What happens when 300 families lose their housing all at once? That’s playing out in West Dallas, a longtime black and Latino neighborhood that’s rapidly gentrifying.
The City Council passed new housing standards in September. One landlord is now closing his rental home business because hundreds of his homes aren’t up to code.
The tenants in the middle say they’re not that worried about who’s to blame. What really troubles them is finding a new place to live — when they’re used to paying as little as a few hundred dollars a month in rent.
Half A Century In One House
A lot of West Dallas residents have always called this neighborhood home. Willie Pace has lived here for 50 years. Not just West Dallas — she’s lived in the same rental house for half a century.
“I’m 85 years old, and I was intending to stay here," she says.
She pays $300 a month for a two-bedroom house she shares with her grandson. It’s owned by the company HMK Ltd — and it’s one of 305 properties slated for closure as soon as Nov. 7. The house is old and some of the paint’s cracked, but Pace is OK with that.
“I’m satisfied here. They just don’t have no place to stay for people now in Dallas," she says. "They’re building all these apartments but they’re too high for us to stay in.”
Which is the crux of the problem with closing hundreds of inexpensive rental homes all at once. There’s no place for those tenants to go. Meanwhile, high-end apartment complexes are popping up all over West Dallas.
Nowhere To Go?
Bill Hall is CEO of Dallas Area Habitat For Humanity. He says a single-family home that’s up to code for $400 or $500 a month doesn’t exist in Dallas.
“That kind of housing doesn’t exist anywhere and that’s what we need to realize," he says. "It doesn’t exist for a reason. There’s a lot of people who don’t make enough money to financially afford a place to live. The other issue making sure it’s up to a standard.”
The Dallas City Council just passed amendments to Chapter 27 of the city code, strengthening housing standards. Hall thinks at least 25,000 rental homes don’t meet that standard. Starting in January, the city plans to inspect every rental property in Dallas.
“As a society we need to make sure families are living in conditions that allow them to be successful as they move forward, and they need to be safe," he says. "The problem is, there’s been 40 years of poor housing policy that’s allowed units to be out there that don’t even come close to Chapter 27 and many apartment owners are probably going to say, I can’t economically fix this up and make it work.”
That’s what happened with HMK Ltd, which owns these homes — mostly between Commerce Street west of downtown and the Trinity River.
We had an interview set up with co-owner Khraish Khraish at his office off Singleton Boulevard. He didn’t keep the appointment and didn’t respond to requests to reschedule.
Habitat’s Bill Hall says fixing up those 300 HMK houses could cost as much as $5 million, which would lead to much steeper rents.
“What would happen is the $500 rental would become $900 or $1,200 a month which would then, those families would have to move anyway.”
School Year Extension
The City of Dallas is trying to come up with both a short-term and long-term fix to the problem. Mayor pro-tem Monica Alonzo who represents West Dallas says step one is giving the families losing their rental homes a little more time.
“Obviously there’s a timeframe that we need to give, so minimum, requested, required, asked, was to the end of the school year 2016-2017.”
Alonzo says the City has proposed this compromise but didn’t say whether HMK will have a “grace period” from code enforcement fines as part of the deal.
“There is a document that is being put together by both parties that they both have to sign, both have to agree so they can present it to the judge, she says. "That has not been done, that’s where they are.”
While the city and HMK hash out the details, longtime renter Willie Pace says, she can’t imagine finding a new place to live at age 85.
“Don’t nobody have no plan. Three hundred people, they don’t have no plans.”
No plans, and nowhere to go — as soon as Nov. 7.