Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Dallas' Double Standard

I'm all for the continued development of downtown Dallas. I may question the way our city leaders go about it. I chiefly have problems with the idea that it often appears that the consequence of current and past philosophies has been to 'price out' those who may not have money, or an interest in art, culture and high-end town homes and apartments. But I understand that tourism and the monied interests contribute to a growing tax base. It's just that real, vibrant city life intentionally makes room for everyone and I don't see enough of that.

But my main problem is that the impression is given, more often than not, that downtown's development must come at the attention to the redevelopment of our city's poorer communities. Take the current example:

"Fed up with decrepit, vacant downtown buildings that have become little more than pigeon stalls, Mayor Tom Leppert announced a crackdown Tuesday on seven properties that city officials say have become health and safety hazards."

"Owners of the buildings, including the Grand Hotel at 1902 Commerce St. and a historically significant structure at 508 Park Ave., have less than 30 days to bring their buildings up to code or face penalties that officials say could reach tens of thousands of dollars a day."

"The owners "are simply sitting on their properties and putting no money into them. Many of them live somewhere else and they just don't care," Mr. Leppert said."

Now don't get me wrong - the mayor is right in his concern. There are a number of vacant buildings in downtown Dallas, which stand as a blight and an obstruction to our city's downtown revitalization by their very vacancy. When I was on the Urban Rehabilitation and Standards Board (a city commission), a number of years ago, the euphemistic technical term was 'urban nuisance'.

There are seven such buildings about which the Mayor is concerned. And it appears that City Hall is willing to get tough! "City attorney Tom Perkins said the city sent owners and agents of the buildings a letter Monday citing various violations. The 30-day clock for making repairs is ticking, he said."

"After that, "we are prepared to pursue them with all legal remedies available to us," he said."

"In some cases, officials may seek to levy a fine of $1,000 per violation per day, Mr. Perkins said."
My, my...

So what's my beef? It's simple: where's the since of urgency when it comes to such 'urban nuisances' in poor neighborhoods? Remember Mayor Leppert's observation? "The owners "are simply sitting on their properties and putting no money into them. Many of them live somewhere else and they just don't care..." He also called them "safety hazards"...

Thanks to Tod Robertson, there are a few other properties in South Dallas with owners and buildings which fall into the same categories. The problem is, according to Robertson, there are council members who are oblivious to the problem of absentee landlords whose properties contribute to the blight in poor neighborhoods.

"City Council member Sheffie Kadane posed the question earlier this month, "Where's the problem?" as the council and city staff discussed the effects of neglect on neighborhoods when absentee landowners fail to maintain their properties."

Interestingly enough, Robertson is able to identify the properties and the addresses and houses where absentee owners live...

Of course some of the respondents to Tod's column blame the residents of South Dallas:

"I bet the rich folk feel like idiots for thinking they could invest into South Dallas. Now, not only are they losing money on the deal but they get domonized [sic] as well. The only way my investements [sic] will touch South Dallas is if South Dallas starts tacking responsibility for their own crappiness. Perhaps an apology to the land owners demonized here is in order." And from the same respondent later... "This video is nonsense. It provides pictures of nasty looking homes owned by people in nice looking homes. So what!..."

And from another reply from someone named 'Dave', "Could it be that these owners are going through foreclosure? Could it be that the crime rates in the areas you highlighted have resulted in property destruction - ie. stolen copper plumbing, and other recycleables [sic]? From the quick tour you gave, most of the properties you "toured" appeared to be properly boarded..."

Of course, its the fault of poor people. These people who live in nice homes far away can't possibly be holding onto these properties in the hopes of the redevelopment of the area so that they can make a profit. The poor people, deficient in morals and unappreciative of the 'investment' being made in their community, don't know how to look out for someone elses property. And after all, the properties are boarded up, so what's the big deal?!

But, according to the Mayor Leppert, the owners of urban nuisances downtown, live somewhere else and 'don't care'. Interesting.

Children live, play and, yes loiter around such properties. Some of these properties are one street over from the liquor related businesses that proliferate the neighborhood. Senior adults, some of whom I served as pastor, live within blocks of some of these houses. Stray animals roam around these properties. Drug addicts, prostitutes and the homeless all use some of these houses for who knows what - well we know, don't we. I wonder whether or not 'Dave' and the other respondent, so comfortable behind the thick anonymous comfort of the blogesphere, would be so cavalier and supportive of these property owners if they lived next door to these 'houses'?!

I wonder if the people who own these 'investments' will be fined $1000 a day, until they are brought up to code? I wonder if they've ever been confronted with the 'safety hazard' their beneficence to these poor communities produce?

I wonder if the redevelopment of South Dallas is just as important as the revitalization of downtown?

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