Sunday, July 31, 2011

We COULD be Having a Different Conversation

"...Give me enough food to live on. Neither too much, nor too little. If I'm too full, I might get independent, saying 'God? Who needs Him? If I'm poor, I might steal and dishonor the name of my God."
Proverbs 30:8, 9


An interesting and very vital report from the Pew Center this past week, which did indeed get lost in all of the talk of the made up controversy surrounding raising the debt ceiling. The wealth gap between whites and minorities in our country is widening to what should be alarming rates. 

"The median wealth of white households is 20 times that of black households and 18 times that of Hispanic households, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of newly available government data from 2009.

These lopsided wealth ratios are the largest since the government began publishing such data a quarter century ago and roughly twice the size of the ratios that had prevailed between these three groups for the two decades prior to the Great Recession that ended in 2009."

"The Pew Research Center analysis finds that, in percentage terms, the bursting of the housing market bubble in 2006 and the recession that followed from late 2007 to mid-2009 took a far greater toll on the wealth of minorities than whites. From 2005 to 2009, inflation-adjusted median wealth fell by 66% among Hispanic households and 53% among black households, compared with just 16% among white households."

"As a result of these declines, the typical black household had just $5,677 in wealth (assets minus debts) in 2009, the typical Hispanic household had $6,325 in wealth and the typical white household had $113,149."

While we have heard the constant drum beat that our current national debt is unsustainable, it is equally true that we cannot sustain a viable economy with such wealth disparity of this magnitude. There are no personal, let alone political ideologies that can drown such a gap in pious and self-righteous platitudes about 'work ethic' or 'waste, fraud and abuse'. The fact is this points to a systemic flaw in how we are structured and one which, left unaddressed, will be passed on to our grandchildren and great-grandchildren. 

This is not just a liberal screed. Indeed it calls into question the focus of some of our most cherished progressive dogma. To what extent do we continue to preserve some of our most cherished progressive enactments - social security, Medicare and Medicaid, while it is all too apparent that those whom we seek to protect with these policies are falling farther and farther behind? It's a hard question. But, it is one which must be faced honestly. It is another form of an age old question: Can we have it all?

It also challenges conservative arguments. While they may have accurately called attention to structural problems in our economy, simply cutting taxes and cutting discretionary spending sends the most economically vulnerable in a downward spiral from which their can be virtually no hope of extrication. When we talk about wealth creation, we are not talking about the number of people in our country who are consuming - we already are seeing the effects of declining consumer confidence - we are talking about a shrinking pool of people who are invested in the fiscal future and health of our country. We are talking about generations of people working simply to pay bills. Without equity, without savings, perpetually owing more than they are worth. It gets worse when you consider the fact that the United States is hurtling toward the day when we will have a majority 'minority' population. 

What are the answers? That needs to be our national conversation. 

Currently, twelve years of public school leading to a high school diploma consigns one to a life of poverty. But a college bachelors degree is no longer enough to make most graduates from a four year academic institution with stability and a future. Why aren't we having a conversation about sixteen years of public education? Why aren't we talking about more money for SBA loans? There are endless policy possibilities that could be a part of a discussion to provide opportunities for access to training in trades, to encourage savings and investment and make education a national movement. 

Instead, we are being threatened with a high stakes game of chicken. A game which we could all lose, no matter who 'wins'. 

Michael Gershon, of the Washington Post's lament is entirely appropriate and sums up our dilemma better than I can, "In normal times, a worsening social problem like the wealth gap might unite creative liberals and compassionate conservatives in an unlikely policy alliance. Meetings would take place at the New America Foundation. Bipartisan legislation would be introduced."

"It is a Washington I can remember — but now seems impossibly distant."

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Thanks for the Memories Gary!


There is a lot of criticism of the 'mainstream media' nowadays, more of it is justified than any of us should be comfortable with. The Rupert Murdoch scandal is an extreme indication of how modern day journalism has devolved. 

But there are still really good reporters out there. Over the years I have been privileged to know several. One of them is retiring and for all of those who have watched and known him throughout the years it is bittersweet. 

