Dallas comes up with plan for “displaced” HMK residents, but money might be a problem

West Dallas residents

DALLAS – It’s hard to feel at home when you’re constantly being pushed out your own front door. That’s why a handful of affordable housing residents protested in front of Dallas City Hall on Tuesday.

It’s been quite the journey for hundreds of people who rent homes from HMK in West Dallas. Last year, the city demanded the houses be brought up to code. HMK said it might just pull hundreds of houses off the rental market, meaning the residents would have to find some other place.

Months have passed and residents are tired of being left in the dark. They’re pushing to stay in West Dallas and for the city to build them brand new homes.

“That’s what we’re fighting for,” explained one protester. “To prevent them from being homeless and displaced from their neighborhoods they’ve lived in for generations.”

While the fight continued outside, inside the city came up with their own plan for the community. They have put this whole displacement dilemma in the hands of CEO of Catholic Charities, David Woodyard.

“Our role in this is going to go back and work with the families in the affected areas,” Woodyard explained.

He’s expected to take $300,000 in assistance dollars and use it to relocate the tenants to more appropriate housing units.

“My worry is it’s not enough and other private donations and concerned people in the community will step up and make more money available.”

HMK general manager Khraish Khraish also thinks the amount isn’t enough to make “moves” for his tenants.

“In a way, we’re happy with the resolution and in a way we’re quite disappointed,” Khraish told NewsFix.

This story originally appeared 3/14/2017 on CW 33.

City OKs first new housing authority apartment project in a decade

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The Houston Housing Authority is poised to build its first new affordable apartments in a decade, after City Council on Wednesday cleared the way for the development of a subsidized housing complex in Independence Heights.

The 154-unit development at Crosstimbers and North Main would be located in a high-poverty, predominantly black and Hispanic neighborhood, prolonging housing advocates’ concerns about the dearth of affordable options in low-poverty areas with good schools.

Federal housing officials in August launched an investigation into whether the city’s placement of affordable housing violates the Civil Rights Act, after Mayor Sylvester Turner blocked a similar development near the Galleria, a so-called “high-opportunity” neighborhood.

Turner said he views the Independence Heights project at 302 Crosstimbers as a better financial deal than the proposed development at 2640 Fountain View, which he declined to bring to a City Council vote, citing “costs and other concerns.”

“It’s good not only for people who need affordable housing. It’s good for the school district itself,” Turner said, referencing the nearby Booker T. Washington High School scheduled to open in 2018. “There is almost (unanimous) support for it. It is more cost-efficient than what was proposed (at Fountain View).”

The mayor said in August that Fountain View’s per-unit price tag of $240,000 was too expensive.

The Independence Heights development is projected at $226,000 per unit, according to Houston Housing Authority President Tory Gunsolley, and would be reserved for families earning 60 percent or less of the area’s median income, $69,200 for a family of four.

Gunsolley said he is excited about finally being able to move forward with a project after all but two of the eight projects the housing authority proposed in the last three years were blocked.

“We’ve been trying at a number of different properties to get all of the stars to align so that we could go forward,” Gunsolley said. “It’s rewarding to finally – we’re still not there yet – but we’re closer to the finish line in getting all of those approvals.”

A ‘shocking affront’

The Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs is set to review the housing authority’s application for tax credits Dec. 15, the final government approval hurdle.

Housing advocate John Henneberger said his group, the Texas Low Income Housing Information Service, asked the city to sign off on the Independence Heights project only in conjunction with Fountain View or another development in a similar “high-opportunity” neighborhood.

“Approving a new low-income project in Independence Heights today … while at the same time continuing to refuse to approve a single new subsidized housing unit in a low-poverty, non-segregated neighborhood, is a clear and shocking affront to civil rights and fair housing, as well as a blatant violation of the law,” Henneberger said in an email.

The Independence Heights development would be located in a census tract with a poverty rate of 35 percent, compared with 6.1 percent for the Fountain View site.

Houston has concentrated most of its units in neighborhoods like Independence Heights, with high poverty and a high concentration of minority residents, worrying some that the city’s affordable housing efforts perpetuate segregation.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that policies with a “disparate impact” on minorities violate the Fair Housing Act, even if the effect is unintentional.

