A Plan to Save West Dallas Would Offer Affordable Homes to Cops and Firefighters

What West Dallas needs is a strong buffer between the existing neighborhoods and the forces of gentrification.
What West Dallas needs is a strong buffer between the existing neighborhoods and the forces of gentrification. Mark Graham
First, before we get into a lot of who-shot-John and you-know-what about it, let’s just discuss what’s so great about this idea. A major landowner in West Dallas wants to launch a dedicated private-sector initiative to develop affordable housing for Dallas police and firefighters.

His plan is to offer the city’s police and fire officers mortgages they can afford for quality-built new houses and condos as a way to get them to live inside the city and stay on the payroll. Why is that his job? It’s not. But it’s also not hard to see what he gets out of it.

The landholder in question owns hundreds of properties in a part of the city that is teetering between poverty and aggressive gentrification. The negative threat he faces — the factor that holds down values and tips the balance the wrong way — is the same threat we all face in urban environments. The bad guys. Only he’s got more of them.

“So now you have a police officer living in the neighborhood, and you have a police car parked in front of the neighborhood. So, yeah, that will send a loud message to gang members, drug dealers, et cetera.” – George Aranda

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So what happens when a bunch of cops and firefighters start moving into the neighborhood? Hey, I know that one. In fact, the real question isn’t about a bunch of them. One will do.

My wife and I bought our first house a long time ago in what was then a fairly dicey part of Dallas. We thought the price was right, but that was because we didn’t know what the real price was. The real price was an all-night parade of hookers, drunks, vagrants and burglars, trolling the block like it was their country and we were foreigners.

It only took one cop, still one of my favorite cops, Gil Henson. No longer on the Dallas force, Gil was a second-generation Dallas police officer when he moved onto our block. He just kind of put out the word: no non-law-abiding persons will be allowed on this block at any time for any reason from now on until forever because Gil Henson says so.

And you know what? The shambling midnight army of non-law-abiding zombies whom we had thought owned the block all moved at once to some other block. Zap! They disappeared. It was like somebody sprayed them with a giant can of Raid. I asked Gil where they went. He said, “Not here.”

I watched pretty closely. As far as I could tell, the law was obeyed scrupulously. No one’s rights were abridged. Well, there were some stray pit bulls that may not have gotten full due process, but Gil didn’t need to strong-arm anybody. His message, I think, was pretty much, “Me cop, you go.” They went. The bad guys may be stupid, but they’re not that stupid.

Cops know how this works, and they know exactly why this West Dallas landlord wants to attract them to his part of town. I spoke recently with Dallas police Sgt. George Aranda, president of the Dallas branch of the National Latino Law Enforcement Organization, who has seen the landlord’s full presentation. Aranda even spent four hours driving a map of more than 100 properties under consideration.

Aranda sees a link between the affordable housing plan and an initiative under consideration by the police department, also aimed at keeping cops on the force and in the city, that would allow officers to drive patrol vehicles home at the ends of their shifts. The condition for taking the cars home is that the officers would have to live within the city limits.

Aranda thinks the presence of cops and cop cars on a block can’t help but make a difference.

“So now you have a police officer living in the neighborhood,” he says, “and you have a police car parked in front of the neighborhood. So, yeah, that will send a loud message to gang members, drug dealers, et cetera.”

Police Chief U. Renee Hall acknowledged, when I asked, that the landowner behind the idea had met with her to present his idea. Her spokesperson said, “The chief has not had time to discuss this possible opportunity with leadership from City Hall. At this time, it would not be appropriate to participate in any media discussion about this meeting.”

click to enlarge Too bad there isn't a rescue for landowners on the dirty end of the stick with City Hall. - DFWRATRESCUE.ORG
Too bad there isn't a rescue for landowners on the dirty end of the stick with City Hall.
Which makes sense. This involves land use, housing policy and economic development — areas outside the chief’s responsibilities — so I can understand why she wouldn’t want to get out over her skis on it. As envisioned by the landowner, however, a major benefit to the city would be the proposal’s value as a tool to retain cops and firefighters at a time when they are still defecting from the city in droves and when recruitment of new hires has been tough.