Gary Reaves has been one of the best television reporters in Dallas for nearly 30 years. I have had the good fortune to have been interviewed by him (some of those interviews never made it on the air) and to get to interact with him at news events as well as run into him in the course of our everyday lives. 

As a journalist and as a human being, Gary is kind, polite, personable and professional. He has a wonderful sense of humor and he is a great, great story teller. Whether he is standing out in a blizzard, telling a human interest story, or trying to get at the heart of some tragedy, you could count on maximum information and minimal hype. It would be hyperbole to suggest that Gary and I are friends, but he has always treated me with respect and, I, in turn have always been a great admirer of his. 

His leaving Dallas' ABC affiliate WFAA Channel 8 is bittersweet because you always want to celebrate the career of good people. But we also know that good journalist who care about more than 'exclusives' are rare nowadays. As I said, I've gotten to know several journalists down through the years, both in print, radio and television. When Gary has been on the air and I've been with friends or family, I've always taken great pride in being able to say, 'I know him'. And he has never made me sorry I've said that. 

Congratulations Gary! Thanks for telling stories in our city that have made us all proud!

For Those Who Would Change the Wind

Franz Kafka


"The nonexistent is whatever we have not sufficiently desired." 

Friday, July 29, 2011

Who Am I?

One month before his execution, in 1945,  in  Flossenb├╝rg concentration camp, German Lutheran pastor Deitrich Bonhoeffer wrote these words. The lyrical, haunting prose, speaks of an abandonment of self, not in resignation or defeat, but a triumphant declaration of faith that can only be described as ultimate trust. 
Who am I? They often tell me I would step from my cell's confinement calmly, cheerfully, firmly, like a squire from his country-house.
Who am I? They often tell me I would talk to my warden freely and friendly and clearly, as though it were mine to command.
Who am I? They also tell me I would bear the days of misfortune equably, smilingly, proudly, like one accustomed to win.
Am I then really all that which other men tell of, or am I only what I know of myself, restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage, struggling for breath, as though hands were compressing my throat, yearning for colors, for flowers, for the voices of birds, thirsting for words of kindness, for neighborliness, trembling with anger at despotisms and petty humiliation, tossing in expectation of great events, powerlessly trembling for friends at an infinite distance, weary and empty at praying, at thinking, at making, faint and ready to say farewell to it all.
Who am I? This or the other? Am I one person today, and tomorrow another? Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others, and before myself a contemptibly woebegone weakling? Or is something within me still like a beaten army, fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved?
Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine.
Whoever I am, Thou knowest, O God, I am thine.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Value in Tragically Short Lives

I'm not a fan of much modern popular music. Whatever messages some of it seek to convey are lost on me. Maybe I've just become my parents and simply am stuck in the 'good ol' days' - I'll own up to the possibility.


That being said, the death of Amy Winehouse touched me. To say that it reminded me of the deaths of Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison, is not original. Many of my generation considered them to be geniuses. They lived tragically short lives, dying as did Winehouse at 27. And all had personal lives which exuded unhappiness, confusion and excess.

I don't know if its fair to compare Winehouse's music with that of Hendrix, Joplin or Morrison. Nor am I sure that her celebrity can be compared to theirs. As near as I can discern, theirs was a different time and their music fit into that culture in ways that were different as well.


It is a shame, however, that we lose artists like this so early.Winehouse, Joplin, Morrison or Hendrix are not the only entertainers to die young and be hailed as masters of their crafts. One can talk of Charlie Parker, Sam Cook, Kirk Cobain, Billie Holiday and James Dean. We live our lives wondering what they could have accomplished and comparing the latest 'genius' with works whose value is frozen in time.

It's difficult to imagine what Jimi Hendrix have done with an electric guitar by age 68 (the age he would be today). What else would we have heard from Hank Williams had we not lost him so young? Or how would Bix Beiderbecke (catch Ken Burns' 'Jazz' documentary) had he not self destructed at age 28?  What would Tupac or Big E Smalls become had their evolution both as people and artist not been cut short?


