Questions Swirl Around Dallas Development That Would Help the Homeless

Adam McGough is the spokesman in the video for a nonprofit group seeking a no-bid city lease

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A no-bid deal to give city land to a nonprofit group for homeless programs drew pointed questions Monday at the Dallas City Council Committee meeting.

The far Northeast Dallas site at 12000 North Greenville Avenue near I-635 LBJ Freeway is a former state highway department maintenance yard that is now owned by the city of Dallas.

Councilman Adam McGough who represents the neighborhood is the spokesman in the video supporting a new plan for the site from Atlanta based nonprofit called 'City of Refuge.'

For several years the city of Dallas has tried to make use of the site to help homeless people.

The first plan that was strictly for homeless housing was killed with strong neighborhood opposition and complaints from Councilman McGough.

Then, Bon Ton Farms in South Dallas proposed a combination of urban farm, job training and housing, but backed off the deal deciding instead to stay focused on southern Dallas.

Now, City of Refuge, with more than 20 years of history working in Georgia, has formed a Dallas entity ‘Dallas Refuge,’ that is the party for a ground lease of up to 80 years on the city-owned property.

In return, Refuge would construct a facility similar to what it has in Georgia for job training and housing to help homeless people.

“I've been transparent from the beginning about my interest and I believe this is good for our community and for our city and I'm going to continue to advocate for it in that way,” McGough said.

Retired Banker Michael Veale reviewed the lease agreement and cited many concerns.

“The objective of this effort is notable. The question is can it succeed and was it developed and progressed through city hall correctly,” Veale said. “The local community should have been engaged. It should have been advertised like a lot of other projects.”

Dallas City Councilman Chad West said a request for proposals should have been posted by the city of Dallas before negotiating with Refuge. West said the lease on the table has more holes than "swiss cheese."

“What opportunities are we missing that we could have if we had gone through a formal RFP process here,” West said. “This is a no-bid land lease that has no underwriting.”

Council Member Gay Donnell Willis said Dallas area non-profit groups were snubbed.

“I think that the back we are turning on them is just really shameful. And if there's a tenant to this, it's about integrity. I think this should be withdrawn,” Willis said about the lease.

City of Dallas staff members involved in the lease said it is a good deal.

“I am not aware that any of our non-profits came to the table to present a project,” Dallas Chief of Staff Kim Tolbert said.

Dallas Economic Development Chief Eric Anthony Johnson said there was no underwriting because there is no debt, unlike some other deals where organizations also want cash from the city for their projects. 

Refuge is responsible for raising at least $8 million and constructing a facility on the property, with groundbreaking scheduled to begin in May.

“And in the final analysis if they don't perform, we simply take it all back,” Johnson said.

Performance requirements are lacking in the lease according to critics.

“Unless they’re going to move their entire management team here to manage the project, who’s going to manage the project?  Who’s got the skills? Who’s got the time to devote full time? This can’t be like a few hours a week from people out of Atlanta making this happen,” Veale said.

Councilman McGough said local organizations may still be involved in the operation of the project.

“It’s a collaborative approach. It’s trying to bring all the partners you can together. And we’ve been working with partners across the city, especially in the space of individuals experiencing homelessness, from the very beginning, and will continue to do so,” McGough said.

The Economic Development Committee voted 4 to 2 to send the lease agreement to the full Dallas City Council for a final vote on Nov. 10.

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