Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Macro and Micro Solutions for Affordable Housing in Dallas

As we established in the first two parts of this series, there are really two challenges that inhibit those with little means, from renting housing units – one macro and one micro. There is a general lack of adequate affordable housing – macro. Landlords are free to discriminate against low income renters, based on the source of their rental payments – micro.

Cindy J. Crain, in her first editorial opinion column in the Dallas Morning News, as President and CEO of MDHA, Cindy J. Crain: An effective homeless response system requires affordable housing, primarily discussed the I-45 tent city and the changes we need to make in developing an effective homeless response system. However, in the title, as well as in the final words of the piece, she reminded the community of the macro issue: “The cost of housing exceeds the incomes of thousands of households. The lack of safe, quality, affordable housing is the most daunting challenge to making homelessness rare, brief and nonrecurring in Dallas and Collin counties.” And in the penultimate paragraph she pointed out the micro issue: “The pool of landlords willing to work with case managers and their clients who require subsidy and support shrinks as rental properties can secure higher rents from tenants who do not have the same degree of barriers. There are over 200 homeless veterans today who cannot find rental properties willing to accept their housing vouchers.”

As with most macro issues, a quick fix does not seem to be in the offing. These things take time, and necessitate buy-in and action from many different parties. Indeed, Steve Brown and the Dallas Morning News editorial staff pointed out a few months ago in Affordable-housing proposals have Dallas developers scrambling for bigger say, and Editorial: Dallas needs more affordable housing, just not like this, that though there seems to be unanimity in acknowledging the macro challenge, there is significant disagreement on how to solve it. The micro issue is easier to solve. So, while a recent agreement between the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the City of Dallas does contain specific general steps that Dallas agreed to take with regard to the macro issue, its most concrete solution was in regard to the micro issue: “The City Manager and City Attorney will formally introduce to the Dallas city council for a public meeting and adoption an ordinance prohibiting source of income discrimination, including discrimination against Housing Choice Voucher holders.” At the time (early November 2014), Austin was well on its way to adopting such an ordinance, which it formally adopted unanimously, just five weeks later. With that, the micro issue in Austin seemed solved, and Dallas had a clear example of how to quickly resolve the micro issue, while methodically attacking the macro issue. What happened next, which we will address in the final post of this series, threw a wrench into that solution too.    

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