Maybe the lesson every generation learns from these gifted young people is the fragile nature of life. No amount of talent, fame or money can exempt any of us from the importance of treating every moment of life as a gift and a trust. We should enjoy it, be we can't waste it in self indulgence, self pity, or fear. I hope that there are more than a few who learn that lesson. Sometimes we think that there is something romantic and glorious about shining brightly and burning out clearly. But not really, not when it doesn't have to happen. The only thing that happens is that those of us who are left behind forge ahead wondering 'What if...?' It's a question we'd rather not have to ask...


Tuesday, July 26, 2011

You Don't Say...?

"The stock market overall is up about 9 percent so far this year — in large part because corporate profits are doing well. But the unemployment rate is a bit higher than at the beginning of the year. Steve Inskeep speaks with David Wessel, economics editor of The Wall Street Journal, about the disconnect between soaring corporate profits, and stagnant hiring and wage growth."
Find out more here...

Monday, July 25, 2011

Are You Ready for Some Football? And Serious Government?

These have to be the two biggest money deals being negotiated concurrently in history!

The first one, which appears to be concluded is the NFL owners lockout of its own players. I don't know about you, but waiting for billionaires (owners) to come to terms with millionaires (the players) really left me a bit ambivalent. On almost any labor deal you can generally count on me to come down on the side of the players. And they do have an argument. For a moment, lay aside issues like the rookie salary cap, or revenue sharing; concerns about two-a-day practices, post-career health care benefits, or whether or how often players practice in pads or 'go live' in practice are legitimate - especially since there will be (count on it) an 18 game season. But it should be added, these are changes that owners could have made outside of a collective bargaining agreement. Actually coaches could have made the changes without much consult of the owners.

But, I'll confess, I'm a fan and although I consider the business side of sports fascinating at times, I was just ready to get it over with and get on with preparation for the season! Was there really a soul who thought that either owners or players were going to actually lose money when there was absolutely no reason to?


And, of course, the other big money game has been the ongoing, exhausting debate on whether or not/how to raise the nation's debt ceiling. While the August 2 deadline looms ever larger, the arguments of who walked out of what negotiating session; who's talking toughest; who's more effectively using fear tactics; and who has decided that actual negotiation and compromise are appropriate to a national debate of this substance and consequence has been amazing. What is actually in question - or should be - is whether or not we have adults who recognize that nothing in terms of policy, fiscal or otherwise, can get done unless there is compromise and consensus.


Ridiculous notions that we can default on our debt and simply pay the interests on money that we've borrowed, all the while maintaining our country's credit worthiness, is the worst sort of pandering. And, the fact that there are those who actually make laws and policy willing to court worldwide economic disaster after seeing what happened in 2008, should not only bring into question their sanity but their character as well.

I think we heard the disrespect of the current president reach a new high (new low?) when John Boehner said that he, 'has the same responsibilities as the President'. Were that the case,  the Speaker of the House of Representative serve as President. Or, bare minimum have we would simply rotate the presidency among the members of Congress!


Have we reached a nadir in politics when we have so tied ideology to the legislative policy that gridlock actually becomes an option employed to build bridges to nowhere AND bring our country to its economic knees? If so, the new low to which government is now sinking, in which differing parties can debate, negotiate, even play hardball, but in the end put the nation's interests first, is a low that will further lead us to ruin. Frankly, I'm more afraid of passing this model of governance on to our grandchildren than I am 'saddling' them with our debt.

Believe it or not, there are some similarities between these two high dollar, high stakes games of chicken:

Both involve an conclusion that include/will include solutions that were available at the start of 'negotiations'. If what comes out of either process was 'the best deal process' why didn't we start there?! In fact, just as you really never needed to include the end of two-a-day practices and optional training activities (OTA's) in a collective bargaining agreement, you really don't need to tie long term major entitlement and tax reform to a debt ceiling vote. It's as if the same adults who recognize they have gone too far now determine that knowing what's right, they need an external force to make them do the right they know.

