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cover15Cover Story by Darwin Campbell, African-American News&Issues

DALLAS- The worst fear for African-Americans in the new Housing Plus Plan is that current housing costs and demands could squeeze some right out of the market and leave others holding an empty bag.

According to the Dallas City Council briefing on housing, the economy is slowly returning to the pre-recession levels, but many Dallas families still struggle on the brink of financial insecurity.

The housing market is steadily showing signs of improvement but  distinct parts of Dallas communities are still flat or experiencing market failure.

“We want to ensure that we can make housing affordable, acceptable and economical for every resident here,” said Dallas District 4 Council member Dwaine Caraway. “We want results, not just talk and I believe it was a good day because  we were very clear about things. The panel knows what we want and understands that we will not settle for less.”

Caraway is one who believes in and supports  the plans to improve housing and develop communities, but the development cannot come at a cost that leaves segments of Dallas populations out of the equation.

Two of those segments are ex-offenders coming home after serving time or being incarcerated and the thousands of homeless military veterans who roam the streets of the city.

“What concerns me is the number of ex-offenders and homeless veterans who are not in this plan,” he said. “I want to see some of these blighted homes that are salvageable become part of a plan to help the formerly incarcerated or homeless veteran get a new start on life.”

According Caraway, too many blighted and abandoned homes are slated for demolition and clean up to make way for development, but he sees a new way to deal with an old problem.

In Dallas, 600 ex-offenders return to the city each month. Of those 7,200 a year returning, many are left without housing or jobs needed to get them back on their feet. Homeless veterans face the same plight in dealing with the scars of war, many have no where to go and no one to turn too.

The consultant and planning team that is part of the Housing Plus Plan consists of National Housing experts Mercedes Marquez, Don Babers and Jon Fregonese.

In the plan, city leaders and the panel are proposing a Housing Plan that will consider a wide array of things including neighborhood stability and revitalization, access to transportation and transit, access to jobs and economic opportunity, access to food stores and other basic retail and commercial services

Marquez has experience working with community investment in Los Angeles, was housing director in that city and worked as an assistant secretary of community planning and general counsel for fair housing and equal opportunity at HUD.

Babers has a 40-year career with HUD and been regional administrator for Region VI. Fregonese has been a planner for 30 years and worked as a consultant and helped design plans in Portland, Oregon, Chicago, Denver, Southern California and Central Texas.

The group is responsible for tackling  the housing issue and making an affordable, balanced and workable housing plan for the city’s future.

The plan is needed now because federal and state funds that have supplemented city housing department resources in the past continue to drastically decline. Secondly, impending changes in Federal policy and regulations will require different approaches to existing programs.

One of the worst fears is the possible outcome about the process – fewer affordable older homes in neighborhoods to allow the city to help homeless veterans or the formerly incarcerated.

Part of the challenge includes groups for every sector working together to craft a citywide housing strategy that promotes a robust and diverse housing mix to sustain Dallas’ competitiveness in the twenty first century global economy.

Doing this, the challenge will be to:

• To align our housing goals more closely with our fiscal, economic development, land use and transportation goals, and to help Dallas ISD achieve its education goals;

• To strategically plan for neighborhood revitalization that will enhance housing choice and economic opportunities for all our residents.

Proposed funding to the housing plus planning includes as much as $300,00 for consultants, $350,000 in HUD assistance and $100,000 in foundation assistance.

“I believe homeless and ex-offenders must be included. We can do something to help some of these men and women, rehabilitate some of these homes and that will help them on the road to rebuilding their lives,” he said. “Rather than tear down the salvageable homes or allowing them to sit as blighted eyesores, we can open the way for cleaner communities and clusters of development.”

Caraway said he and his colleagues on the council want to ensure that housing is fair and that every opportunity is given for a neighborhood and community and its citizens to use its economic potential to its fullest and leverage resources and economic power to advance social justice policies.

“We want our corporate partners to help us find a way to help and include and employ the homeless and ex-offenders,” he said. “Just because a person has made a mistake or has had issues does not mean he or she should not get a second chance. We all deserve an equal opportunity to better opportunities and improved quality of life because not everyone that serves time is a killer or a bank robber.”

The next step will be a workshop and review of findings by the panel and council to look at the progress of the initiative.

After, the planning stages, the next step will be to go into Dallas neighborhoods and communities and meeting with citizens to garner their ideas for community housing and economic development.

This is expected to take place sometime in August or September and include a neighborhood block parties, a symposia on housing and sustainable neighborhoods and several community workshops.

“We intend to enlist neighborhood associations, home owner councils and residents to help us identify properties and make this a successful effort,” he said. “By considering everyone in this process, we help jump start lives and move Dallas in right direction.”