Thursday, December 31, 2009

Big Day at CityWalk

Here are some of the photos from Tuesday, Dec. 29, the move-in day for our very first CityWalk residents – Joyce Bennett, Martesha Cox, A. Jarita Sadler, and Sharon Tillis.

Sharon Tillis enters the CityWalk building for the first time as a resident, as leasing consultants Arnetta Motley and Robin Loving look on.

Residents Martesha Cox, Sharon Tillis and A. Jarita Sadler get ready to go to their brand new, fully furnished apartments at CityWalk.

Martesha Cox receives the keys to her apartment from CityWalk business manager CJ Allen.

This is just a glimpse of the day we had all been waiting for. And it is surely a day that we will never forget.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Back to Work

Yesterday was fun, but hectic, as the first residents moved into CityWalk. We had film crews from Channels 4 (Fox), 11 (CBS) and 23 (Univision) on site at 511 N. Akard. By our standards, that’s a real media frenzy. I wasn’t able to catch all the stories, but the pieces that I did see were well done and we’re thankful for them.

Reporter Jessica Meyers from the Dallas Morning News spent the entire morning with our new residents, followed them downtown to their new apartments and did a very nice piece in the Dallas Morning News this morning:

I especially enjoy the quote from Ms. Tillis:

"I don't care if there was going to a blizzard, I would have been like Little House on the Prairie dragging my stuff," she said about Tuesday's wintry weather forecast. "This is a place you can be proud to live in. And to be downtown, that's just icing on the cake."

You can read the rest of the article here:

It was also interesting to spend some time talking with the reporters and camera operators. They were all smart people interested in everything that we were doing and full of penetrating questions—very little of which comes across in the stories you get at home.

Newspapers have a little more leeway, but television, especially, where the most time you may have for a story is 75 seconds, means that no matter how much the reporter knows, he or she isn’t going to have time to tell you very much of it.

So although the reporter may know that the really innovative ideas at CityWalk involve its mixed-use and mixed-income strategies and the ground we broke on financing models, there is no way to explain all that in the time available. The reporter has to grab his or her audience immediately (the real fault is probably with all our constantly decreasing interest spans), so once again the lead is the opening of the “Highrise for the Homeless”. Even if the reporter knows that it’s not quite accurate.

Dealing with the media was laid on top of a day that was already very busy, so we were all tired by evening yesterday (which is why the blog is a little late coming out this afternoon), but today it’s back to work again. The attention is gone, but we have a building to complete, residents to help and more work to do. Work that will occupy us not just today, but tomorrow and for the rest of the year - and maybe for the rest of our lives.

That’s a good thing.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

CityWalk in the News

I’m going to assume today that most of you are satisfied with only a couple of stories about CityWalk each day. So you can check out the latest at Unfair Park:

At Downtown's Citywalk @ Akard, Finally, There's No Place Like Home For the Holidays

By Robert Wilonsky in News You Can Actually Use, Actually

On Wednesday, the city of Dallas gave John Greenan the good news: The executive director of the Central Dallas Community Development Corporation was told that, yes, finally, he could begin moving people into 511 N. Akard Street, otherwise known as Citywalk @ Akard. More than four and a half years after Central Dallas Ministries first toured the vacant 15-floor office tower downtown with the expectation of turning much of it into affordable housing, the city gave Greenan a green temporary certificate of occupancy and told him he was free to fill the first five floors.

And so, tomorrow he and his staff will move in three new downtown residents -- one of whom, Joyce Bennett, has been sleeping on a relative's couch and has no possessions save for her clothes.

The rest of the article is here:
Then check out today’s Dallas Morning News. I’m told there will be a story in the DMN this morning:

Finally, if you are really eager for some more news, then watch Channel 4 and 11 in Dallas. Both are likely to have stories over the next couple of days.

As a last resort, you can always just wait until tomorrow. We’ll be here with more information.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Business Advice from Dirk Nowitzki

Those of you who know me know that I am an absolutely rabid fan of the Dallas Mavericks. I was a season ticket holder during the seemingly endless 1990s when the Mavericks were one of the laughing stocks of professional sports—there were years when I couldn’t even give away my tickets to the game. Now that the Mavericks have gotten good, I follow almost every game on television (one of the things I had to give up when I moved from the private practice of law to the nonprofit world was my Mavericks season tickets), go to the games when I can, study the box scores and debate the fortunes of the team on the internet.

That means, of course, that I am also a fan of Dirk Nowitzki, the Mavericks’ best player. In the past I’ve examined his work as a philosopher (“You’re only free when you want what you have to do.”—think about that for awhile). But last week he came out with a piece of business advice that we all need to take to heart:

"It just feels like, at home, I've got to make every shot down the stretch to win. That's how it feels. ... So we got to figure out something."

Let me set the context. The Mavericks have won a number of close games this year by depending completely and totally on Dirk to win them. The ball comes to the Mavericks’ end. The other players clear out and, as everybody knows, Dirk takes the shot, no matter how good the defense is against him.

This strategy has been pretty successful, but in the long term it’s a loser for the Mavericks and for any business. Just because you have one exceptional worker doesn’t mean you should depend of them to bail you out every time. Circumstances change; people have different strengths; your obstacles will be different. Finally, even the best team player gets tired; gets worn down; has his or her bad day.

Any successful organization depends on a team effort. Don’t stick your superstar out there on his own every time without help to win or lose. When it really, really matters, then you want Dirk to take the last shot, but you can’t put that burden on him every night. Any successful organization needs multiple persons to step up on different occasions, no matter how strong the temptation to let the star win it for you again and again.

Remember, sooner or later Dirk is going to retire. None of us last forever. If people don’t have the experience of taking responsibility when it’s important, then they won’t be ready when they look around and the star isn’t there anymore.

So whether you’re the star or only a role player, listen to Dirk and “figure something out”. Everyone in the organization has to play a part in its success if you want to be good over the long term.

Photo: Dirk hits a game winning shot against the Milwaukee Bucks.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

After Christmas

The day after Christmas is always a day tinged with a bit of post-holiday sadness. As a child, even if you got everything you wanted (and I remember only these gifts I got, not any I wanted and did not get), it still means waiting another whole year for Christmas to come again. My impression of the day after Christmas, like the holiday itself, has changed over the years.

Growing up in northern Michigan, the passing of Christmas also meant the start of a long, cold winter. You could count on bitter cold in January, a few false suggestions of better weather in February—good only to raise false hopes—and then the mud season of March. Finally, in April, spring would begin to appear and at some point in the month the ice would finally go out on the lake. The days were short and you awoke in the dark and came home from school in the dark. Winter was more a time to survive than enjoy—but the recompense was summer days that seemed endless with weather that was perfect.

One disappointment about Texas weather is that during the months when the weather is best—fall and spring—the days are already growing short or have not yet grown long. Our long days are during the brutal heat of summer.