Both big money deals involve legitimate issues on both sides. While there are always dramatic periods during any negotiations, there is a tipping point where the public gets to decide. The public actually knows how to not support sporting events - baseball learned that, the NBA (foolishly following the NFL model of player lockouts) is learning it as well. In politics the public will tire of the nonsensical ideological posturing. The landscape of political history in our country is littered with the bones of 'movements' which changed the framework of government only to find that framework untenable and the 'movement' marginalizing itself into irrelevance in the minds of an informed and disenchanted electorate.

Finally, both big money games are having to bow to the fact that times have changed - although one much more quickly than the other. Vince Lombardi and Tom Landry are gone - no matter how legendary and how beloved. So are Jim Brown and Jerry Kramer. In their place are athletes for whom professional football is a year round job making billions, if not trillions, of dollars for themselves, the owners and advertisers. Players must have greater provisions for their long term safety and the game has to modify the impact of its most violent aspects. The collective bargaining agreement has to reflect that. It will and the game can continue to be the entertainment it has been to new generations of fans.

Politically the game has changed as well. We have to think differently about entitlements and taxes. We have to do the hard work of preserving the social compact to which we have all come to depend and provide a stable environment for business to operate. But we also have to reject the notion that all government can or should do is provide bare minimum protection while creating an atmosphere in which business does virtually whatever it wants to achieve a profit. Achieving the proper balance that recognizes that we are all the lesser when government doesn't provide an atmosphere of opportunity and accountability for all of its citizens is hard work. This is not work that can be done by ideologues and intransigents. It's can only be done by adults who know that too much is at stake to fail.

So we'll have football this season...whether we'll have a government that works is still up for 'negotiation'.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Sunday Morning Blessing: Aretha Franklin

I love Aretha Franklin's gospel version of this Simon and Garfunkel classic! I'm not even sure how she conveyed traditional gospel feeling and depth with the song, except to say that it shows how phenomenal a talent she's been virtually all of her life.

I also like this clip because I think most of us forget (and many probably don't know) what a fantastic pianist she is! Here she shows just how great a 'church musician she is.

As I said - a phenomenal talent. Enjoy!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

For Those Who Would Change the Wind

Millard Fuller

Founder, Habitat for Humanity; The Fuller Center for Housing

"For a community to be whole and healthy, it must be based on people's love and concern for each other.”

Friday, July 22, 2011

Yeah it's HOT, but Man this is COLD!

Let's begin by stating the obvious: IT'S HOT! 
For those of you who read this blog from beyond the Lone Star State, here in the North Central portion of Texas it is routinely 95-99 degrees - at 10:30 pm! Go farther west and its worse. 
But it's hot pretty much everywhere. It's hot, no matter your income or neighborhood. But if you are relatively financially secure, you have air conditioning. 
But what if you can't escape?! What if its hot and there is no air conditioning - and you are poor. Government assistance you say? Sorry, it appears that efforts to balance the budget have caused the funds used to provide relief to the poor during the summer are drying up...
"Many states hit hardest by this week's searing heat wave have drastically cut or entirely eliminated programs that help poor people pay their electric bills, forcing thousands to go without air conditioning when they need it most."
"Oklahoma ran out of money in just three days. Illinois cut its program to focus on offering heating money for the winter ahead. And Indiana isn't taking any new applicants. When weighed against education and other budget needs, cooling assistance has been among the first items cut, and advocates for the poor say that could make this heat wave even more dangerous."
""I've never seen it this bad," said Timothy Bruer, executive of Energy Services Inc., which administers the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program in 14 Wisconsin counties. The group has turned away about 80 percent of applicants seeking cooling assistance."
"The sizzling summer heat comes after a bitterly cold, snowy winter in many places and at a time when unemployment remains stubbornly high."
"The cuts began after Congress eliminated millions of dollars in potential aid, forcing state lawmakers to scale back energy assistance programs. The agencies that distribute the money are worried that the situation could get even worse next year because the White House is considering cutting the program in half."
"Joyce Agee, a retired secretary from South Beloit, Ill., said she typically receives about $300 in utility assistance each summer and up to $600 for the winter to supplement her Social Security income. After running her air conditioner constantly, she's worried about her next electric bill."
""I've cut back on what I eat so that I can pay my light bills and everything else," she said."
"The government provided $4.7 billion for low-income energy assistance for the fiscal year that ends Sept. 30, down $400 million from the year before. The money is primarily used by states to help with heating bills in winter, which lasts longer and generates higher utility bills."
"But dozens of states, particularly those in the South and Midwest, have traditionally used a portion of the money to provide help during the summer -- especially for elderly people and those with medical conditions that could be fatal in high heat."
""Energy assistance helps vulnerable people. If they can't turn their air conditioner on because they're afraid to pay the bill, there's documented cases of people dying over time. It's totally preventable," said Mark Wolfe, executive director of the National Energy Assistance Directors' Association, which is made up of state officials who give out the federal money."
Read the rest of the article here...

