“Housing Responds” to the Dallas Area’s Lack of Affordable Housing | United Way of Metropolitan Dallas

“Housing Responds” to the Dallas Area’s Lack of Affordable Housing

Leaders from the nonprofit, business, legal and government worlds of North Texas gathered Tuesday, Aug. 11, for a webinar discussion, “Housing Responds, A Part of the Responds Series from SVP Dallas.” Sponsors for this webinar were Something Good Consulting Group, Wright Connatser PLLC and FWD>DFW together with The Dallas Morning News.

Social Venture Partners (SVP) Dallas is a network of more than 200 engaged, active leaders dedicated to creating change in our communities and enhancing social impact.

SVP Dallas CEO Tony Fleo served as moderator.

Panelists were:

The group focused on housing inequity in North Texas and the need for all sectors to come together to provide more affordable/workforce housing for those in need. View recap below.

GREAT NEED, FEW RESOURCES

Jennifer Owen started the conversation by reminding listeners, “There were serious concerns about the real estate market prior to the pandemic. Rent was increasing faster than wages, and the demand for affordable housing units far outweighed availability.”

Those with low income who are cost-burdened, she said, are more than twice as likely to fall behind on rent and face eviction, and the pandemic has exacerbated an already fraught issue: A Dallas study showed that 40 percent of renters were unsure if they could pay their rent in August.

Maryann D’Aniello added that Legal Aid of Northwest Texas is seeing many clients that previously wouldn’t have qualified for their assistance before the pandemic. The change has been significant, she said: “Our income maximum is 200 percent of the federal poverty level, so that shows you how many people have dropped into that low-income category.” The federal poverty level for 2020 for a four-person household is $26,200.

Ashley Brundage noted that consortiums such as United Way’s Dallas Rental Assistance Collaborative are trying to reach and help people the city can’t, such as those in concentrated poverty and undocumented populations. “We’re going deep into the community to those who need it the most,” she said. “But those dollars aren’t enough. We need a whole lot more.

“Our neighbors need for us to trust and invest in them. Give them the financial assistance and freedom to make the investments that are best for them. United Way Dallas recently helped launch the Family Independence Initiative here locally, and they’ve already spent 94 percent of their funding,” Brundage said. “The organization has made major strides in Austin and San Antonio, and is expanding to El Paso.

“Providing the platform that allows for cash transfers to families and connects them to their local community creates the supports that families need to be successful in the long term.”

Thomas said the city is also looking at ways of building more efficiency in housing, figuring out where the city can put more dollars to help the homeless and housing-insecure. “Housing is critically important,” he said. “If there’s one person who doesn’t have a place to stay, we’ve still got more work to do.”

THE NEED FOR LEADERSHIP

Speaking from a business perspective, Lucy Billingsley said, “This [pandemic] is totally changing how developers think. How do we contribute to our residents in need? As our residents go, so we go. The way we succeed is when our residents succeed. We have a responsibility to our fellow citizens and those who have chosen to live with us.”

However, she said, high property taxes—47 percent of her company’s monthly expenses— and governmental regulations have made it difficult for commercial developers to offer workforce housing.

“For people who would like to engage and do it right, we have a hard time. The legal guidelines are so tough.” She recalled one project she tried to do: “I just got shut down and shut down and shut down [by the city’s regulations]. I quit trying. Casey, come save me. Give me the answer.”

Thomas said the city’s recent look at forming a comprehensive housing policy is “a good first step. … We need to look at strategies and ideas and plans, and we have to realize that housing isn’t just a city problem, it’s a regional problem.” He also noted that “workforce housing” is becoming the more acceptable terminology because of negative connotations around “affordable housing.”

Billingsley held him to his word on gathering leaders and opinions: “What the business community needs and wants is your [the city’s] leadership. We want to respond to your vision. Get us all in a room together and we might be able to rise up and do something better.

LOOKING TO THE FUTURE

Brundage noted that the situation only stands to worsen without immediate action. “Right now, at the state level, there are up to 4 million people at risk of eviction,” she said. It’s imperative that the Senate pass the pending HEROES Act, she said, which will provide significant financial help and protection against evictions. “We need to advocate for robust relief and make sure it gets deployed correctly,” she said.

“What people need right now is a substantial, in the billions, investment in housing support for renters that prevents them from ever missing a payment. Eviction moratoriums don’t fix missed payments, rather delay the inevitable, and they put a burden on landlords who are not all big property-management companies. Families won’t magically come up with the funds needed to pay the rent they’ve missed over the last several months.”

In Houston, she said, a program for eviction diversion has been created, a partnership among courts hearing evictions, local governments and nonprofits. It would identify tenants who could benefit, putting a temporary hold on court proceedings and connecting those tenants with rental assistance or other resources.

“Eviction diversion requires mediation in evictions, with facilitated access to emergency and legal assistance. It should also include expungement of the eviction proceedings from any legal record to prevent lasting harm,” Brundage said. “Many landlords won’t rent to families with a history of evictions.

“If programs are put into place to help renters, and landlords and even judges better understand the complexities of the ordinances that are in place to help families stay housed, along with financial assistance to pay the rent that is owed, we can provide the housing stability that many of our families and landlords need.”

“We are exploring now if this is something that can be replicated here. I believe it can—we have JPs [justices of the peace] who are interested in helping address this looming crisis. And putting a program in place now will help families in the future.”

 
Do your or someone you know in Dallas County need rental or utilities assistance due to COVID-19 related income changes? Learn more and apply through our Dallas Rental Assistance Collaborative.

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This article was published on: Aug 18, 2020