Dallas Refuses to Force Subsidized Tenants on Landlords

Affordable housing crisis brews at Dallas City Hall

Dallas city leaders Wednesday rejected a “source of income” law that would have required landlords to accept subsidized housing vouchers from low income tenants.

More than 17,000 Dallas families receive vouchers and city officials said about 1,100 are currently unable to find any apartment that will accept vouchers as payment.

The Dallas Mayor’s Homeless Commission found that $8 million worth of vouchers that could have housed homeless people have gone unspent because some Dallas landlords are unwilling to accept the vouchers.

“This is our chance to help us get mixed-income neighborhoods,” said Councilman Philip Kingston, speaking in support of voucher rules Wednesday. “This going to be maybe the easiest, quickest and most dynamic way to get thousands of people into housing.”

A City Council Committee led by Councilman Scott Griggs reviewed the proposed law as part of an overhaul on housing rules.

“We have a huge amount of poverty in the city of Dallas and today we can take a step at making that better,” Griggs said.

Opponents complained state law forbids the proposed voucher rule.

“Just to mandate something that’s going to get tied up in lawsuits is not helping people. It’s living in a fantasy land,” Councilwoman Jennifer Gates said.

Councilman Rickey Callahan said forcing landlords to accept vouchers could work against city efforts to build more housing.

“This vote could potentially kill the home building, apartment building business in Dallas,” Callahan said. “I think it will encourage responsible apartment builders to just skip Dallas.”

The voucher rule was rejected in a 9 to 6 vote.

“I’m getting sick and tired of hearing us talk about equity and civil rights, and our actions are totally opposite,” said Councilwoman Carolyn King Arnold. “We continue to support the red line, the discrimination by zip code.”

Mayor Mike Rawlings agreed that rejecting vouchers is discrimination, but he supported an alternative plan that also passed by a 9 to 6 vote. That rule asks developers requesting denser zoning to set aside 10 percent of the units as affordable housing for low-income tenants.

“I did choose to do it. I just want to do it within the limits of state law,” Rawlings said. “What we passed allows that to take place within the laws of our state, making sure we get as many folks using those vouchers as possible.”

In another affordable housing challenge, tenants and supporters demonstrated at City Hall Wednesday in a dispute with landlord HMK Ltd.

The firm has ordered more than 300 families to leave rundown homes rather than comply with another new city law that now requires repairs and city inspection of single family dwellings.

“I pay my rent. I don’t get any complaints from my neighbors. I don’t do anything illegal. So I don’t see why I should be in the middle of this,” said HMK tenant Ashton Elder.

She said HMK was offering to sell the home last week for $50,000, several times more than it is valued on the tax roll, then withdrew the offer Friday.

“That was one of the main reasons I decided to speak out,” she said. “Give us a chance to own our homes. See if we could do a better job of fixing them up ourselves.”

A judge blocked HMK orders to vacate the homes by October 31. Another hearing is scheduled in November. The city is negotiating with the landlord. Ownership for tenants is a possible outcome.

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