Wednesday, January 6, 2010

CityWalk@Akard: The Poor and The Poor in Spirit


The first residents of CityWalk@Akard, are already in. And what I'm hoping is it will help change attitudes toward the homeless population and that it will spur Dallas officials, more particularly political officials, to see that investment in permanent supportive housing must become more than just a stated goal.

I have to be more patient in understanding that there are people who will not give up their stereotypes easily. Its hard for some to see that people who live on the street are poor. Poorer than most poor people, but poor nonetheless. Poverty does not mean that they are all criminals. It doesn't mean that they don't work. It doesn't mean that they are all predators or parasites. It means that they are poor.

It's also hard for some people to see that public money that goes into housing for the poor is not charity. It is investment in human capital. The true drain on public resources comes from incarceration, hospitalization and the mere provision of temporary shelter. There is not enough charity to address the problem. Not enough churches. Not enough non-profits. Yet, many of the pathologies associated with living on the streets are addressed by providing the homeless with a home. As a matter of fact, as soon as you provide people with a place to live - an apartment or a house - the very moment they move in they are no longer homeless. That's a challenging concept, I know, but it seems pretty logical to me.

I read with wonder, the attitudes and perceptions of people with regard to the homeless.

Take for instance, John Greenan's recent post in which he relates questions that he fielded regarding 511 Akard:

"Do you set certain goals that they have to meet besides passing a background check? I hope so. My thought is that CDM should turn out people who can now give back to Dallas with their tax dollars like it or not."

Neither Central Dallas Ministries nor the Community Development Corporation, are trying to 'turn out' anyone! The people who live at 511 Akard (which includes affordable housing, and market rate housing, as well as housing for the formerly homeless) will have leases. They will have to abide by those leases just like any tenant in the building. We aren't going to manage anyone who lives there. For those who need help with getting established, we'll provide them with the help they want or need. But we are not requiring them to 'give back' to Dallas. Besides, has anyone ever thought that anyone who buys anything in Dallas pays taxes?!

The fact remains is that people can find those who were once homeless who have now put their life back together and contribute to society. I hope that is CDM's goal otherwise it would be a waste. I have family who have donated their time and money to the homeless. There are some who want to make it, others who don't. If there is someone who is not meeting the criteria will they be put out of the building?

The criteria to stay in the building are simple. Pay your rent and obey the building rules. If someone does that, then I'm happy. The government agencies providing rent subsidies have other rules. Central Dallas Ministries will be providing services and has additional goals. But I'm not the parent of the tenant's living at 511 N. Akard. Just like any other building owner, I provide a place to live in return for rent. That's hard enough to do well with a low income population ( John Greenan's answer - and its a good one!). Read the entire post here.

Another reaction that comes from Dallas, one of the most churched cities in the nation. This was the online response to the article that announced that CityWalk@Akard had received its certificate of occupancy.

"As anyone who has lived or worked in a city for any length of time knows, when you give something to a bum, you encourage them to hang around and ask for more. Giving free housing to bums will not solve the problem of "homelessness", it just encourages their behavior. If we want to drive people to become productive members of society, we should be making it as UNpleasant as possible to be a bum in this city, not giving them favors."

And another respondent:

"You're setting up shop just a few blocks where the homeless interact socially. Is there anything to prevent a formerly homeless resident from inviting several of his homeless friends back to his place to share drinks, and possibly drugs?"

"Surely you know this is a problem with many lower-rent apartment complexes. They screen the tenants but they can't keep out their guests who deal drugs and cause problems. When I say "problems" I am including gun play."

Of course, nothing like this ever happens in the suburbs!

And, one of my favorites....

"So we are rewarding the lazy and criminals, cool Dallas!"

I'm probably paying way too much attention to the critics, because this project has scores of supporters. What bothers me is the callous, mean, heartless attitudes of my fellow citizens towards poor people. Even those who are Christians. It's not discouraging, it is profoundly sad.

Oh by the way, these people that are supposed to be such a detriment to downtown Dallas? It could be the end of civilization as we know it, if we keep leasing apartments to people like this!

"Sharon Tillis had one question before she signed her lease."

""Who is going to watch us?" the 49-year-old Dallas woman asked before she was told that her new CityWalk@Akard apartment was exactly that – hers."

""I'd been in a shelter for so long living under rules that I've been institutionalized," Tillis said Tuesday as she signed her name countless times on the packet of papers in front of her. "Not having restrictions on visitors, taking a bath, having a meal that you prepared – this is freedom.""

"Tillis was among the initial round of tenants to move into the city's first mixed-use housing development with units set aside for low-income residents and the formerly homeless."

"The 511 Akard St. location sits smack in the middle of downtown Dallas. Central Dallas Community Development Corp. and partner Central Dallas Ministries engineered the project and will office in the building, along with several other companies and a 7-Eleven convenience store. They hope to have CityWalk completely occupied by February."

You'll forgive me, but I'm far more concerned that 511 Akard tenants will run into people like the ones who are so free with their unkind opinions and stereotypes...

1 comment:

Shawn Scott said...

Rev Britt,

First of all I'd like to applaud CDM for the work that you have done on this project. Although it may not have been as well received as we would like, this project was a much needed boost for the City of Dallas. Please don't get too discouraged over your naysayers because this means you are doing something right. You will never please everyone with your actions, but if you can help a few along away then I believe it was a job well worth it.