Land Institute Offers a Peek at a Plan for More Affordable Housing in Dallas

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As with so many things — sprucing up the Trinity River, fixing Fair Park, combating domestic violence and poverty, regulating gas drilling — Dallas' next step in dealing with the city's lack of affordable housing should be to form a .... wait for it ... task force.

On Friday, the Urban Land Institute — which calls itself a multidisciplinary real estate forum — suggested that Dallas create an "Independent Housing and Community Investment Task Force," headed by a low-paid or not-paid CEO. The nine-member institute panel also repeatedly stressed the need to act now and stop just planning, something that befuddled Dallas City Council member Philip Kingston.

"It was a little confusing, because they emphasized action over planning throughout the presentation and the first thing they want us to do is a task force," Kingston said after the presentation.

The ULI study was paid for by the Trammell Crow Co. following the company's spat with the city over placing several affordable housing units in a proposed development near Klyde Warren Park. The city wanted 10 units made affordable to families making 80 percent of the median area income. Crow didn't want to build any, but eventually decided to build four and fund the ULI study, after the city paid $1 million for the alley behind the development.

After that sausage making, the sausage distributed by the ULI Friday was pretty tame. Beyond the task force, the panel suggested that the city focus on areas like those around UNT-Dallas and Southwest Center Mall, as well as Wynwood Village and the Cedars, as places to provide quality new developments and to focus on rehabilitation. (The Cedars, which seems to be humming along with gentrification on its own, doesn't exactly fit in with the rest of that list, and Kingston suggested that maybe the ULI doesn't fully get Dallas yet.)

Among the more creative methods for getting affordable units where they need to be in the city, the ULI suggested funding a trust that would be used to build and refurbish affordable units using "payments in lieu" from developers. Basically, developers who don't want to include an otherwise required number of affordable units in their buildings could make a payment into the fund, something that's worked to create more affordable housing in cities like Austin. Alternatively, developers could also build fewer affordable units but lower the price. Rather than building 15 units that were affordable to those making 80 percent of the median income, they could build seven units affordable to those making 60 percent of the median.

Of course none of this stuff is an actual plan yet. This was an initial presentation made by a group that Kingston said fails to understand some of Dallas' unique challenges — like the fact that, when comparing Dallas to other cities that have seen ULI-aided success, Dallas has a much lower median income to begin with. Then there's Dallas' own Neighborhoods Plus initiative, the city's jargon-marred plan to address seemingly the same concerns that ULI has set out to take on. The panel said Friday that it wasn't out to step on Neighborhood Plus' toes, but it's impossible to see the ULI plan being implemented without doing so.

They'll be back with a formal report in six weeks or so, the panel said Friday, and then the planning to plan might finally begin.

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