Dec. 21, 2015 by Linda McMahon, President and CEO, The Real Estate Council

Affordable Housing Means Better Neighborhoods for Dallas

A cornerstone of our region’s vital economy is access for all families to safe, quality, affordable housing. The term “affordable housing” has numerous negative connotations because it’s often misunderstood. Affordable housing is defined by housing that costs less than one-third of a household’s income. Families that spend more than one-third of their income on housing could face a short-term crisis, which could financially cripple them and constrain their ability to spend money on necessities, such as medical care and clothing. Add to the situation the cost of transportation, which is often an expensive necessity for families to get to work and be able to provide food for their loved ones, and you have a devastating combination. So living close to a job is important for families. Dallas is not alone in having inadequate housing that is affordable for its workforce-it is a national crisis that will impact the long-term economic growth for our region.

It is no secret that home ownership, a way for families to build wealth, has declined, not only in our city but also across the country. It is also no secret that rents are increasing. The North Texas region has some of the most affordable housing in the country, but for hard-working, middle-class families, it is still not accessible.

For our teachers, firefighters, police and service workers, having solid housing options impacts their quality of life, which impacts our communities. Several years ago, Austin proclaimed that not having emergency personnel living within city limits could create a serious public safety issue. Just think about having an emergency in our city in which our critical emergency personnel are not able to get to their jobs. We are not suggesting that we require these essential workers to live in the city, but we are suggesting that we need to create more housing options for them so that they could, if desired, live in a neighborhood that is within the city of Dallas.

Also, almost every education professional will acknowledge that mixed-income communities are essential to the economic vitality of our region. With the income gap continuously growing throughout our country and no relief in sight, helping to solve the housing crisis is critical. Mixed-income communities that not only help our city, but help our public education system.

To help find a solution, Dallas has unveiled a new program called Neighborhood Plus. This is an important program that can transform our disinvested communities and make them vibrant again. We believe the city needs a plan and a program beyond Neighborhood Plus to incentive affordable housing within market-rate-developments-and that housing needs to be accessible to all our citizens. The are median income in Dallas, including Collin Country is more than $70,000 a year. For the city of Dallas, the median income is $42,000. We can use existing programs to help incent housing for all families, particularly the middle class, which needs to be encouraged to return. Their return will spur development and provide mixed-income communities, which will help our public schools. With more than 90 percent of Dallas ISD students living in poverty, this is essential to the hope of our city and our region.

So what do we do? First, we need to come together on the definition of affordable housing. To us, it means that every family needs to have housing available within their means. The Real Estate Council supports initiatives that provide options to the community to assist in the development of more housing for families at all levels of affordability. Second, we need to do it responsibly and ensure that these developments are financially feasible. We are ready to collaborate with all stakeholders to develop a policy and program that provides a variety of incentives to encourage developers to create mixed-income properties. Incentive-based programs have been successful throughout the country and we want encourage practices in incentivizing mixed-income housing throughout Dallas.

Additionally, we support Neighborhood Plus. This program is a great step forward in addressing our most disinvested communities. We stand ready to help increase housing options so that our region can move forward. Making sure we have safe, quality and affordable housing will ensure that we continue to lead the country in making this region the best place to do business.