As a college student, Christmas was more an afterthought. It was an interruption in your life when you saw family and remembered your past life. The period after Christmas, visiting home, often seemed to pass slowly. Your new friends were at school and you were still working out a new relationship, as an adult, with your family.

Once you have children of your own Christmas changes again. Now you enter into performance mode. Children expect so much from Christmas (at least in middle class America) and, as you soon find out, Christmas for parents is like putting on a show. You get better after the first few years, but the day after mingles relief with a review of how well the show went. Fortunately, children have an amazing capacity for joy, so even a weak performance usually meets with rave reviews.

Now my children are adults, not yet with children of their own. This is a comfortable time. Expectations are low. The amount of effort required is low, there is very little I want or need, so I am happy with any gifts I get, and it’s possible just to enjoy the holiday. The time after Christmas is also less forbidding in Texas. Spring comes early here and only January, which will have some nice days, is really winter. By February, spring is on its way, flowers begin to bloom and it’s time to plant the garden.

So now is for me an easy time to enjoy Christmas but also let it pass by. I know, in a few years, that my children will likely have families of their own and the focus of Christmas will change once more. I’m sure at that point the holiday will change for me once more, and perhaps become less—or more—enjoyable. I don’t know yet, but God willing, I will someday know.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Unwelcome Mat Comments, Part VI

This comment, like the idea to spread homeless housing out in small developments near churches (see last Wednesday’s blog), makes a suggestion that sounds reasonable, but unfortunately has proved not to work:

A realistic idea might be to build this facility out of metropolitan area, into a community in a rural county that needs the jobs these facilities would bring. It would help the economy of these communities and it would remove homeless out of the city. It would reduce their options for returning to the streets and might force them into cooperating with efforts to rehabilitate them.

I suppose an unkind soul might suggest that this is the prison solution, since that’s just where we, as a society, have chosen to locate our prisons. It’s even more problematic for homeless facilities than for prisons.

Unlike prisons, permanent supportive housing projects aren’t locked facilities. Smaller towns aren’t likely to have the services needed by the formerly homeless; there aren’t going to be jobs; educational facilities; or, probably, any place to go.

The impact of bringing a large group of homeless people into a small town will be much more noticeable than in a city.

Finally, it may sound strange at first, but just because someone is homeless doesn’t mean they don’t have a hometown. Many homeless people are attached not just to a hometown, but to a specific neighborhood and if you want to successfully help them, then you have to go where they live.

There is a well-known story about a private person in Memphis who tried to solve homelessness on his own initiative. He owned a large farm located outside of town and on it he built a village of substantial tents (the semi-permanent type with furniture and stoves—sometimes you see them on old movies about African safaris) and provided three meals per day for people. Only a few homeless people ever came to his property and most of them soon left.

There was nothing for them to do. There was nowhere to go. There was very little social interaction. Apparently people decided that life was better on the streets of Memphis than in isolation on the farm. (I wonder if this isn’t a variation on the declining farm population, especially in the Great Plains states. As a society, we are no longer happy outside of the larger community).

I am afraid that the same fate would await homeless housing built in small communities.

[A final note—in spite of the rumors you may hear, homeless people don’t move in large numbers because of additional services. Over 80% of The Bridge’s clients are from Dallas County, and the two biggest groups from outside Dallas County are from Tarrant and Collin Counties.]

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas everyone!


What a week we’ve had for CityWalk and our residents – we have much to celebrate this Christmas!

On Wednesday, Dec. 23, the same day that we received our “green tag” or temporary certificate of occupancy for CityWalk, we were able to tell one of our first residents, Joyce Bennett, that she could move into her new, fully furnished CityWalk apartment on Tuesday, Dec. 29.

Joyce was at our office when we told her she would be moving in next week. As soon as she heard the news, she immediately clamped her hand over her mouth in awe as tears began to well up in her eyes. “This is the first time I’ve ever been speechless!” she beamed.

As our staff began to exchange hugs with our new resident and each other, Joyce could barely contain her excitement. “You just don’t understand, you just don’t understand,” she kept saying before she was able to compose herself enough to begin telling her story.

Joyce currently lives with relatives, where she sleeps on the floor and has no personal belongings except for her clothing. She said that because she is homeless, she is treated much like an outsider in her family and is, at times, even excluded from family events. Through it all, she held on to her faith, which kept her going every day as she looked for permanent, affordable housing.

The turning point in her life came when Kevin Flagg, our community outreach assistant, called her for an interview to discuss her interest in becoming a resident at CityWalk. After going through the application process, Joyce was approved and is now preparing to move into her new apartment.

As you can see, this Christmas is extra special for our staff at Central Dallas CDC and our residents at CityWalk. The only thing missing from this story is Joyce’s photo (she’s extremely camera shy), but I hope I’ve painted a clear picture about how CityWalk is transforming lives and giving hope to the homeless.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Central Dallas CDC’s Christmas Present is a Green Tag

This, friends, is a temporary certificate of occupancy for CityWalk, and there could not be a better Christmas present for us:

The temporary certificate of occupancy means the City of Dallas inspectors have now given us permission to occupy a portion of CityWalk—the basement through the fifth floor.

By the time you read this blog, we will have had at least one lease signed and before the end of the year, people will be living at CityWalk. Some of them are people who are now living in their car or at a shelter.

Finally, after more than four years of work, we have found a place at the inn for some of our brothers and sisters to get in out of the cold. There couldn’t be any better way for us to celebrate the season.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Special Delivery for CityWalk


The gifts and donations for CityWalk are continuing to come in. Our latest blessing was a special delivery yesterday from a small group of caring families from Farmers Branch Church of Christ. Jamie Schlegel, her adorable son Luke, and Chidi Key brought two boxes of toiletries for our residents, which were collected at their church group’s Christmas party on Dec. 20. The boxes were full of personal hygiene items such as shampoos and conditioners, toothbrushes and toothpaste, razors and shaving cream, body lotion, deodorant and soap.

A few weeks ago, Jamie got in contact with another Jamie - Jamie Beach, donation coordinator for Central Dallas Ministries Thrift - to inquire about volunteer opportunities and ministry needs. Jamie B. relayed this information to Johnice Woods, director of projects for Central Dallas CDC, who passed it along to me. I responded immediately and Jamie B., who has been a phenomenal help to CityWalk residents, put me in contact with Jamie S., whose group wanted to host a donation drive for our residents.

This is a great example of how families, church groups, youth groups, clubs and organizations can come together to make a big difference in the lives of our residents. The donations we’re requesting are a part of an ongoing project to help meet our residents’ basic needs as they transition into CityWalk over the next few weeks.