Then there is the value to the whole city. West Dallas is like the rest of Dallas: It cries out for a middle way. Since World War II, West Dallas has been a hand-built haven for poor, working-class families, mostly but not entirely black and Hispanic, who couldn’t afford to live anywhere else.

Those families have formed a solid base that has always defended itself vigorously against the forces of crime and dissolution. But in the last few years, they have found themselves facing an even more powerful foe in the form of ruthless high-end gentrification, condos that none of them could ever dream of affording, soaring taxes they soon won’t be able to pay.

The landowner — OK, OK, I’m going to say who he is in just one second — tells me that bringing police and fire officers into this part of town is a way to pave that middle way, to provide that stabilizing path between the longtime solid-citizen residents and the more affluent newcomers.

The giant rat depicted by Channel 8, according to testimony not challenged by the other side, came from a pet store. If the rat is still in anyone’s possession, I urge that person to contact DFW Rat Rescue.

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What does he get out of it, again? He owns a whole lot of land in West Dallas, and it’s all paid for. He and his father bought it for cash years ago. He’s not in the same squeeze as the hurry-up gentrification developers. They have to borrow mountains of money to get their deals going and then build mountains of luxury condos to pay off their loans.

This guy can take his time. He can make his money in more modest increments. When his long plan works and the whole area improves because of it, he’ll probably wind up making more money than the borrower-builders. His scheme is built on saving his money, paying cash, not borrowing, not getting hip-deep in public subsidies and politics, instead patiently waiting for a far-off payday when the community has strengthened itself.

So, naturally, City Hall hates him — well, the old City Hall, anyway. The landowner, Khraish Khraish, may get a better reception from the new regime under City Manager T.C. Broadnax, but you may remember that the old crowd, City Hall’s Deep State, did everything it could to run Khraish out of town.

A couple years ago, the city attorney’s office — mostly under a predecessor to the new city attorney — was actively encouraging Khraish’s tenants not to pay their rent and to join a class-action lawsuit against him instead. That lawsuit, by the way, is in the trashcan now, nonsuited, as the lawyers say, because it was trash in the first place.

Khraish is the man whose image was splayed across the TV screen by WFAA-TV (Channel 8) along with a photo of a giant rat. Channel 8 News said the rat was caught chewing the awful toes off one of Khraish’s neglected tenants. We were proud to be the first to report the truth on that one here.

Mounds of medical evidence produced under oath in court showed that the supposed rat-bite victim had not been bitten by a rat. He did have awful toes, but it was because he was suffering from chronic diabetes. At some point after the toe photo shoot, the toes had to be amputated. The giant rat depicted by Channel 8, according to testimony not challenged by the other side, came from a pet store. (If the rat is still in anyone’s possession, I urge that person to contact DFW Rat Rescue, which is a real thing.)

Too bad there isn’t a rescue organization for Khraish — although I don’t think he needs one. This latest proposal is a great example of the kind of creative thinking he has been bringing to the table consistently for several years. Every time the city has attempted to batter his business and drag his name through the mud, he and attorney John Carney have come up with some new, totally positive, productive proposal. This may be their best yet.

Ask yourself. Why have all of the public-sector affordable housing initiatives we have seen in Dallas over the years been such miserable fiascos, failing to produce the needed housing, producing instead only public corruption and prison terms? I think it’s because those programs are never what they say they are.

Let’s reserve judgment on the new housing policy developed by Broadnax and his staff. They seem to be straight-shooters. Under the old regime, you never had to scratch a so-called affordable housing program very deeply to find some kind of payoff or sub-rosa deal that had a real intent to pave the way for a high-end developer somewhere else. God forbid anyone ever mentioned the possibility of income diversity or inclusivity in a city-sponsored housing program.

Those programs came back to bite us because they were lies. The biggest appeal of this one may be that Khraish means it and is willing to put his own skin in the game, his own land and money on the line, and he doesn’t want a dime from City Hall.

I’m just waiting to see how City Hall reacts to this plan. Khraish tells me has been rebuffed in several efforts to present it to Mayor Mike Rawlings. Rawlings’ spokesman, Scott Goldstein, told me Tuesday the mayor has never heard a word about it and is all ears if and when Khraish wants to talk.

So let’s everybody talk.
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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