Mayor Leppert Tells Neumann to Create "Advisory Board" to Calm Furor Over Cliff Manor Supportive Housing Proposal

Based on the comments, shouts and full-on screams erupting from the standing-room-only crowd gathered in Methodist Medical Center's Hitt Auditorium last night, it's a wonder that the town hall meeting to discuss the Dallas Housing Authority and Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance's plan to turn 100 units of Cliff Manor in Oak Cliff into permanent supportive housing didn't result in the program being placed on permanent not-in-my-back-yard hold. After all, such has been the fate of similar developments torpedoed by opposition from concerned residents.

Then again, most folks who took a turn at the microphone weren't actually waving the NIMBY flag at all. Instead, many were adopting the slogan: NAIMBY.

"We're saying not always in my back yard," one Oak Cliff resident passionately told the officials, including Mayor Tom Leppert, in attendance.

And while there were a few passionate pleas in favor of the plans for Cliff Monor -- most by formerly homeless involved with local faith-based ministries -- the overwhelming majority in attendance were opposed to the project and upset with the DHA because the folks in the neighborhoods surrounding Cliff Manor first heard about the plans from The Dallas Morning News. Not the city. Not the DHA. Which explains why the crass remarks and groans started bubbling from the frustrated Cliffdwellers not three minutes into the meeting. And It wasn't long before the first wave of boos and hisses rocked the room.

During one remarkably long and unruly outburst, council member Dave Neumann, who called for and directed the town hall meeting, pleaded with his constituents: "Let's be respectful ..." To which someone from the crowd fired back: "How respectful has the DHA been to us, Mr. Neumann!!?"

The heated meeting last three hours. But after a few minutes, it became more than clear that attempts to win over the community with "win-win" assurances and nothing-to-worry-about promises wasn't gaining traction.

Instead, with folks fanning themselves to stay cool and the complimentary water long gone, the meeting ended the same way it began -- with the current plan placed on a temporary hold.

"The officials have failed to sell the idea to the community, so, until they manage to change their minds, it looks like it will stay on hold," Neumann told a handful of his constituents gathered around him after the meeting finally let out.

Neumann later told Unfair Park that Leppert asked him to form an "advisory board" where community leaders will powwow with area homeless advocates, the DHA and other interested parties to "discuss how to move forward."

It certainly didn't sound like there were many changed minds during last night's meeting, of which the majority was devoted to a Q&A lead by Neumann. The Oak Cliff councilman, Leppert, Dallas Housing Authority president MaryAnn Russ and Mike Faenza, president and chief executive officer of The Bridge-operating Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance took turns answering the majority of the questions about the plan that has ruffled so many feathers.

Under the current plan, an unknown number of "qualified" chronically homeless folks from The Bridge would be moved into 100 apartment units at Cliff Manor (with no more than two per unit). But when Faenza mentioned that there were some homeless folks in attendance the crowd didn't react the way one imagines Faenza had intended.

"Don't put a face on this to make us feel guilty!!" one man screamed.

The DHA insisted that Cliff Manor will only house women and older men. And, once moved into the sky-rise on Fort Worth Avenue, these folks (some of whom would be recovering addicts) would receive support services from LifeNet.

But with Stevens Park Elementary School less than a thousand feet away from Cliff Manor, the parents and grandparents in the area are more than worried about the proximity. Others raised concerns that such a concentration of the chronically homeless would be detrimental to neighborhoods and efforts to revitalize the Fort Worth Avenue corridor.

Scott Griggs, president of the Fort Worth Avenue Development Group, told the room that some developers scoping out the area to build have already indicated that they may put their projects on hold. Which is why, Griggs said, "this project should permanently be put on hold until Dallas develops a policy for permanent supportive housing."

When it was Oak Cliff Chamber of Commerce president Bob Stimson chance to ask questions, he made it clear that the facts are all on the table. What he said was that they needed to learn a bit about Oak Cliff. "I didn't come up here to ask a question, I came up here to preach," he said.

"Unequivocally, the Oak Cliff Chamber thinks that this is a travesty," he said. "This has already stopped -- just the announcement -- has stopped any interest in the property that was soon to be developed all around that complex."

Faenza repeatedly asserted that the plans for Cliff Manor were "win-win" and that having the chronically homeless in their neighborhood wouldn't lower their property values. "There is no evidence .. .in Dallas or in national research" he said, that suggests that permanent supportive housing lowers property values. But no matter how many times Faenza repeated it, the crowd wasn't buying it.

The biggest complaints from the crowd stemmed from the lack of communication on the part of the DHA, from not returning e-mails or phone calls to the fact that the neighborhood first heard of the plans in The News.

Russ, DHA's president, not once but twice owned up to their mishandling of the project in advance of it's implementation.

"I agree with Mike that we did a terrible job of communicating," Russ said. But, she quickly added, that "doesn't mean that the program wouldn't work."

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Daniel Rodrigue
Contact: Daniel Rodrigue

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