07 July 2010

Dallas City Councel gets Earful on Planned Apartments for Homeless

The Dallas News

Foes of a plan to move chronically homeless people to an Oak Cliff  apartment building went on the offensive Wednesday, telling the Dallas City Council their neighborhoods are no place for such a project.

Four speakers continued the public outcry against the Dallas Housing Authority's proposal, which includes renting 100 units at its Cliff Manor high-rise to tenants who in many cases have battled addictions and mental illness.

"If this was such a good idea, why wasn't it discussed openly with the 12 surrounding neighborhoods?" asked Daniel Duke, who lives near the building on Fort Worth Avenue.

"We do not want to be the testing ground for the Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance's experiment with supportive housing," he said. "We do not appreciate being the dumping ground for the city of Dallas' homeless problem. Find another direction."

Marty Martin said she is "not averse to services to less fortunate Dallas residents. However, the area near Cliff Manor has more than its share of subsidized housing."

Other speakers wondered about tenants coming and going "after hours," people "hanging around" the apartments, and the impact on nearby schools, property values and the area's redevelopment.

Questions were raised about safety, who would oversee the tenants' medication and where they might go if they "relapse."

"What you're hearing is the beginning of a tidal wave of distress coming from Oak Cliff because the neighborhood was ambushed and left out of the public discourse to determine its future," said council member Dave Neumann, who represents the Cliff Manor area.

MaryAnn Russ, the housing authority's president, could not be reached Wednesday. But in a previous interview, she said the agency will target women and older residents in setting aside more than half of the high-rise's 180 units for "vulnerable" people who have been stabilized.

"We're going to try to do this in a way that doesn't have a negative impact on the neighborhood," she said, noting that "we are an agency that's supposed to do this sort of work. ... The solution to homelessness is housing."

Re-establishing lives

Mike Faenza, president of the homeless alliance, told the council Wednesday that Cliff Manor would be a place for re-establishing lives.

"It's not a shelter. It's not psychiatric care," he said. "It's for people who have a right to live and be our neighbors and have some support services to enable them to be successful."

And there's no evidence, Faenza said, that residents in permanent supportive housing have a negative impact on neighborhoods.

Neumann said the Cliff Manor plan was on "hold" and would be the subject of a public meeting June 21 at Methodist Dallas Medical Center in Oak Cliff.

"It will be packed," he said.

Faenza later said "we'll regroup after that meeting." There is "no firm date from DHA when the move-in will take place," he said.

Russ has said the building has the required zoning and her agency doesn't need permission to proceed. She said staffing would be increased and a variety of support services provided.

But Fort Worth Avenue business leaders argue that the property needs a specific-use permit from the city to offer the proposed services. A decision has not been made.

Other council members weighed in Wednesday, with some calling for better communication, the need for public involvement in homeless-housing decisions and a better overall plan for deciding where permanent supporting housing units should be located.

Occasionally, comments drew challenging outbursts from some of the speakers who had addressed the council.

Council member Delia Jasso, who also represents Oak Cliff, joined the call for better communication and inclusion of neighborhoods in decisions. She said some providers of housing services are failing to provide appropriate services.

"That's why you have people roaming Jefferson Boulevard with $5 in their pocket," she said.

Jerry Allen, who represents northeast Dallas, said the work of housing the homeless "may need a different approach on the front end."

But the challenge is not insurmountable, he said.

The numbers

"We've only got 5,500-plus homeless in the city of Dallas," Allen said. "That sounds like a lot," but given the area's total population "that's not very many homeless."

"We ought to be able to come together and take 5,500 people, find them a proper apartment in Dallas, give them the support they need and move forward with this."

In conclusion, Faenza told the council that his group is trying develop a strategy for providing homes for the formerly homeless without using local tax dollars or tax credits.

"In a partnership with the DHA, I think we've found that solution," he said.

Faenza then asked two residents of The Bridge, the city's homeless assistance center, to stand up. The two women have been selected to move into Cliff Manor Dallas apartment, he said later.

Neumann and some of the project's opponents loudly lashed out, criticizing Faenza for an "ambush.".

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