West Dallas

Landlord balks as city presses him to sell West Dallas low-rent properties to tenants

Dallas officials on Monday asked a landlord who is shuttering hundreds of his low-rent rental homes, mostly in West Dallas, to consider selling some houses to tenants.

After meeting with city officials, HMK landlord Khraish Khraish said the city is “barraging me” to sell West Dallas houses by June 3, when the residents are supposed to be gone.

“I have all along said these houses are not fit for sale as they are,” Khraish said. But he added, “Everyone is free to make me an offer.”

Mayor Mike Rawlings, Mayor Pro Tem Monica Alonzo and Vana Hammond, the city’s leader on its GrowSouth redevelopment initiative, met with Khraish, his attorney and others in an hour-long meeting. Community representatives sat in for a portion of the discussion.

“The residents keep saying they want to stay in their houses,” Hammond said. “If we can make them homeowners and fix them up, we will.”

Khraish has said repeatedly that he planned to sell some HMK houses to tenants, but not the aging tiny homes in West Dallas. He said about 40 homes near the veteran’s hospital in southern Dallas have been sold to people were were HMK tenants mostly from southern Dallas. A few came from West Dallas, he said.

Raul Reyes Jr., a second-generation homeowner in Los Altos and a member of a city housing task force, said the meeting was frustrating. Reyes said community members were asked to leave as talks grew more intense.

“It’s been a game of chicken between the city and Khraish,” he says.

Hammond said HMK officials said they’d get back to them at the end of the week — before a Saturday housing fair for HMK tenants at the West Dallas Multipurpose Center just off Singleton Boulevard.

No sale prices for the houses were discussed. Some of them have property tax valuations as low as about $11,000.

The talks are complicated by the fact that land values in rapidly gentrifying West Dallas have soared in recent years, and the land is ripe for redevelopment.

Many of the homes Khraish owns with his father, Hanna Khraish, are in poor condition, and many of those tenants who would qualify for a mortgage to buy the houses where they live either do not have the money for a down payment or would be stymied by the need for repairs.

Khraish announced last September that he was pulling about 300 homes from the rental market because the city demanded repairs and improvements at many of his properties after passing new, more-stringent housing requirements for landlords.

About 200 HMK homes still remain occupied by tenants, with the remainder already vacated, Khraish said.

Under a court-ordered agreement last fall, tenants received an extension to stay in their houses and through the end of the school year in June and HMK won a pause in the enforcement of the tough new housing code that would be likely to hit him hard at his aging properties.

Khraish has come up with a development plan that includes affordable housing apartments for families in one West Dallas location and senior housing at another West Dallas location. But Khraish wants city support for a tax credit package. Other elements of his plan include two higher-income townhouse developments.

After Khraish first announced he was shutting down most of his rental business, organizers from advocacy groups descended into the neighborhoods where HMK operates. Homeowners and renters in a group called West Dallas One huddled to find solutions.

Nearly two-thirds of households in West Dallas live in owner-occupied homes, and activists believe encouraging more homeownership is likely to stabilize the rapidly changing neighborhood, preserving its character.

But Khraish has said he would not sell houses in West Dallas — including at a boisterous meeting at his office on Feb. 2 with tenants. Many pulled out camera phones in the small HMK lobby as others challenged him again and again.

Catholic Charities of Dallas eventually stepped in and did a tenant survey. They found the majority of those who still lived in an HMK home had an average rent of $475 a month with utility bills of about $300.

Most wanted to purchase their home, and a survey by the Texas Organizing Project found the majority of tenants interviewed also wanted to buy.

Reyes contends that any price tag over $50,000 would be too high. “Khraish is going to have to make a lower offer,” said Reyes.

But last week in an interview with The Dallas Morning News, at the mention of $50,000, Khraish said, “I cannot give my properties away.”

Khraish said he’d deal with offers on a “house by house basis.”

“I do not want special treatment. I just want to be treated fairly and with dignity and respect.” Pausing, he said, “In fact, they don’t even have to respect me or treat me with dignity.”

This story originally appeared 3/27/2017 in The Dallas Morning News.