We can’t say enough how thankful we are for the amazing gift we received yesterday from the members of Farmers Branch Church of Christ. They even requested that we keep them posted about any other volunteer opportunities and needs that we may have. The servant heart and giving spirit of this faithful group is truly appreciated by Central Dallas CDC and our CityWalk residents.

You can drop off donations from your toiletry and/or food drive to the Central Dallas CDC office, located at 2814 Main Street in Deep Ellum. Just give me a call at 214.573.2570 to let us know you’re coming.

This is an exciting time for our residents and we thank you in advance for your contribution!

Photo: Naquanna Comeaux, Johnice Woods, Kevin Flagg, Chidi Key, Jamie Schlegel, and Luke

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A Christmas Wish Comes True Before Christmas


Our community outreach assistant, Kevin Flagg, wrote a beautiful blog this past Sunday about his Christmas wish list for each of us here at Central Dallas CDC. (

His wish for me included “funded CityWalk studio home packages.” If you’ve been following our blog, you know that we have been asking families, churches, organizations, and individuals to sponsor one or more of our 142 CityWalk studios by purchasing a CityWalk Home Package, which includes furnishings for the bedroom/living, kitchen and bathroom areas.

Little did we know, that on the same day Kevin was expressing his Christmas wish, Richardson East Church of Christ was uniting in an effort to bring in more than $25,000 to sponsor home packages for CityWalk! Because of this missions-minded church that truly has a heart for God’s people, many of our residents will be moving into fully-furnished apartments in the next few weeks.

Richardson East, also known as “Care Church,” continues to live up to its name and has truly set the example.

We at Central Dallas CDC would like to send out a huge “Thank you” and a big “God bless you” to Rev. John Siburt and Richardson East for their tremendous and continuing generosity.

We’d love to add you, your family, business or organization to this growing list of donors. It’s an ongoing project and you can give at any time.

To make a donation, go to and click on “DONATE” or contact me at the Central Dallas CDC office at 214.573.2570.

Our residents thank you!

Photo: Rev. John Siburt of Richardson East Church of Christ

Monday, December 21, 2009

Unwelcome Mat Comments, Part V

This commentator recommends checking out Haven for Hope:

Please check out

These folks are taking the right approach and treating the homeless as real people.

Haven for Hope is a really good facility in San Antonio, but it doesn’t provide permanent supportive housing. Instead it’s the equivalent of The Bridge here in Dallas, a service and intake center for people who are homeless.

The confusion between different types of facilities for homeless people is pretty common (and pretty understandable—I can’t tell one type of car from another; it’s not my job and I’m not that interested). I think it’s important to try to make distinctions between different types of facilities, though, because they have wildly different impacts on neighborhoods.

Service centers or resource centers like The Bridge and Haven for Hope are designed to attract and serve large numbers of homeless people. They are the center of a city’s homeless programs, and although usually run well and professionally (like The Bridge and Haven for Hope), such centers have an unavoidable impact on an area because of the number of people who visit them. These facilities belong in the downtown area, not in a residential neighborhood and typically there is only one such facility in any city.

Shelters usually provide dormitory-style sleeping arrangements for one night only at a time. They often have a significant impact on a neighborhood because their patrons have to leave in the morning and then return in the evening. That practically guarantees a number of people will spend the day wandering around until they can return to the shelter again.

While necessary, so long as we don’t have any alternatives, shelters don’t help someone put their life back together by providing a permanent place to live and, personally, I hope someday to see shelters reduced to a bare minimum—just enough to provide a place for people for a night in an emergency situation.

Permanent supportive housing is what we build, so naturally I think it’s the best solution (why would we be doing it otherwise?). It provides an apartment to people that have been homeless and a platform to begin putting their life back together. People have their own place, so there is no reason to wander the streets (like shelters encourage) and they don’t provide services except for the people who live there, so they don’t attract crowds (like The Bridge or Haven for Hope).

If you visit permanent supportive housing projects, then you wouldn’t know that the people that live there were formerly homeless until you take a close look. Every study shows that they don’t negatively impact neighborhoods.

I believe that permanent supportive housing is the best solution to homelessness and that it can make our cities better, more pleasant places to live. We need not to confuse them with shelters or resource centers, which have significantly more impact on their surroundings.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

My Christmas Wish List for Central Dallas CDC


I recently heard a wonderful Christmas story. There was a father who was not able financially to provide for his family the things they wanted most for Christmas. He decided to find pictures of the gifts he would purchase his family if he were in the position to do so. He found a picture of a big red bicycle for his son. He found a picture of an elegant evening dress for his wife. He found a picture of a diamond necklace for his daughter. He wrapped all the pictures in beautiful wrapping paper and placed them under the tree. On Christmas Eve when the family unwrapped their presents, no one was disappointed - they all understood the significance of the pictures.

Years continued to go by and the family held on to their pictures. And then the miracle happened. The father won the jackpot and was able to purchase the items on the pictures for his family for Christmas.

This story inspired me. I asked myself, “What would I purchase for my new co-workers at Central Dallas Community Development Corporation?” It has been said, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” For John, I would purchase a fully occupied 511 N. Akard building by December 31, 2009 that would include a 7-Eleven convenience store. For Johnice, I would give a copy machine and printer with no interruptions. For Naquanna, I would give a store full of resources for the residents, food pantry, toiletry supply room, and funded CityWalk studio home packages. For Lori Beth, I would give a quiet place to work for eight hours.

The MIRACLE of my presents is real. All of my gifts will come to fruition. They may not arrive by December 25, 2009, but they are sure to come.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Unwelcome Mat Comments, Part IV

Today let’s take a quick look at one of the best arguments in support of permanent supportive housing:

"Price said that investing in housing and mental health care can save taxpayers money.

You've got to get people to understand that if you don't, it'll cost you. It's like the old adage of 'pay now or pay more later...."

Investing in proper health care can save money, and prevent more pain and suffering. See

It’s very important to always remember and to inform people that don’t know that we aren’t talking about spending more money. We are already spending enough money on helping people who are homeless—we just aren’t using it very well.

If we’re going to spend the money, shouldn’t we spend it in a way that actually helps people? I think that’s an argument that most people would agree with. The disagreements don’t really start until you get to a specific project.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Unwelcome Mat Comments, Part III—A conversation with Dr. James Baker

Dr. James Baker is the CEO of Metrocare Services, the largest provider of mental health services in the Dallas area (here’s its website: He must have been following this series of blogs, because I got a question from him yesterday. That question led to the exchange below, which I am publishing with his permission:

Are you going to respond to the below comment from below Kim Horner's article online?

