Dallas is a city divided by bad housing policies. By intent or default, city policies encourage affordable housing in southern Dallas and market-rate housing in much of the rest of the city. That has resulted in concentrated, generational poverty in predominantly African-American and Hispanic neighborhoods south of the Trinity River.
Bottom line: Dallas will not address chronic poverty until it comes to grips with how housing policies have divided this city along racial and income lines.
In a new report, Mike Koprowski, executive director of Opportunity Dallas, a newly formed research and advocacy organization, echoes that conclusion. Dallas, he says, will remain unequal and become increasingly poorer until the entire community embraces a comprehensive housing plan. The plan needs to provide minority residents near the poverty line with the economic mobility that comes with living closer to "high-opportunity areas" in predominantly white and wealthier neighborhoods.
Those are tough words from the former chief innovation officer at the Dallas Independent School District, but the community needs to heed them. From our work on the Bridging Dallas’ North-South Gap and Finding Lifelines for the Working Poor projects, this editorial board has heard over and over again about the need to link low-income workers in high-poverty and minority neighborhoods with jobs, and their children with educational opportunities, that don’t exist where they live now.
African-American and Hispanic families, many of them of low-income, are concentrated in the neighborhoods in Dallas that have the fewest commercial and city services, the worst transportation and the worst schools.
Is it surprising that Dallas has the dubious distinction of having the highest neighborhood inequity of any city with more than 250,000 residents? Or a poverty rate that has increased 42 percent over the past 15 years? Children who grow up in poverty and attend poor schools are likely to become part of yet another cycle of generational poverty and massive neighborhood economic inequality.
To reduce poverty and improve economic mobility, this community must encourage more mixed-income neighborhoods and progressive housing policies to increase minority residents’ access to better opportunities. But this can’t be accomplished without a sea change in the way real estate developers, nonprofits, fair housing advocates, neighborhood associations and urban planners think about how racially divided housing patterns affect economic mobility.
And that’s where Opportunity Dallas can make a difference in driving this discussion forward by speaking truth to power.
The group has a host of smart proposals. Here are the most promising places to start:
Increase access to high-opportunity areas with federal housing vouchers
Research shows that low-income children who moved to a higher-income neighborhood before age 13 were more likely to attend college, get married, have children with a father present in the home, and live in better neighborhoods as an adult; they were less likely to be on government assistance.
Halt discrimination in rental vouchers
Dallas landlords routinely refuse to rent to voucher holders, even if the voucher covers the rent. Consequently, about 60 percent of vouchers are virtually worthless. And about 90 percent of those affected are people of color, most of them African-American. Ironically, some landlords accept the vouchers in low-income neighborhoods and reject them in wealthier neighborhoods, which perpetuates housing segregation.
Increase the supply and availability of mixed-income housing citywide
Dallas needs to develop city policies to encourage private-sector developers to build racially diverse mixed-income housing. This includes developing an ordinance to help people in gentrifying neighborhoods from being forced out of their communities. How? It could be accomplished through preservation districts, better home repair assistance, or using a portion of Tax Increment Financing district revenue to construct affordable housing and tax abatement for longtime residents.
Revitalize low-income neighborhoods
The city needs to make better use of its land bank program and develop a comprehensive housing policy and market analysis that considers the impact of development decisions on housing choices, employment and educational opportunities. Southern Dallas contains 60 percent of the city’s land mass but only 15 percent of the city’s property tax base, meaning that this is a growth opportunity. To its credit, the city manager’s office is formulating a market analysis to better understand this problem.
Flawed housing decisions that have divided this community by race and income must end. Once that changes, the entire city stands to gain.