Thursday, July 21, 2011

What ARE We Doing to Our Children?!

A recently released study by the Council of State Governments revealed something that many of us have known anecdotally, if not empirically: zero tolerance in our public schools is doing nothing to enhance academic performance. 

One million students from the 7-12 grade were followed for 6 years. Researchers in the study found that schools that zero-tolerance in schools either suspending or expelling students at high rates for rules infractions, "...did no better on test scores, graduation rates and other performance measures than other schools with similar student bodies."

While the fact that 60% of the middle and high school students studied were subject to suspended or expelled at some point, it is more revealing that African-Americans were far more likely to receive such discipline more than their Hispanic or white counterparts. The study showed that 75% of black students were subjected to such disciplinary action, compared to 65% of Hispanics and 47% of white students. 

Gary Bledsoe, President of the Texas NAACP said, “Kids know that zero tolerance usually means zero tolerance for one group,” Bledsoe said. “It’s not a matter of whether but when.”

"The problem has been well-documented, and the bias it points to has not been addressed by the state or local schools, Bledsoe said."
But there's an even deeper problem, "The new study showed that of the 929,000 students followed, 553,000 were disciplined. The average had more than four disciplinary actions over their high school careers, for a cumulative 4.9 million infractions"
"Of those, 92 percent involved violations of schools’ codes of conduct, under which they have discretion over the severity of punishment for different types of misbehavior. Their responses have varied widely, even within school districts."
"Less than 3 percent of the infractions were for major incidents that triggered mandatory expulsion under state law."
"Researchers followed students, finding that the more a student was disciplined, the more likely that student was to end up in the juvenile justice system. And of all the students who were disciplined, 31 percent had to repeat a grade at least once."

And further, "Debbie Ratcliffe, a Texas Education Agency spokeswoman, said the finding that 60 percent of students were disciplined may lead people to the “wrong conclusion” about the nature of problems in Texas schools."
"“That figure not only includes expulsion or suspension for serious crimes, but it also includes in-school suspensions for violations of the student code of conduct. That can be anything from a violation of the dress code — like wearing flip-flops — to excessive tardiness...” 
Something is wrong here...very wrong. 
Of course children who are violent and others who have significant behavioral issues, will probably more often than not, have to be dealt with in ways that allow teachers to do their jobs. 
But if the goal is to get all children who pose any type of problem out of the way so that teachers only have to deal with the 'easy' students. Then we have a serious problem. 
Also, if we've gotten to the point, and some professionals believe we have, where we are criminalizing what is essentially adolescent behavior, then we're exacerbating the problem even more. It means at earlier, and earlier ages we are introducing kids to the criminal justice system. Or as Republican Texas Representative Jerry Madden says, “I’m convinced that the things we did as kids years ago and seen as being a teenager are things now they’re getting disciplined for.”
Public education involves socialization. Socialization doesn't just deal with how children learn together, work together or play together, it also has to do with teaching them how to be accountable to authority and to a group. That doesn't, nor can it mean, a trip to a juvenile detention facility because two boys get into a fist fight. 
Are there extreme behaviors that call for discipline - you bet. Our children are not impervious to the worst influences of their environment or the culture at large. But the answer has to be more than teaching them that the consequence to every wrong is expulsion, suspension or incarceration. 
The ineffectiveness of zero tolerance policies is not just the finding of the Council of State Governments. Another study released by Child Trends states, "Even as the effectiveness of zero tolerance policies is being questioned, educational research has found a strong link between the types of punishment associated with these policies—suspension and expulsion—and a host of negative outcomes. Being suspended from school significantly increases the likelihood of subsequent suspension or expulsion.40 Students who receive a suspension in middle or high school are also significantly less likely to graduate on time and are more likely to drop out.3 Higher suspension rates have also been found to be related to lower school-wide academic achievement and standardized test scores, even when controlling for factors such as race and socioeconomic status."
"Psychological and educational research have examined the connection between punishment under zero tolerance policies and negative outcomes. Psychological research has suggested that suspension and expulsion are likely to further reinforce negative behavior by denying students opportunities for positive socialization in school and nurturing a distrust of adults, both of which inhibit adolescent development."
"Educational research has suggested that school discipline policies are related to student engagement. Students who trust their teachers, and feel that their teachers are respectful, fair, and attentive, are more likely to form bonds with and perform well in school. By restricting the ability of school staff to put student actions into context in some cases, zero tolerance policies can inhibit the formation of school bonds..."