"DO THE MATH: on trying to convert a hotel into an estimated two hundred rooms that are 350 sq foot boxes to house these folks: At $25,000,000 of a 'proposed' budget - that’s about $125,000 per apartment, and on a ‘leasable square foot basis’ (a common metric many developers use to budget multifamily projects), that weighs in at about $330 per foot of living space! CAN YOU SAY the 'W’, or the Belagio in Vegas? And again, you and I are paying for most of it in taxes. Compare this ridiculously expensive number to Class-A market rate apartments in upscale parts of Dallas which are usually built for a total of $120-150 per leasable square foot - For about a third. Something smells funny here."

My response:

I don't know, because it isn't an apples to apples comparison and you really have to be a geek to understand why. There are actually 246 units and the average size is slightly larger, and there is a whole bunch of extra space for offices and amenities. High-rise construction and the dirt under it are more expensive. Tax credit deals have a whole bunch of extra costs that you can't avoid--consultants and attorneys mostly. Then you have to have a security system well beyond what any garden apartments have.

Also, the cost of bathrooms and kitchens is the highest per square foot cost in an apartment and you still need at least one of each whether the apartment is 1200 or 350 sq. ft. In addition, you have to build PSH to a very high standard of durability and furnish the units as well. Those add more costs. In the end you'll find that building small PSH units is only maybe 20% cheaper than building other units that are twice as large.

But as a developer of PSH, I don't really care about the cost per square foot, but the cost per unit--can you imagine the screams if we built big ritzy units for homeless persons (I may do that someday, though, just for the fun of irritating people like the one that wrote the comment). It's more practical to build smaller units that are more per square foot but less per unit.

In the real world, you can build a nice 750 sq. ft. class B apartment unit for about $120,000 in an area near downtown. You can build a 350 sq. ft. PSH for $100,000. Big square foot difference, but so what?

The even larger problem, though, is that PSH units don't make any money. So how are you going to finance them if you don't use tax credits? You can't carry any debt. So you end up paying the overhead for tax credit units to avoid debt.

In Seattle, the PSH units they are building (which aren't any larger than ours) cost $250,000 to $300,000 per unit. Both the Hamiltons and I can bring PSH units in at about $100,000 per unit. I don't know if someone else could do better, but I doubt it.

If I thought anybody would really listen, then I might sit down and work this all out with references and everything. But it's a lot of work and I don't think anybody is really listening. I'll think about it.

Dr. Baker:

No, I think your point is well taken: that nobody is listening at that level.

[I can’t resist adding a postscript. This is a common problem in dealing with complicated public policy issues. I can explain why a PSH unit costs what it does; why they are built the way that they are; and why those of us working on ending homelessness approach the problem as we do—but it’s not a conversation that fits into an Elevator Speech and doesn’t even really lend itself to a blog post. If you really want to understand, then we’d need to sit down for an afternoon and go over cost estimates, review the spreadsheets we’ve developed, know the relative costs and advantages of various financing strategies and understand the varying predilections of the public and private foundations that support our work.

It would be a lot of work and it’s only interesting to numbers geeks like me. You very likely would lose interest and I don’t have time to make the explanations to very many people.

Criticism is easy; progress is hard. If you think you can do better, then I would welcome you with open arms into the effort to house the homeless. If you think we are making a fortune doing this work, then come look at our offices, or review the public information about us on the internet.

All of us, myself, Dr. Baker, my staff, his staff, everyone involved in the effort, do this work not because it’s easy, not because it makes us popular, not for the money, but because we feel we have to do it. It’s a duty we owe to our fellow Americans, our fellow human beings and to the image of God within them.]

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Unwelcome Mat Comments, Part II

(continuing responses to the Dallas Morning News article from last Sunday, which can be found here:

The comment below repeats a common objection to permanent, supportive housing projects:

The problem with the Plaza development is its viability. The size and physical layout of the building would create a huge management undertaking, one that few developers of low income-specific needs housing such as this, adequately plan for. Support services aside, to provide a safe, decent and secure place for a homeless transitioning population to live, you MUST be able to "control the night" and manage the property and tenants 24/7. The qualified staff to make this happen at the Plaza would be significant.

When you first read a comment like this it seems entirely reasonable. Permanent supportive housing projects are not easy and do require a significant management effort. As far as I know, this commentator may be only pointing out a reasonable concern.

On the other hand, if you’ve been working in this area for a few years, then it’s hard to accept such comments at face value. Most of the time the people making the comments aren’t raising reasonable concerns that can be satisfied, because as soon as one issue is resolved they raise another objection—then a third, and a fourth, and a fifth, continuing on into infinity.

I find it hard to believe in the good faith of a commentator like this for a couple of reasons. First, the size and physical layout of the Plaza is perfect for a permanent, supportive housing project. The hotel has the right sized rooms and a front desk area that controls the only entrance into the building. That’s exactly what you want for a permanent, supportive housing project. The Plaza also has a fully fenced and controlled parking area, which gives you even better control of the premises.

In short, the Plaza would be one of the easiest properties to control that I’ve looked at.

Second, I think I’ve seen all the plans to provide services and management at the Plaza, and I’ve had input into most of them, and all the plans call for a very substantial management effort, including a secured building, 24/7 front desk coverage and at least one case worker for every 20 residents.

These projects have been successful everywhere else. I’ve personally visited developments in San Diego, Houston, Austin, New York, San Francisco, and Seattle. No one is inventing anything new here, and I refuse to believe that we can’t do in Dallas what people in every other city in the country seem to be doing successfully.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Unwelcome Mat Comments, Part I

This first comment is one of the most rationale out of the whole group. This person is clearly thinking about the problem of homelessness and how it might be solved:

Time to spread them out across the Dallas Fort Worth Metropolitan area, so the people can get their hands on them. Small nodes next to churches would make the most sense. Homes and apartments supervised by neighborhood churches who can also find them work, work on their vices and afflictions, and generally remove them from the group-think that causes recidivism. Warehousing them downtown and within a far more dense population harms more than helps, and it is not fair to load up such a small geographical area as downtown Dallas.

The only reason why it has unfolded this way is because of NIMBY, and the fact that downtown Dallas does not have a voter base to protect it.

The problem is this solution, which I have heard proposed many times, doesn’t really work. Churches don’t have any special competency in dealing with the problems of homelessness. You really can’t depend on volunteers. The building needs to be staffed 24 hours, seven days per week. Very few churches could sustain such an effort over the long-term.

Small projects are very difficult to run. All economies of scale are lost. Remember, a project designed to house the homeless has to pay not only the capital costs of the building, but ongoing costs of services, operations and maintenance. I’ve talked with the developers of permanent supportive housing all over the country, and almost nobody will build a development that houses less than 80 to 100 residents. The numbers just don’t work.

In short, nice as it would be to think that you could build many small homes scattered all over the city to solve the homeless problem, experience shows that it is just not possible.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Unwelcome mat out for project to house chronically homeless

Sunday’s Dallas Morning News had an insightful article by Kim Horner on the difficulties in building housing for the homeless. Here’s a bit from the opening:

“Developer Larry Hamilton has been working for months to turn the empty Plaza Hotel south of downtown Dallas into homes for the homeless. But it's been much tougher than he imagined.

