What's a Million Bucks Worth? When It Comes to Dallas' Housing Projects, Not Much.

You know, I'm beginning to think a million bucks, maybe a couple million, just flat does not matter in today's world, at least if it's "public" money (that would be yours and mine sorta). Maybe whenever people say "a million bucks" on a public document or in a public hearing or something like that, they should add at the end, "plus or minus a couple mil'," and that would take care of it.

I'm thinking about this "Patriots Crossing" low-income housing development on Lancaster Road across from the Veterans Affairs hospital that I told you about a couple weeks ago. At that time the developer went before the City Council, which has been bankrolling him, and said he had spent $3.4 million of the city's money for land.

I said in my article that loan documents showed he had spent a significant chunk of that money on stuff that was not land. By the way, since that article came out, except for council members Scott Griggs and Philip Kingston, no one else at City Hall has uttered a peep about it.

I imagine most of them looking at my numbers, giving it a big old shoulder shrug and saying, "Yeah, that's what he said. He spent $3.4 million of our money on land plus or minus a couple mil'. So what's your problem?"

This came to mind yesterday, because I was looking at the agenda for the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs board meeting in Austin today, where they will consider the Patriots Crossing developer's application for an additional $13 million give or take a couple mil' in public funds to build 162 apartments, 33 of which will be rented at rates supposedly affordable to truly poor people.

The total cost for the project shown in the documents is now $22 million, etc. I did a quick calculation to see how much money that would be if you just handed it over to the 33 families who will benefit. When I saw the amount per family, I was really glad I do not believe in numerology. If they just handed out the money, it would be $666,666 per family. They could give them that much money and a roasted goat head, and everybody would be ready for the ritual.

So the other number I noticed was the amount the state is being told the developer paid for land -- $2 million. And we see what he means, by now, right? He paid $2 million for the land ... you know the rest. Here I used to think two million bucks was a huge deal. I feel so petty bourgeois.

The other thing buried in the materials is a letter, which you will find below, from Dallas low-income advocacy lawyer Michael Daniel, warning the TDHC that this project is not eligible for state support under rules the state had to adopt a couple years ago to get in line with a federal court order. The rule has to do with putting tax-supported low-income housing in high-crime areas when there are other places it could go that have lower crime rates.

Just to make sure I got the legal principle involved, I called Daniel. He put it in my language: "It's not eligible," he said. "It shouldn't be there. They shouldn't be building this stuff where people get their butt kicked, where kids have to put up with crime. Why we think it's OK just still boggles my mind."

In his letter to the state, Daniel presents crime data showing that violent crime rates in the area around the proposed development are three and four times higher than rates in other parts of the city where TDHC has helped fund other housing developments.

"TDHC has adopted this as an eligibility criterion," he said. "It should be enforced, and it shouldn't be there."

We all know what this is about. Leave us not be coy. The lower crime areas are whiter and more middle class. The political pressure is to jam all of it into poor, minority, high-crime neighborhoods, just making things worse, which is why the U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development has accused Dallas of promulgating a policy of deliberate racial segregation.

All right, just for today, let's not go there. How about this? If it costs that much of our money, plus or minus whatever, and it breaks the rules, and it's got HUD on our case, did we ever consider just not doing it? Hmm? Why not wait for a clean deal? Or don't do a deal?

Oh, I know what it is. We need to cram more and more concentrated public housing into poor, minority, high-crime areas and get more and more poor kids growing up in those areas, because it's such a great way to produce a growing population of happy healthy solid citizens. Plus or minus a couple mil'.

Michael M. Daniel Letter to TDHC Re Patriots Crossing by Schutze

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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