The job of a classroom teacher is not easy. Unfortunately the Texas Legislature made it more difficult in the session that just ended. With fewer resources, larger classes and pressure on teachers and principals to meet test score objectives, the guarantee is that these trends will probably not end anytime soon. 
It's one thing to not give good teachers a chance to do their jobs. It's another to hold children and youth accountable for academic excellence when we keep putting the majority of them out of the classroom. It doesn't take a Ph. D. to know that they can't learn if they aren't there...

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Secure Enough to Change the World

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.' We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we're liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."

Marianne Williamson

Monday, July 18, 2011

So What is 'Economic Development'?

Jim Schutze of the Dallas Observer took issue with columns written by me and Tod Robberson of the Dallas Morning News. The columns appeared in the July 10 edition of TDMN. Schutze's column misses the mark by conveniently leaving out a number of pretty important details, confusing time lines, projects and failing to check out impact. It is interesting, though. I do suggest that you read what Tod and I wrote fully before you render judgement.

Equally as interesting are some of the comments mentioned in the chat line after Schutze's column. Particularly this one:

"... the cornerstones of my city council campaign was that we should do more for South Dallas (district 7) than tout housing projects. We needs jobs out here, and we need retail, but the retail won't come until people have good jobs near their homes, and the retailers can put together a working proforma. Otherwise nothing changes. Housing does NOT = economic development!"

The comment was by a reader identifying him/herself as 'cp'. I don't know who 'cp' is, but I don't follow 'cp's' logic. 

I guess it depends on what you want to call 'economic development'.

 If by 'economic development' you mean goods and services that follow consumers, I would imagine that would be determined by what type of consumers you are talking about. Housing that is characterized as 'low income' or 'affordable' housing you might be right. But, again, that is debatable. 

The myth about low income and working class neighborhoods is that the people who live there have little or no disposable income. Purportedly objective 'data' is used to prove, for instance, that such communities cannot support grocery stores or retail. This has always been a curious argument to me. As I mentioned in a previous post, Paul Quinn College in South Oak Cliff (southern Dallas) is located in an area where there are nearly 4500 single family homes, as well as multi-family housing. There is a new elementary school being built nearly two miles south of the PQ and within 5 or six blocks of the new school being built is a subdivision being built. The area has a mixed income population. Nearly every house has a car in its driveway or garage. All of the people in those homes eat. They all wear clothes. They all have furniture. Yet the closest grocery store is six miles away. Most of the residents in the area drive as far away as Lancaster or DeSoto to buy groceries, or as far away as Cedar Hill, TX to buy clothes, electronics, etc. 

When locals buy into the myth, it compounds the problem of economic development, because what it actually means is that there really is never anything that you can really do other than gentrify an area that will bring 'economic development' to an area. 

