Sunday, December 27, 2009

A Christmas Gift We Can All Share

After months and months of delays, we finally have a move in date! CityWalk, a mixed income, vertical community which includes residential, retail and Central Dallas Ministries administration offices, as well as other office space has just gotten its certificate of occupancy. This means CDM offices will be moving to 511 Akard Street on January 19. FINALLY!!!

I haven't written much at all about Central Dallas Ministries' biggest project, CityWalk@Akard , mainly because Larry James has written so much about it. If you've read his blog, then you know how incredibly proud and excited we all are about our new digs!

But there's even greater news than that. I choose to think of it as the biggest shared gift that CDM employees, volunteers, donors and supporters have ever received.

John Greenan, the Executive Director of CDM Community Development Corporation, is responsible for helping put together one of the most complex real estate deals anyone has ever heard of in order to make this project work. It has been a work of pure genius. And John, along with an incredibly dedicated staff, have been working hard to make sure that this project is ready to go before the end of this year. Receiving the permission to occupy, means that the first tenant will celebrate the first of the year as a downtown resident!

Absolutely incredible.

You see among the more than 200 rental units at 511 Akard, 50 of those units are SRO (Single Room Occupancy) apartments. They are dedicated housing for the formerly homeless. Our primary focus for the project was to provide quality homes for people who otherwise would be on the streets. Other cities like New York, San Francisco, Seattle actually do that and it somehow hasn't cratered the social or financial infrastructure of those places. At CDM, we figure that the best way to end homelessness is to provide homes for people who live on the street. Call it 'rocket science'....

Following this 'housing first' model, we looked to develop a project that would have working class, the formerly homeless and those who could afford market rate downtown living all in the same place. We would be right there in the mix, along with opportunity for retail development. As I said a real, 16 story, virtual community.

Now to the 'big gift'. On December 29 our first SRO tenant will be moving in.

John's blog, City Walk Talk to which not only he, but his staff contribute. Just before Christmas, Naquanna Comeaux, tells about the excitement caused by the official word, but also something about our first resident.

"On Wednesday, Dec. 23, the same day that we received our “green tag” or temporary certificate of occupancy for CityWalk, we were able to tell one of our first residents, Joyce Bennett, that she could move into her new, fully furnished CityWalk apartment on Tuesday, Dec. 29."

"Joyce was at our office when we told her she would be moving in next week. As soon as she heard the news, she immediately clamped her hand over her mouth in awe as tears began to well up in her eyes. “This is the first time I’ve ever been speechless!” she beamed."

"As our staff began to exchange hugs with our new resident and each other, Joyce could barely contain her excitement. “You just don’t understand, you just don’t understand,” she kept saying before she was able to compose herself enough to begin telling her story."

"Joyce currently lives with relatives, where she sleeps on the floor and has no personal belongings except for her clothing. She said that because she is homeless, she is treated much like an outsider in her family and is, at times, even excluded from family events. Through it all, she held on to her faith, which kept her going every day as she looked for permanent, affordable housing."
Joyce's story makes this initiative a Christmas present we can all share...
I'm proud to be on a team that is devoted, creative, determined and visionary as is the team at CDM. Larry James' faithfulness to translating justice into practical transformative action that models what it means to really care for 'the least of these', is an inspiration to us all. Our new home (and what will be a new home to many others), will indeed help change Dallas!

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