“Hamilton and other developers complain of roadblocks even as they try to carry out the city's goal of opening 700 apartments for the homeless by 2014. The housing, which would come with mental health and addiction services, is considered the most effective way to clear the streets of the hard-core homeless.

“But Dallas has lagged behind other major cities in creating the units. Public financing, neighborhood cooperation and political will are all in short supply in a city that has been able to raise millions for arts projects, a convention center hotel and Calatrava bridges over the Trinity River.

‘They have this aspiration to do 700 units, but I think it's going to be hard to do any,’ Hamilton said. ‘I don't see how it's going to get done.’”

You can read the rest of the article, and should if you are interested in the problem of homelessness in Dallas, here:
I’ve been going through the comments, and they are a pretty interesting indication of what people in Dallas are thinking about the homeless. The next couple of days I’ll probably spend some time discussing them, but I’ll warn you that I find them discouraging.

Monday, December 14, 2009

CityWalk’s Christmas Wish List


As CityWalk nears its opening, we’re so thankful that donations and requests for volunteer work have started to come in. It’s important that our low-income and formerly homeless residents have food and toiletries available to them upon move-in. We want them to be able to transition into their new home as smoothly and as comfortably as possible, lacking nothing.

A month ago today, I blogged about the CityWalk Home Package needed for our 142 studios that can be purchased in honor of your family, church, business or organization ( Several churches have already made commitments to purchase a CityWalk Home Package for one or more of our studios, but we still need to hear from more of you in the community.

Can you purchase a CityWalk Home Package and/or host a donation drive for food or toiletries? This is a wonderful opportunity for your sorority or fraternity, bible study group or youth group, or little league team to come together and “give back” during the holiday season.

Whatever you can do, whether it’s all at once or a little at a time, please know that it is greatly needed and much appreciated. To make a donation, go to and click on “DONATE” or contact me at the Central Dallas CDC office at 214.573.2570.

We look forward to hearing from you!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

It’s Christmas Party Time!


All around the country, companies are either gearing up for or have already hosted their employee Christmas parties. Some people dread them and some folks look forward to them. As a new employee, I was definitely looking forward to the Central Dallas Ministries holiday party, which took place just this past Friday.

I really didn’t know what to expect. Would it be boring, silly or just plain forgettable? Well, it was definitely none of those things. In fact, it was fun and entertaining, and the food was great. (Kudos to the planning committee!) Kevin Flagg and I attended together and we had a blast.

One of the best parts of the celebration was the presentation of the employee service awards. CDM president/CEO Larry James and the executive management team - Keith Ackerman, Gerald Britt and Steve Palma – showed their appreciation by passing out certificates and gold pins. There was a lot of cheering and shouting throughout the room as each name was called. The big one – Employee of the Year – went to “The Voice” of CDM, George Padilla.

The party culminated with drawings for tons of great prizes that included everything from gift cards to jewelry to cookware to DVD players. I had a good feeling that Kevin and I would both win something - I mean, the prize tables were overflowing with goodies – but neither one of us did. We did, however, get to witness An of the Technology Learning Center, who was sitting right next to me, win a really pretty glassware set that I wanted and a $50 gift card from Target that I also wanted. I was happy for him. Really, I was.

But more important than the delicious food and the cool prizes was the camaraderie that could be seen and felt throughout the room. Everyone seemed a lot less like coworkers and a lot more like family. And I was glad to be a part of it.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

A New Beginning


From 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, there is a constant flow of potential tenants coming into our office to be interviewed by our wonderful outreach coordinators, Naquanna Comeaux and Kevin Flagg. The interview process brings forth many stories from those who are currently homeless to those who are part-time college students and employees.

Once potential tenants complete the interview, they are directed to Pinnacle Realty (our property management company at CityWalk) to start the application process. The application process includes criminal and credit screenings and filling out a great deal of documents required by the management company and the state of Texas. Many fail to meet the criteria and are denied because of their criminal or credit background check or both. Of course, those who receive this news are very disappointed. I have heard many stories and I am sympathetic because I know there is a lack of affordable housing, especially for those with a criminal past.

One rainy day, a young man whom I will call “Daniel” to protect his identity came in for his interview. He was scheduled to interview with Kevin. As the interview ended, Kevin informed Daniel that his criminal background would probably disqualify him for the application process. Not knowing his story, I was initially impressed that Daniel rode the bus and was an hour early to his appointment on a rainy day. Kevin took Daniel to meet with Pinnacle and they confirmed that due to his criminal past, he would be denied residency for CityWalk.

Kevin came to me to see if I could offer Daniel any other housing options. I started to give him my usual response, which is, all of our properties were filled and the waiting list is about a year out and the other affordable housing properties I know would have the same criteria. I decided to sit down with Kevin and Daniel to see if I could help direct him. Daniel told me that he had served time in the juvenile detention system for possession of a controlled substance. He had served his time and his probation term. To date, he had no other legal issues and has a part-time job at a restaurant as a cashier. He has even enrolled in El Centro Community College and was awarded financial aid to pay for his entire year of school.

Daniel said he was determined to make a new start in his life. He did not want to return to his hometown in East Texas, where all of his criminal troubles began because he could not find adequate housing. He said he had heard about CityWalk from a caseworker at the Texas Workforce Commission and thought it would be an ideal place for him since it was located in downtown Dallas where he would be attending school.

I guess what touched me most about Daniel was the fact that even though he was denied for CityWalk, he still maintained a positive outlook that something “good” would work out for him. He possessed a rare spirit of hope and humbleness, something that I don’t see often in people who have struggled as Daniel has. I made a call to my property manager at our apartment complex located in East Dallas to see if we had anything available. She stated that a unit had become available due to a recent eviction. I asked Daniel if he was ready for some good news and, of course, he was open to what I had to tell him. I told him about the opening and asked if he wanted to take a look at it. He was totally speechless. He had been accustomed to hearing “no” and he could not believe that there was a possible “yes” in sight.

Kevin and I drove him over to the apartment to meet with the property manager and see the unit. I told him if he liked the apartment, I would like to have him as a tenant. Daniel was speechless and in total awe. I told him that all we needed from him was that he be a good neighbor and a responsible tenant. He said he was ready to be both. He was so grateful for the new opportunity. I was grateful to be a part of his new beginning.

(Update – Daniel has paid his deposit and has received his January school schedule. He is in search of furnishings for his new apartment.)