I more affluent areas retail actual does follow housing: grocery stores, shopping strips and malls, fast food restaurants and electronic stores start breaking ground long before the first home buyer moves in. True, a number of businesses move in afterwards, but there are many that start along with housing construction. 

Secondly, it also depends what you want to discount as economic development. Houses don't just spring out of the ground. People build houses and they get paid for doing so. Carpenters, plumbers, electricians, painters, roofers, are all skilled laborers who build houses - that's not economic development?! Houses have to be marketed and sold - that's not economic development?! The people who move into those houses, whether the single family homes worked for by those of us who provided leadership in the '90's or those being built now, have incomes. They pay mortgages. They pay utilities. They pay taxes on the homes they buy. That's not economic development?! They will represent a different type of market: they will need a dry cleaners. They will need retailers. They will need shoes and clothes. Some smart business owners will recognize a shift in the neighborhood and locate in the area. That's not 'economic development'?

The problem is that people who argue from this point most often don't believe anything will happen because it doesn't happen immediately. So the criticism of the effort is based on the fact that housing doesn't transform a neighborhood overnight. Of course the most logical response is, 'So a department store does?' 

Those of us who fought for $425,000 in mortgage subsidy awarded in 1997 heard the same thing. In 2004 when I left the church to come to CitySquare (then Central Dallas Ministries), there were people who said, 'Nothing's changed'. What they didn't know was that the plans for the Bexar Street renovation had been in the works for a couple of years. I knew it was coming. And now what is seen is a phase one of a three part renovation plan for the entire area. The Ideal Neighborhood had been in decline for nearly 50 years before the first home was built in 1998. Now the focused resources that we all knew it would take to turn the area around are being applied and we see the results. And guess what? No one who laid a brick, buried a telephone line or put up drywall, did it for free. They all got paid...that's not 'economic development'?!

What are the one's who are still complaining about the lack of 'economic development' doing?

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Going for the Screed; Missing the Story

In the Points section of July 10 edition of the Dallas Morning News, two columns, one by me another by editorial board writer Tod Robberson told the story of redevelopment initiatives taking place in South and East Dallas. Tod's column primarily explored the nature of those initiatives - the degree to which they had engagement by neighborhood leadership and the degree to which they were initiated by external support and vision. One of those neighborhoods was the area in which I served as a pastor for more than 20 years.

The old Bexar Street Theater, left vacant & crumbling for decades

The section of Bexar Street where the theater was located

Currently, along that major corridor in what is actually referred to as the Ideal Neighborhood, there is a $20 million redevelopment project that was conceived by the local community development corporation, the T.R. Hoover Community Development Corporation. The project now is being built by the East Dallas Community Organization (EDCO) and, for those of us who lived with the 'before' picture, the 'after' can only be described as breathtaking.
My column gave some insight into how the initiative on Bexar Street started.While the project is now fully embraced by the city of Dallas, it started with a little regarded effort on the part of those of us who were leaders in the neighborhood to replace the demolished housing stock in the area with single family housing. We asked for and received $425,000 from the city in mortgage subsidy to incentivize the purchase of about 50 new homes in the area. It was an adventurous undertaking and one of which I am particularly proud.

Jim Schutze, a columnist for the Dallas Observer read the column and offered a criticism of the effort, summarized by the headline "Sorry, Guys, But Mortgage Subsidies Aren't the Answer in Southern Dallas".
Now I have no problem with a critique or criticism. And I have no problem with Jim Schutze. It's not the first time he's taken me on about a column I've written. I like Jim. I think he's a fine writer. I have a cherished autographed copy of, what I consider to be, his classic book on the history of race in Dallas entitled 'The Accommodation'. I recommend it to anyone who wants a primer on race relations in our city. 

But Jim dropped the ball on this one and, in fact I think he was pandering to his 'anti-DMN' readership. 

For instance, Jim writes of the award of the mortgage subsidy as if it was a recent development. 

The money was awarded 15 years ago. 

