by Schutze

KEEP THE DALLAS OBSERVER FREE... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
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