Friday, December 11, 2009

Winding Down


Upon reflecting on my tenure here at Central Dallas CDC (which I have been a part of for 6 years), I can remember that 5 years ago at this time of the year, we would normally start winding down. As I look around today, our office shows no signs of winding down. From Monday to mid-day Friday, our office is totally chaotic. There is constant ringing of the phones, three to four conversations at once and the beeping of the printer/copier or microwave. No, the wind is blowing full force here. In truth, we are in the final stage of the race for the completion of CityWalk.

Webster Dictionary describes wind as “a natural movement of air of any velocity; a force or agency that carries along or influences”. Currently, there are three major winds moving at any given time. One the wind of anxiousness, as potential tenants prepare for their move into the building in about 2 weeks. Yes, just before Christmas. Two, the wind of anticipation, the CDCDC staff is so excited about moving into our new office space at CityWalk in January (on a side note, I am counting the days because I have been out of office space since last year). Three, the wind of gratefulness, despite all of the trials and tribulations in developing the CityWalk project, we will finally witness the fruit of our labor.

I think Jimmy Dean said it best, “I can't change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination.” So, as I adjust my sails to the constant changing winds, I will hold on and pray for a winding down moment.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

A Month Has Gone By


It has only been a month, but the rewards have been many. I began my employment at Central Dallas Community Development Corporation with the expectation of being fulfilled by working with the residents. The building is yet to open, but the rewards of working with the future residents have been many.

On a daily basis I have the privilege of interviewing and talking with potential residents. There have been many stories of homelessness, unemployment, health crisis, chemical dependency, family struggles and the list goes on and on. People are in desperate need to call somewhere home. Most of the information shared during the interview is not solicited. Life has shown up and caused pain and homelessness. Many people just need to share their pain and find a listening ear.

In many cases we are not able to house them at CityWalk, but the reward comes when you can find other housing resources. I have become sensitized and understand the real need for shelter for so many. There are stories of people living in their cars, living in garages, sleeping on the floor of different friends and family nightly, sleeping from shelter to shelter. To be a part of an agency that seeks to create affordable housing and to help eliminate homelessness is a reward. It has only been a month, but the rewards have been many.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Medicare for those 55

Nothing is quicker to lead you to form an opinion about an issue than a proposal that affects you personally. That’s what happened with me yesterday on the issue of health care reform when the idea of allowing 55 to 64 year olds to buy into Medicare was suggested. (see here and a whole bunch of other places in the news:
As somebody who falls into that age group, this strikes me as a good idea. Central Dallas CDC is a small business, and although we’ve been able to offer health insurance to employees because of our relationship with Central Dallas Ministries, we couldn’t offer it on our own. I couldn’t buy individual health insurance at any reasonable cost because of my age and because I need a knee replacement.

So, in short, I’m really trapped where I am because of health insurance. That doesn’t cause me any problem because I like where I am at, but it seems to me a very bad idea to prevent people in their fifties and sixties from starting new businesses or leaving to work at another small business. It’s just those small enterprises that could often find a lot of value in an experienced employee.

The current rules also prevent me from making Central Dallas CDC fully independent of CDM. Again, not a big issue, but it is one of our ultimate goals. At some point both of these organizations will have new leadership and that leadership may want to pursue independent paths.

In any event, this is a very personal take on the idea of allowing 55 to 64 year olds to buy into Medicare. It would be good for me and good for Central Dallas CDC. I don’t know enough to know whether it would be good for the country and I’m way too pragmatic to worry about whether everyone should have the equivalent of Medicare or whether nobody should. It’s good for me and mine, and that’s all I know.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Volunteer? Anyone?

One issue we deal with all the time is how to use volunteers at Central Dallas CDC. A big part of the problem is that we are just so very busy. Even if a volunteer would help us over the long term, sometimes we don’t have time right now to explain to them what kind of help we need.

Another problem can be the availability and skills of the volunteer. Central Dallas CDC does sophisticated real estate development and we often don’t have extensive need for unskilled volunteers. Or the work we do have available for volunteers without special skills isn’t very interesting for them. Not many people are willing to spend their leisure time answering the telephone or filing papers.

Other times a large group wants to do a project together, and that isn’t always easy. Imagine you have the opportunity to have 100 people work for you for a day—sounds great when you first think of it. But if they don’t have any skills and neither the group nor you have any money to buy materials, then it can be difficult to find a useful way to use that labor.

More often than you might think, we get a volunteer with special skills—a lawyer or an architect or an information specialist—and they can be absolutely invaluable. Then we get the type of help that we probably couldn’t afford to hire.

We could use that kind of help on a project right now. The picture below is of the flagpoles on the 18th story of CityWalk.

If you look really close, you might be able to see that although the pulleys are still there, the ropes have all rotted away. We could really use a volunteer to climb up the flagpole and put on a new rope—because we haven’t figured out how to do it yet.

You better not be scared of heights. The flagpoles start at about 200 feet above the ground; the roof isn’t that large; and there aren’t any railings.

Monday, December 7, 2009

My Road Trip to Austin

As fate would have it, on the same day that Johnice Woods was leading a road trip to Austin to look at Foundation Communities’ permanent, supportive housing projects (see her blog on December 3), I also had to go to Austin. My trip was less fun. I needed to attend a couple of meetings with the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs (TDHCA to those of us who build affordable housing).

I know that it can be difficult and frustrating to deal with governmental entities (after all, I’ve been a lawyer for 25 years), but I’ve found that if I just deal with government employees with the same courtesy and respect that I try to show to our formerly homeless tenants that things usually don’t work out that badly.

It is amazing how easy it is to forget than when you deal with the government that you aren’t really dealing with some monolithic entity like the Capitol (that’s the Texas Capitol in the picture). You are dealing with a person.

Granted, the person you are dealing with is probably forced to ensure compliance with a whole bunch of laws and rules that he or she doesn’t fully understand, and you barely understand at all, but that’s not the person’s fault. Laws and rules are hard to write so they apply fairly to everyone; they go out of date; they can be confusing—sometimes to the point of being impossible to understand.

The legislature, composed of people you and I voted for (or against), write the laws and people working for the government have to do the best they can with what they’ve got. Very few people take a job with the government because they like enforcing pointless rules. Most likely they wanted to serve the public (and you and I are part of the public, right?). It is also likely that government employees are frustrated because they can’t serve the public as well as they would like to.

When you deal with a problem with the government, you don’t want to be defensive or belligerent or difficult. Those types of attitudes don’t bring out the best in anyone. You want to lessen their frustration, not increase it. The best approach is to make the person that you are dealing with an ally. Remember, government employees probably know the rules much better than you do and almost every one of them wants to do good. If you explain what you want to achieve and work with them then they usually will help you figure out some way, under the rules, to do most of what you want to do.

That doesn’t mean they can break the rules or even bend them, but any good lawyer will tell you that there are multiple interpretations of any law and that sometimes you can achieve the end you are working towards in one way, perhaps less obvious, when you can’t follow the most straightforward path.

