As president of a non-profit community development company, the challenges of our industry are increasingly complex and demand that we have the ability to secure financing from trusted partners who understand these complexities. This was the case with TREC Community Investors as we sought financing for land acquisition for a mixed-use, mixed-income housing development in West Dallas.
As our organization watched the gentrification fight in West Dallas play out a few years ago, we noticed a real sense of pain in the community, a palpable fear and uncertainty about what would happen to the neighborhood’s generational residents. Some of these neighborhoods had been around for nearly 100 years.
Prior to the construction of the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge, West Dallas had been isolated in many respects, and even though it created an opportunity for change, no one knew what the shape of that change would be. Once the Trinity Groves restaurant incubator opened, we noticed that people in the neighborhood weren’t taking advantage of the opportunity to eat or be entertained in these spaces, and they sensed that these amenities weren’t really built for them. As new apartments sprung up with rents that were out of reach for those who lived in the neighborhood, we began to ask ourselves whether there was a meaningful affordable housing role for Dallas City Homes in this situation.
Our initial housing concept was pretty straight forward: 20 to 25 apartments for seniors. However, after presenting it to the neighborhood, the plan was rejected because it required a zoning change they could not support. We went back to the drawing board. With feedback from the neighborhood, we presented a revised plan for 15 apartments, 30 percent of which would be reserved for low-income seniors and the rest would be rented at market rates so the apartments would be mixed-income and intergenerational.
The revised development plan also included a community center for arts and culture that will offer music education for all ages, including free small group and individual music instruction as part of an afterschool program. The center will also offer theater arts and seniors programs, including breakfast and lunch. Five other organizations, both for-profit and non-profit, will collaborate to produce these offerings. We are all excited about the opportunity to create a space where people can come together to create and be part of an artistic community and develop creative problem-solving skills. We hope this will be a great start to creating an environment where arts and culture can be nurtured in West Dallas.
The thing we value most about Community Investors is its ability to function not just as a lender but as a resource for other things. For example, the community center will have six rehearsal rooms, five outfitted with sound isolation pods that allow musicians to play music and/or sing without disturbing people beside or below them and get the sonic feedback they need from their instruments. But the pods are very expensive, and we wanted to talk to experts in this field to determine whether there were alternatives or things we should consider before finalizing our decisions. [Former] Community Investors Director, Maggie Parker, was able to arrange a conference call with the architect and acoustician involved with designing these pods on another project, and the acoustician later offered to provide his services to us at a discounted rate.
We also needed a fundraising consultant to help with our gap financing on the West Dallas development, and we asked Maggie if there was anyone that we should consider. She provided two options for us the very next day and we’ve scheduled meetings with both.
We know TREC is really keen on providing technical support, not just financial support to the groups they assist. We’ve benefited tremendously from the technical expertise within TREC’s membership, and currently have two TREC members on our West Dallas development team. My hope is that the Community Fund will grow larger, so that they can make larger loans to borrowers which have an opportunity to create greater impact. Dallas City Homes looks forward to a strong and continued relationship with TREC and its Community Investors as we strive with others to create a city that offers opportunity and equity to all.