The Dallas Morning News
‘Dallas is marked by a very stark geography of inequity’ and other slaps in the face
by Robert Wilonsky, city columnist | November 7, 2018
Every few months the Dallas City Council spends an hour or two looking at and talking about maps and charts and graphs showing what a wretchedly segregated and inequitable place Dallas is. There’s a lot of head-nodding and hand-wringing, a lot of scrunched-up faces, a lot of oh-my-goshing.
And then: “We ain’t doing nothing.”
That was White Rock Lake’s council member, Mark Clayton, speaking Tuesday morning after yet another council briefing about yet another report that said, yet again, that this city is full of poor people getting poorer stuck in segregated neighborhoods cut off from the parts of the city where B_G things happen. Clayton, who has spent much of his time on the council spearheading task forces aimed at ending poverty, was exasperated, exhausted, irritated.
“Such a colossal nothingburger,” he said. Because here we go again.
But the report, titled “North Texas Regional Assessment of Fair Housing Report,” wasn’t a nothingburger. Far from it. This was actually a pretty big deal, funded by the city and compiled by researchers at the University of Texas at Arlington in collaboration with regional housing authorities and community leaders over the last two years.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development at one point demanded this study — in 2015, when the Obama administration said cities getting federal dollars had to take a long, hard look at their fair housing policies in order to “reduce disparities in access to housing opportunity.” Then, last January, HUD Secretary Ben Carson said never mind, we’ll get back to you on all that.
City Hall, to its credit, soldiered on — even when HUD said nah, even when the feds kept providing sets of wrong and outdated data, even when other cities dropped their studies and hoped for the best.
And, yes, this study is another that says we are a fractured city in which the poor live in isolation. But it also looks at how they got there, how long they’ve been there, and why they remain there.
“Dallas is marked by a very stark geography of inequity,” said UTA’s Dr. Myriam Igoufe, who led the study. “We have also documented systemic barriers to opportunities.”
Among its litany of maps and stats, the report shows the citywide spread of Racially/Ethnically Concentrated Areas of Poverty — so-called R/ECAPS — from southern Dallas into the northernmost corners of this city. From 1990 to 2016, the maps look like a virus trying to devour its host — three dozen red splotches of poverty moving in all directions.
“And if we went back earlier than 1990, I have a strong suspicion many of them would have been R/ECAPS for a long, long time,” said UTA’s Dr. Stephen Mattingly, who co-authored the report. “That’s incredibly depressing. The fact there still are huge chunks of Dallas effectively off-limits is discouraging.”
City Hall is working — sincerely, I think, maybe for the first time — to ensure that the impoverished live in places where the roofs don’t leak, where crime isn’t a constant, where pestilence isn’t accepted as a given. Somewhere near bus and rail lines and grocery stores and banks and parks. Somewhere equitable. That’s at least the goal — the glint of promise contained in the city’s market-value analysis and comprehensive housing policy.
“This report provides data, context, the needed intelligence to combat poverty,” Igoufe said. “It’s one report. It will take several before we see transformation, but I am pretty confident we will move in the right direction. If we don’t, it will be quite irresponsible.”
For our current plight we must hold responsible yesterday’s City Councils and mayors, who stashed the poor in the southern part of the city using federal dollars. Beverly Davis, the director of our new Office of Equity & Human Rights, said so Monday morning when speaking to a council committee: “Equity includes acknowledging that governmental policies and practices helped to create the problem and that government is needed to help solve the problem.”
But the UTA study identifies other culprits: the surrounding towns, burbs and burgs that have provided little to no affordable housing at all, who have shunted their their voucher-holders, their mass-transit-riders, their single mothers, their impoverished into the Big City. Dallas is as much victim as villain. Ours is a city overstuffed with poor people and poor housing because we are surrounded on all sides by cities that are whiter and wealthier than we.
“That was my big aha moment,” Mayor Mike Rawlings said Monday. “To call the Dallas area terrifically diverse is not an accurate description.”
UTA researchers say solutions include giving landlords incentives to take residents with vouchers, which the state says they don’t have to do. And building affordable housing in the north, in so-called areas of opportunity that might allow the impoverished to stand on their own. And getting the suburbs to help.
“With the collective will,” Davis said, “we can make progress.”
But there is a long way to go and a lot of bleak and blighted realities with which to contend.
Just two weeks ago the council told the voucher-holding residents of the beleaguered Ridgecrest Terrace in Oak Cliff that the city couldn’t support a new owner wanting to rehab the sprawling complex using federal tax credits. The council said helping poor minorities in segregated complexes went against the policy of putting poor minorities in segregated complexes.
Said North Dallas’ council member Lee Kleinman, this was a battle between the head and the heart. The head won. The heart broke.
These residents — many of them single moms, many with disabilities, all holding vouchers — came to City Hall two weeks ago to beg for help, someone to fix their roofs and replace their rotten floors and chase off the criminals and make their lives just a little better. And, thanks to the policy that’s supposed to help them, they left City Hall with nothing.
Yeah. I can understand why Mark Clayton sounds like a man at the end of his tether.
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