That was pretty much the case in my meetings with TDHCA. We couldn’t do exactly what we wanted to do under the rules, but we could do something else pretty close that let us accomplish most of our goals. Nobody joins the Housing Department to prevent people from having homes. Start by believing people (and government employees are people too) will help you and very often they will.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Unsolicited Advice


Author John Gray, PhD is most well known for his contemporary book, Men Are from Mars, Women are from Venus. I read this book some time ago, and although I was not greatly impressed by it, I came across the following quote from Dr. Gray that I absolutely love.

He says, “To offer a man unsolicited advice is to presume that he doesn't know what to do or that he can't do it on his own.”

Advice is such an interesting thing – I think it is fair to say that all of us are generally much better at giving it than receiving it. Perhaps this is an exception to the old cliché, “tis better to give than to receive.”

I never thought a lot about unsolicited advice until my husband and I started our family. Never have I ever received so much unsolicited advice as when I was pregnant with my first child. Friends, strangers, and professionals were all determined to tell me what to eat; what not to eat; how much weight I should gain, or not gain; how to sleep; what to wear; when to seek medical advice; what type of car seat to buy; and in my case, how to hurry along the labor when I was first a few days overdue, then a week overdue, and then a full two weeks overdue.

But the unsolicited advice didn’t stop there. Now, as a parent of two, I find parenting advice around every corner. Some is solicited, I love to read books about child psychology and child behavior; parenting strategies; and what to expect during different stages. On the other side of the coin, I still find myself bombarded with unsolicited parenting advice. Sometimes I even get advice from well meaning people who don’t have children yet – really, as if there is any way they could possibly advise me!!!

Seriously though, parenting is hard, and as parents, we often need advice, or at least consolation or confirmation that our experiences are not terribly unlike that of other parents. And sometimes, especially when we are novice parents, we really need to know what to do. I have some very dear friends who have saved my life by being there for me when I wasn’t sure what to do – the flu that came with a 104.9 fever and hallucinations at 3 am on a Saturday morning; the 18-month old who thought it was funny to take off her pajamas and diaper and then make a mess in the crib; the two-year old who bit a friend; or the three-year old who put a bead up her nose –really, the list goes on and on. Solicited advice from trusted friends is at least comforting, and often a real life saver.

On the other hand, unsolicited parenting advice – not so much! The most difficult and most awesome thing about parenting is that we all get to decide for ourselves what works and what is appropriate for our kids, our circumstances, and our families. It can be deeply burdensome at times, and completely liberating at other times. But when it comes to giving others unsolicited advice, especially about parenting, I would say it is generally best to keep Gray’s perspective in mind, but I can’t really say that without giving unsolicited advice myself. Hmmm – quite the paradox.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

I Missed the Snow!

On Wednesday, just two days after I complained about missing the snow, it snowed in Dallas.

Lori Beth Lemmon-Harrison, Director of Marketing for Central Dallas CDC, and sometimes blogger here, took this picture at her house Wednesday morning.

The sad thing is, I missed the snow entirely. Wednesday I flew down to Austin, Texas for a couple of meetings with the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs and by the time I got back to Dallas the snow was just a memory.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Pobrecito! Part Two

Back last May( I wrote about my efforts to raise pimientos de padron here in Dallas. I had planted seeds of this Spanish variety of pepper on January 15, but only one seedling had survived.

I have nourished this one plant for almost 11 months now, and, as you can see from the picture (taken by our Christmas Tree when I brought the pepper in to avoid a frost last night), I’ve had a very qualified success. So far it’s produced four peppers. I’ve let one mature so that I’ll have seeds to try again next year. That means right now I’ll have the grand total of three small peppers to eat—one for each of our household.

That’s not much for 46 weeks, so far, of effort, but at the end of the month I’ll plant the seeds I save and start trying again.

Peppers are an unusual plant and saving pepper seeds can be tricky. Peppers hybridize with ease, one reason there are so very many varieties, but the distance between plants to avoid hybridization only has to be five or ten feet. So I’m hopeful the seeds will come true and next years crop will truly be pimientos de padron. Any plants grown from the seeds could, however, turn out to be some entirely different plant.

Probably, just to play it safe, I’ll also order another packet of pimiento de padron seeds from the mail order house. Maybe next year you’ll see me down at the Farmers Market selling pimientos de padron—or maybe I’ll grow at least enough for one decent meal.

Either way, I’m not going to quit trying.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Road Trip to Austin

By Johnice Woods – Director of Projects

A secretly known fact to many is my love for Austin, Texas. No disrespect to Dallas, but Austin has a certain “It” factor.

Today, we (Naquanna Comeaux and Kevin Flagg – CityWalk’s Community Outreach Coordinators) visited Foundation Communities, SRO properties. Foundation Communities has a 20 year history in affordable housing in Austin ( They have 14 housing communities, three of which are SRO properties. Skyline Terrace and Garden Terrace are located in South Austin and Spring Terrace is located in North Austin. I visited their properties about a year ago and thought it would be a great idea to have Naquanna and Kevin meet with the Residential Service Coordinators to gain insight into their roles.

At first glance, all three properties are immaculately maintained, inside and out. All had the feel of a safe and caring environment. All of the apartment units are furnished and include onsite amenities such as community kitchens, laundry rooms, and computer rooms. Each property has onsite property management and residential support service coordinators. The Resident Service Coordinators help tenants access off-site social services and coordinate onsite services such as monthly birthday parties, money management classes, free tax preparations, and monthly food pantries.

So what was the “It” that impressed me most from this Austin road trip? One, actually witnessing a successful SRO property, which is what we have envisioned for CityWalk, and the wonderful people who were willing to offer their time and expertise by answering all of our questions and offering future assistance. I would like to send out a big thanks to Liz Brown and Mike Wilder at Garden Terrace, Adam Lenker at Skyline Terrace, and Tim Miles at Spring Terrace.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

CityWalk Neighbors: Sharon Tillis


It’s been a long, hard journey for CityWalk resident Sharon Tillis.

Born and raised in Dallas, Sharon experienced a painful childhood marred by sexual abuse and parental neglect. Growing up, she felt invisible as her abusers were given free rein to strip her of her innocence and identity.

“Nobody noticed what was going on and they should have,” Sharon said. “As a child, it was like I was screaming in a room full of people and no one could hear me.”

As the abuse continued, Sharon became overwhelmed with depression and the need to be loved. Oftentimes, her search for acceptance made her vulnerable to more abuse.

“I never knew who I was. I feared rejection and became a people pleaser,” she said.

When Sharon got older and started dating, she found herself drawn to abusive men, including the husband she fled a few years ago.

Making the decision

In the beginning, Sharon and her husband lived like the average newlywed couple. They enjoyed life together and had no major problems. Sharon was also self-sufficient, something she was very proud of.