Mayor must ‘hold true’

Tiffany Hogue, policy director for the Texas Organizing Project, a grass-roots advocacy group, said it is important to expand affordable options in neighborhoods like Independence Heights that are thought to be on the cusp of gentrification, but indicated that alone is not enough.

“We still expect the mayor to hold true to his commitment to get truly low-income units in high-opportunity areas that are zoned to good schools and along transportation (corridors) and jobs,” Hogue said in an email.

After blocking the Fountain View project in August, Turner asked the housing authority to seek proposals for alternate projects in the same west Houston area, Council District G.

Gunsolley, the housing authority president, said the agency submitted a proposal to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in September for a site in District G, and another proposal to the Texas General Land Office in October for a site in southwest Houston’s District K.

Neither, he said, is a replacement for Fountain View.

“I don’t think that either one by itself would be seen as a one-for-one replacement of Fountain View,” he said. “We are still looking for more options.”

The mayor said the city should not stop expanding subsidized housing options while the search for another “high-opportunity” site is underway.

“We certainly don’t rule out building housing in those areas, and we probably will build housing in those areas,” Turner said. “But that doesn’t mean that we stop all public housing completely until it’s done.”

HUD did not respond to a request for comment on the status of its investigation into Houston’s placement of affordable housing.

In other housing news, City Council signed off on the demolition of the troubled Crestmont Village apartment complex in South Acres and confirmed Tom McCasland as director of the city’s housing department.

This story originally appeared 11/30/2016 in the Houston Chronicle.

City Of Dallas Reaches Agreement With Controversial Landlord

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The City of Dallas reached an agreement with HMK that allows all of the company’s tenants to remain in their homes until June 3, 2017, or the end of the 2016-17 school year, whichever is later.

This includes any individuals who have filed lawsuits against HMK, according to a City of Dallas news release.

The city said it asked HMK to agree to address any condition in the occupied homes “that might present a threat to tenants’ health or safety, pursuant to earlier discussions in which HMK owner, Khraish Khraish expressed his commitment to do so.”

HMK would not agree to make any repairs to the homes during this time period, no matter how serious the condition.

Mayor Mike Rawlings, Mayor Pro Tem Monica Alonzo and Council Member Carolyn Arnold issued the following joint statement Friday:

“Our intentions in working with HMK over the past 18 months have been about one thing and one thing only: providing safe and decent living conditions for the hundreds of families and children that live in HMK homes in West Dallas and southern Dallas. Mr. Khraish has insisted that he cares deeply about the welfare of his residents. We take him at his word.”

City officials ask that any HMK tenant whose rent is not being accepted or has a condition in their home that they believe presents an immediate threat to their health or safety to call 311 or Adella Casarez at 214-670-5988 immediately to make a report.

City officials said they will communicate with Mr. Khraish any concerns about residences that present a health or safety threat.

Ashton Elder, a Texas Organizing Project leader and West Dallas HMK tenant released this statement on the matter:

“First, this agreement provides much-needed relief to my family and others after weeks spent worrying about simply having a roof over our heads. The fact that my neighbors all came together, organized and stood up to HMK and the City is a significant win for our community. I know that nobody gave us this relief. We had to organize and fight for it.

“However, we all must also recognize that this agreement between the City and HMK is not the long-term solution that our community needs; it is a band-aid. There is still plenty of work that needs to be done.

“For instance, it is upsetting to hear that our landlord, HMK Ltd., does not intend to make any meaningful repairs to our houses that make them livable. Also, while the City of Dallas took a step in the right direction by raising standards for rental properties, it can’t just step back and try to wash their hands of this situation.

“We need the City to find money for relocation assistance and for temporary repair of our homes. While the pressure cooker has been relieved some, we don’t want to wait until the eleventh hour to figure out where the people who want to continue to rent will be living next. Let’s get ahead of the curb.

“For others, like my family who want to be on the pathway to homeownership in West Dallas, we are encouraged by our productive meeting with Mayor Rawlings, and the City’s commitment to play an important role in helping us purchase our homes. Our fight continues. It is far from over.”

This story originally appeared 11/4/2016 on CBS 11.