West Dallas tenants deliver housing plan to their landlord in surprise visit

Pearline Brown did the math on poverty: Her mother brings in about $800 in Social Security monthly. She leases a house for about $500 a month from HMK Ltd., a landlord that charges low rents for old homes in her West Dallas neighborhood. Many are run down.

“Some of the tenants can’t afford to move,” Brown said at news conference in front of an HMK tenant’s home on Winnetka Avenue. “That’s why they stay.”
Staying may not be an option much longer. HMK is in the eye of a public storm over its plans to evict hundreds of tenants.

On Thursday, tenants presented their own eight-point plan for how to keep providing them with affordable housing to Khraish Khraish, co-owner of HMK. It was signed by about five dozen tenants.

After rolling out the plan, the tenants and supporters walked to HMK’s headquarters on Singleton Boulevard, where soaring unfinished town homes jut into the sky across the street.

Among the tenants was Pearlie Mae Brown, Pearline’s slim 80-year-old mother. Brown lives behind the new construction in a 580-square-foot rental built in 1948 and described as being in poor condition by the Dallas Central Appraisal District.

Khraish pulled into the HMK parking lot as the group of about two dozen people walked up, news media in tow.

Khraish has his own five-point plan to redevelop his properties into mostly affordable housing: new houses to replace some of the 305 rental homes his company decided to take off the rental market back in September. He would sell some lots to Dallas Area Habitat for Humanity and he also wants to build apartment units. He says city’s new and tougher housing code is forcing his hand.

But Khraish told the group he won’t sell any of his West Dallas properties to existing tenants. He did say he’d sell 60 HMK houses in Oak Cliff. Khraish has said he created a mortgage unit to handle financing for those deals, which he said would consist of 10-year-loans at 5 percent interest with no down payment.

This chilly day, though, the tenants, assisted by the Texas Tenants’ Union and the Texas Organizing Project, were the ones presenting a new plan: They’re calling for HMK to sell West Dallas houses to every HMK tenant who wants to purchase their home at a “reasonable” price. And they don’t want those purchases financed by HMK.

The tenants also called for homes to be repaired to code, and for tenants to be allowed to continue to rent the houses they live in if they can’t buy them. They also want relocation assistance if they plan to move.

Already, about a third of the HMK tenants have moved out, said David Villalobos, an organizer with TOP.

Tenants also said single-family homes north of Singleton Boulevard should be placed in a homestead preservation district or community land trust — an idea being discussed by a neighborhood coalition called West Dallas 1.

Separately, a housing task force has been organized by Mayor Pro Tem Monica Alonzo, whose District 6 includes the area. They have yet another plan for the tenants who might be dislocated, though details are sketchy. Some of its members come from West Dallas 1.

One housing task force member has said they are hoping to find a way to assure that tenants will receive money for relocation. Catholic Charities of Dallas began surveying tenants recently on their needs and to verify who was left in the HMK neighborhoods.

Khraish read the eight-point tenants’ plan in front of cameras. He addressed some of it.

“For Ms. Brown, I cannot sell her her home, her house,” he said. “However, I have proposed also to the city a 100-unit senior-living, assisted-living facility. Also low-income so that vouchers will be accepted.”

He added that he is willing to agree to an extension to the June eviction deadline.

“I know you are disappointed and that you want to buy your homes,” Khraish said. “But I have other options for you.”

In the news conference, Sandy Rollins, executive director of the Texas Tenants’ Union, and Villalobos blamed both the city and HMK for the dilemma tenants now face. Units built with affordable housing funds in Dallas can go for about $1,000 a month — well above the price that many poor residents can pay, Rollins said.

“There’s a desperate need for affordable houses in Dallas,” Rollins said. “Dallas needs to stop kicking people to the curb. We have seen entire communities in Dallas wiped off the map.”

As the media began leaving, 81-year-old Juana Rosas sadly looked at her surroundings. She’s lived in her HMK rental on Winnetka Avenue for 43 years. Her daughter Naomi Pina and her 15-year-old grandson Timothy Chapa live with her, as does a dog named Mickey.

The kitchen has a dilapidated ceiling. The gas stove was on to warm the room. An altar honoring her late husband, Martin Rosas, a World War II veteran, dominates one wall in the adjoining room. Near photos of Rosas is the U.S. flag carefully folded into a triangle formation showing a star-sprinkled field of blue and placed in a glass container.

“I don’t want to leave the house,” the widow Rosas said.

This story originally appeared 2/2/2017 in The Dallas Morning News.