Just days before his federal corruption trial is set to begin, Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price stepped into a Dallas City Hall controversy over Land Bank lots.
Abandoned inner-city property winds up in the Land Bank program, and the city transfers the vacant lots to builders who are willing to provide low-cost affordable housing. It's intended to help needy families.
An investigation by The Dallas Morning News discovered a builder with a criminal history who received dozens of Land Bank lots. Houses later built on some of the lots were eventually transferred to the builder's relatives.
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Wednesday, the Dallas City Council held a public hearing on proposed background checks for Land Bank builders and home buyers. Price was the first speaker.
"You're talking about one developer. This is 14 years," he said.
Price said the proposed rules would only make it harder to redevelop inner city neighborhoods.
"Given the enormous difficulty involved in transforming these areas, why are we looking to create another obstacle," he asked.
Price said nearly 500 homes have been built on Land Bank lots.
"Special legislation was passed and we are the only basically successful program in the state of Texas," Price said.
Other speakers complained the program does not provide enough information to neighbors and does not develop new affordable housing fast enough.
"We are strong proponents of the Land Bank," said Cyndy Lutz, with Habitat for Humanity. "We have just got to do something to up the production."
City Council members chimed in.
"We want development in District 4, but we want the residents who are in those communities to have access to what is going on," said Councilwoman Carolyn King Arnold.
"I think, overall, this program is beneficial and it is working, and we need to ramp it up to make it work even better," said Pleasant Grove Councilman Rickey Callahan.
Mayor Mike Rawlings told new City Manager T.C. Broadnax to refine the Land Bank program with input received Wednesday.
"I want to make sure we do our due diligence with folks," Rawlings said. "We want to keep it consistent across the board, but we've got to make sure we know who we are selling to."
Price is accused of receiving nearly $1 million in bribes for influence in Dallas County business over a period of many years. He pleaded not guilty, and his trial is set to begin Tuesday.
There is no evidence of connections between Price and the developer scrutinized in the Land Bank program.