Dallas Home Connection Responds to GrowSouth Campaign

DHC Responds to Mayor Rawling’s GrowSouth Campaign

DHC Partners go beyond building houses in Southern Dallas

DALLAS – April, 2012 – While Mayor Rawlings’ GrowSouth campaign takes root in Dallas, community development partners in the Dallas Home Connection continue to lead strategic revitalization efforts within Southern Dallas neighborhoods. Builders of Hope, EDCO, ICDC, and SouthFair Community Development Corporations partner to share resources under the Dallas Home Connection umbrella while individually working to transform Southern Dallas communities from Pleasant Grove to West Dallas. All attended Mayor Rawlings’ presentation of the GrowSouth campaign.

Initially puzzled by his statement, “We don’t need more affordable housing in Southern Dallas,” the Dallas Home Connection partners met with Mayor Rawlings as part of a sub-committee to explore this issue. It was clarified that new, affordable infill housing to replace blighted houses and vacant lots will indeed revitalize neighborhoods and stimulate economic development; what Southern Dallas doesn’t need are concentrated areas of low income multi-family housing complexes as part of a tax credit issued by the State that in the end become a financial burden to the City. It’s not financially sustainable or socially healthy for any community long term.

Many modest income families living and working in Southern Dallas could benefit from home ownership and become the much needed residents with “skin in the game” to truly revitalize neighborhood communities. But it takes more than houses to be a game changer, as the Dallas Home Connection partners have learned from their work to advocate for planned economic development and neighborhood self-determination.

“You can’t just build homes as infill in Southern Dallas and walk away. Of course we need to get rid of the blight and build safe, decent homes in our neighborhoods, but it takes reaching deep into the lives of often hard-to-reach community members, providing education, support systems, economic development opportunities and reasons for them to feel good about where they live,” says Diane Ragsdale, Director of ICDC (Innercity Community Development Corporation), at work in South Dallas/ Fair Park for the last 25 years. 

“Besides building homes, ICDC provides a Business Assistance Center and home ownership classes for modest income earners.”  The organization’s Spring Street complex provides support for small business start-ups, a youth operated laundromat, and an adult day center to care for aging residents. Ragsdale’s professional education as a registered nurse taught her that there is a direct correlation between one’s health and the health of the community where one lives. She has worked tirelessly to advocate for both in South Dallas.

Just a few blocks away where South Dallas moves into Southeast Dallas, EDCO director Gerald Carlton supports the Dolphin Heights community in numerous ways.

“I basically do whatever Anna Hill tells me to do,” Carlton said with a smile. Hill is the president of the Dolphin Heights Neighborhood Association and runs an after-school program in the community center among many other efforts to build up the lives of her neighbors.  EDCO works alongside the Dolphin Heights’ neighborhood association to do more than build new, energy efficient houses. “We recently gathered resources and over 75 volunteers to landscape the median along Terrell Street, planting trees donated by the City of Dallas, adding flowers and placing stone benches where previously one more often saw weeds and trash strewn along the median. It provides a reason for residents to take pride in their surroundings,” said Carlton.

Carlton wants to see GrowSouth not only be a campaign to make the area more attractive to stimulate economic development, but also be a force for good for those already living there. “It takes working alongside the neighbors, inspiring them to become vested in their surroundings, and offering support systems to empower them to self-determine their neighborhoods.”

Just west of Fair Park, Annie Evans works with surrounding neighborhoods out of the SouthFair offices on MLK Boulevard. Under her direction, SouthFair’s community development includes a combination of efforts such as a lease-to-own program that gives area residents the foothold to mentally make the leap from being lifelong rental tenants to becoming home owners and strong neighborhood advocates. SouthFair also works with formerly incarcerated people to provide job training and support systems to help them get on the path to a new life, making better choices for themselves and their families.

“I appreciate the fact that Mayor Rawlings’ GrowSouth plan is one that breaks down the myths about Southern Dallas as a place of high crime that’s too dangerous for development. What I know about people who come through our doors is that once you get to know them, you’ll fall in love with them. And many times, they just need a chance to get on the right track and learn to take responsibility for their own choices.”

In West Dallas, Builders of Hope director Norman Henry, stays abreast of the changing landscape of financing homes for modest income earners. Undaunted by the recent changes in appraisal laws brought about by the high number of foreclosures, Henry most recent challenge is to find funding sources to bridge the gap between buyer and lender.

“With FHA loans requiring more reserves, higher credit scores, and higher mortgage insurance premiums, the old ways of helping families buy an affordable home will no longer work.  if we want to truly change the landscape in Southern Dallas , We have to seek alternatives to help move families into homes that are now replacing vacant lots and blighted areas,” said Henry. As a child, Henry’s family moved out of dilapidated apartment complexes and into a small home which made a huge impact on his education and career. “My grades improved and I saw a way out of a low-income life. I see the lives of others change in much the same way through our work,” said Henry.

Builders of Hope also works hand-in-hand with area youth and churches to mobilize the communities particularly in West Dallas. Henry believes a major part of maintaining a safe and healthy community involves drawing upon the energy, ideas, and experiences of the residents themselves. A grass roots approach will provide sustainable results.

Henry loves to tell this story: “We recently had a young Anglo couple buy a home in one of our West Dallas developments because they couldn’t qualify to buy in North Dallas. They now not only live the American dream, but they also became members of a community where they could make a difference in the lives of other families in the area, where people actually know each other and are committed to improving their neighborhoods.” Henry believes this is the kind of grace that breaks down the walls of fear and that opens the way for true revitalization and economic development.