Jim also failed to research how the subsidy was used. It was designed to be a 'soft-second' mortgage to stabilize a neighborhood that was losing its housing stock because of disproportionate demolition of its housing stock. If Jim had picked up the phone and called me, I would have told him that while 50 houses wouldn't redevelop the neighborhood by itself, every one of those houses was built on a vacant lot valued at no more than $3900. Taxes weren't being collected on most of those lots. Liens were piling up due to past due taxes, and fines accumulating because of overgrown weeds and litter. The T.R. Hoover CDC, transformed each one of those lots into a tax revenue producing property by building houses on them, houses which at that time sold for anywhere from $70-$90,000. 

In the column I relate an episode where the City Managers office tried to sell the neighborhood association (the CDC was formed after the city council awarded the mortgage subsidy), on a 'lease-purchase' program. The problem with that was 'lease-purchase' was essentially rental. Jim conveniently doesn't speak to the importance of the difference "The same day, Britt took the whip to the city manager's staff for trying to convert a re-development project on Bexar Street from traditional private home ownership to a lease-purchase deal, which Britt sneeringly called "rental.""

""We met with city staff," he wrote, "and demanded that they uphold the original agreement -- $425,000 for mortgage subsidies to 'seed' home ownership in the neighborhood."" 

Jim doesn't clarify what 'same day' was. But the incident I described happened in 1997. 

He also conveniently forgets to mention, that the CMO was guilty of slight of hand in which they had convinced the neighborhood association that the Enterprise Foundation (now the Enterprise Partners) would be partners in this project. It took a trip to Baltimore, Maryland, Enterprise headquarters, to discover that the Enterprise officials never heard of the deal and couldn't do it anyway, because the details amounted to a conflict of interest for them. Jim also fails to mention that in '90's the neighborhood was disproportionately made up of rental property. Between absentee landlords and renters who could not or did not maintain their property you basically had a community overpopulated with residents who had no stake in the neighborhood. Only home ownership would do that. 

If Jim had only called, I would have gladly told him that nothing about what we did was revolutionary. In fact the city, especially at that time, routinely offered tax abatements to businesses as incentives to move their operations to Dallas. The city already had a mortgage assistance program (MAP) for first time home buyers (as a matter of fact it still does). We asked for a special pot of funding (MAP money is federal money given to cities and administered for the city by the Enterprise Foundation), and money which the city routinely ran out of because it was for every area of the city. We needed a pot of money that we could depend on. Had he bothered to call, or email, I would have gladly told him that T.R. Hoover wisely built no houses on speculation. Every house was built for home buyers who were either credit worthy, or who had gone through home buyer training to learn not only how to afford to buy a home, but how to keep the home once they brought it. Had Jim called I could have told him that no home buyer got a 'sub-prime' mortgage. They all had a conventional loan and accessed the mortgage subsidy through their title company. 

As for the town homes built on Bexar Street now, Jim conflates/confuses these with public housing. They are not. They are town homes bought with a regular mortgage, for which buyers must make application and qualify, just like anyplace else in Dallas. 

T.C. Grocers, long a sight of questionable activity

T.C. Grocers now. The owner decided to stay and clean up facade and the activity outside

Jim could have actually had a much better piece than Tod or I had written...if he had just called. As a matter of fact, the last time I saw Jim, he admitted that he  had gone back and reread the last column I wrote and he critiqued and that we needed to talk more often. This piece  shows he was right. Jim went for the screed and totally missed the story. 

Don't get me wrong. I think there are a number of things that we could have done better in Ideal.  I would have been more than happy to share with Jim the mistakes we made in the '90's and the mistakes I see being made now. 

Jim just didn't call. Or email. I'm not that hard to find. And he's interviewed me several times, I don't have a problem talking with him at all.

Jim Schutze, however, doesn't have to pay attention to me. I'm not an experienced professional journalist in the same way he is. But while the screed gets people chattering, I think the story is much more interesting. I just think its too bad he missed it. 

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Saturday, July 16, 2011

For Those Who Would Change the Wind

Betty Ford

Breast Cancer Awareness Advocate, Betty Ford Center Founder, First Lady

"The search for human freedom can never be complete without freedom for women."