Prop H in Dallas’ bond package is a good bet for affordable housing, but is it enough?

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On Saturday voters have an opportunity to cast their vote for or against a historic $1.25 billion investment in our city’s future. This single investment is divided into 10 categories, or propositions, including streets and transportation, parks and recreation, economic development and housing. And while the billion-dollar price tag seems like a big number, it falls short of the big bet needed for Dallas to address its affordable housing crisis.

I know what you’re thinking — another affordable housing guy trying to convince people to support work that’s meaningful to him. But it’s bigger than that, and a big bet is long overdue because the stakes have never been higher. We’ve all read the headlines — Dallas is increasingly unaffordable not just for low-to-moderate income households but for its current workforce.

According to the most recent U.S. census data, the median household income in Dallas is about $64,000, and with average rents spiking above $1,500, 50% of Dallas households would have to spend more than 30% of their income to afford to live in Dallas. Homeownership is even more limited and out of reach for the average household, with only 12% of the housing stock attainable for the typical Dallas worker.

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When a city becomes unaffordable for its workforce, workers are forced to move elsewhere. That leads to the upending of working-class neighborhoods like West Dallas and parts of Oak Cliff. It’s no wonder the census reported that Dallas’ population has been declining. This is problematic for a city with aspirations to be the big boy in the region — one of the fastest-growing in the country.

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Dallas must decide if it wants to be the leader in name only or be the actual leader by taking action, even if it seems risky. Dallas benefits from the economic miracle of the region. But we aren’t as competitive as we could be, mostly because of housing. We need more attainable housing supply for our workforce. That requires a big bet.

Investing in attainable housing for all incomes is how Dallas will compete in the future. The U.S. Census Bureau forecasts that Fort Worth will eclipse 1 million in population by 2030 and surpass Dallas by 2045. It’s also projected that, by 2028, the region will add 1 million people. According to the U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Projected Annual Rate of Change in Industry index, all 11 of Dallas’ Fortune 500 companies are projected to see f in the next 10 years. I wonder, amid all the projected growth, how many of those households will call the city of Dallas home? I bet it all depends on whether Dallas decides to raise the stake and make a big bet to ensure there are homes people can afford.

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The city’s bond proposition H proposes $26.4 million toward affordable housing infrastructure. That’s the highest in our city’s history, but it’s nowhere near what’s needed for a city that must compete for future growth. And it pales in comparison to other major cities like San Antonio.

In 2021, San Antonio voters passed a staggering $150 million investment for affordable housing, following their 10-year Strategic Housing Implementation Plan. The funding was split into five distinct categories that address their city’s housing crisis from different angles — $45 million for helping homeowners fix their homes, $40 million for rental housing acquisition, rehabilitation and preservation, $35 million for rental housing production and acquisition, $25 million for permanent supportive housing, and $5 million for homeownership production. A big bet from a city that understands that providing attainable housing may seem like a risky bet, but most risky bets have the highest rewards.

But we don’t have to look down Interstate 35 for good examples. We’re Dallas, for goodness’ sake. One example of how bond investments spur the supply of attainable housing and provide a solid return for the city is the partnership between the organization I lead, Builders of Hope Community Development Corporation, and private land developer Greenleaf Ventures. In this private/nonprofit partnership model, Greenleaf goes after bond dollars to subsidize infrastructure cost of developing infill subdivisions. That equates to cheaper lots for builders constructing low-to-moderate-income homes.

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More than spurring the supply of attainable housing, this model adds value to the nearby community. A great example of this is Chariot Village — A 54-unit subdivision in Buckner Terrace. This partnership of Greenleaf, Builders of Hope and Camden Homes provided three- or four-bedroom, two-story homes at a price of $210,000 to $240,000. It will deliver $11 million in taxable value to the tax base once complete. Among our buyers were two City of Dallas employees who otherwise would have chosen the suburbs.

Utilizing bond elections to invest in affordable housing infrastructure is a no-brainer. As opposed to using debt to pay for maintenance, affordable housing will always deliver a tangible return on investment.

James Armstrong is CEO of Builders of Hope.

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