But the marriage started to crumble when her husband began verbally and physically assaulting her. When family illnesses and financial difficulties began taking their toll, the abuse escalated. Afraid of being alone and broke, Sharon remained in the marriage and many times suffered in silence.

One evening, while her husband was at work, Sharon and her daughter went to see the Tyler Perry film Why Did I Get Married? In the movie, one of the main characters, Sheila, suffered constant abuse and public humiliation by her husband. The characters’ dysfunctional relationship hit home.

“It was me up there on that screen,” Sharon said. “My daughter looked at me and said ‘What are you gonna do?’”

Starting over

As soon as they left the movie theater, Sharon sent her daughter to live with family members and she fled to The Family Place, a local domestic violence service provider. There, she completed six months of various programs, training and counseling. She was also referred to CityWalk, a new affordable housing property that was being developed in downtown Dallas.

Sharon was placed on the waiting list for CityWalk in 2008 and moved in with relatives after graduating from The Family Place program in April 2009. A few months later, her application to become a CityWalk resident was approved.

“CityWalk made it possible to where I can afford my own place,” she said. “I know I have permanent housing and affordable housing, and to know it was going to be downtown in the arts district – that was a plus!”

With her children all grown up – her daughter attends Texas Southern University in Houston and her two sons are living productive lives – Sharon is now focusing on her own future. She is considering going back to school and, because she hasn't given up on love, hopes to be happily married within the next few years.

“This is a new beginning for Sharon,” she said. “I’ve come a long way. I know who I am now.”

Photo: Sharon Tillis stands inside a CityWalk apartment.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

John Keats’ To Autumn

Writing about the changing of the seasons yesterday put me in mind of John Keats’ To Autumn, one of the great poems in English literature. You don’t really need any context to appreciate the poem, but I can’t resist just a couple of words about the circumstances in which it was written.

The poem was written when Keats was only 24, but he was already dying and would be dead within two years. The emotional maturity of the poem is astounding. At an age when most of us are only starting out in life, Keats had to confront the end of his life. He wrote in one of his letters that “stubble fields never looked so warm to me”. The beauty of spring, of life renewing itself, is obvious and unambiguous. The autumn is also beautiful, but it always carries within it the suggestion of the dying of the light. It takes a steady eye to focus on its beauty and not to wander forward to the death of winter and the hope of rebirth in spring; to see the birds depart without worrying about their return, which you may never see.


SEASON of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep,
Drows’d with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.

Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

Monday, November 30, 2009

The End of Fall

As a transplanted northerner, I have mixed feelings about winter here in Texas. Many times, the weather is glorious but I miss the snow—or at least the idea of snow—and cold. This year November has been more beautiful than I can ever remember, with clear pleasant days and crisp evenings. It is as if we are being rewarded for suffering through the wettest October in memory. Only the shortness of the days reminds me that we are indeed approaching the winter equinox.

I feel as though I have cheated somehow. By now I should be suffering in the cold and shoveling snow off the driveway. For a Midwesterner, it seems more than I deserve, which makes me feel almost guilty about enjoying the weather. Only the fact that the squirrels ate my winter garden makes me feel that I’m not cheating nature too badly.

We do pay in part for the nice weather in the loss of fall color. Texas fall scenery is pleasant, but lacks the brilliancy of the leaves turning in the north.

The oaks, especially, don’t turn bright red but instead some mixture of red and green that I would call mahogany and the color remains for many weeks.

Bradford pears, an ornamental that don’t produce fruit, for most of the year are an unassuming tree with little to recommend them, but twice each year, in the spring and in the fall, they are transformed, first by flowers and then by color.

The yellow of cedar elms contrasts well with the predominant reds and browns of Texas fall foliage. I only wish we had the aspens of the mountain west, which are brighter yet.

Finally, hackberries, usually regarded as a trash tree around Dallas, have leaves that turn yellow brown and contrast well with their distinctive mottled gray bark.

As November ends and December begins, we will lose the last of our fall color even here in Dallas and it’s likely that we will have enough cold so that I can feel at least a touch of the Midwestern virtue in surviving it. In little more than three weeks, however, the days will start to grow longer and by February it will be time to start gardening.

The shortness of the winter is all to the good, in my opinion, although the length of the gardening season is too long for me. At least a couple of weeks of cold and snow—fresh snow makes even the yard of the worst garden look perfect—would make a nice break from sunny days and my yard would be the equal of any here in town, if only for a day.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

There’s No Place Like Home


OK, well, I haven’t been to Oz during Thanksgiving break, only to East Texas, but really, there is no place like home. I love to visit my hometown of Tyler, and more especially, I love for my kids to have time with their grandparents. We got to enjoy so many things with my parents – a huge Thanksgiving feast, some Christmas shopping, playing miniature golf, taking the kids skating for the first time, and celebrating my father’s 74th birthday.

But, somehow, I can never wait to get home. There is just something about the familiarity of my neighborhood, the smell of my house, and the comfort of my own bed! It is impossible for me to imagine what it would be like to be without a home. Tonight, I say a special prayer for all who are homeless, because there is no place like home.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Who Is Left Out?

Tenant interviews for CityWalk have been underway for some time now, and our management company, Pinnacle, is now taking and reviewing lease applications. I’ve been a little surprised at some of the people who are barred by the rules on past criminal acts that we adopted.

First, let me explain how we arrived at those rules. Almost 18 months ago we put together an advisory council of our downtown neighbors. The advisory council included representatives of the YMCA, Fountain Place, First Baptist, and Star Parking, among others. All of those entities are located within two blocks of CityWalk, and we wanted them to be comfortable with our residents. The advisory committee spent several months putting together detailed rules on who would be prohibited from living at CityWalk. The committee took its work seriously and when I reviewed the final draft of the rules, the rules seemed both fair and wise to me.

I’m not going to set all the rules about past criminal problems out here (the rules are somewhat long and legalistic), but in short the rules prohibit anyone from living in the building if:

1. The person has a conviction for sexual crimes or crimes of violence at any time in the past;

2. The person has a felony conviction of any type within the last 10 years; or

3. The person has a continuing pattern of criminal activity, either felonies or misdemeanors.

The idea was to keep out people with really bad criminal histories (sexual or violent), serious recent crimes (felonies in the last 10 years), and people whose problems looked like they were still ongoing. On the other hand, we wanted to make it possible for people who looked like they have turned their life around and wouldn’t be likely to cause a problem to live at CityWalk.

I think the rules are working for the first part of our plan, but maybe not for the second part of it. Two recent applications that we denied (and had to under the rules) make me wonder.

First, we denied the application to lease of someone who had a very serious crime of violence in their past—38 years ago! I don’t know whether this person would have been a good tenant or not, but they didn’t have any further criminal issues for the past 38 years and I’m not aware of any other problems that would have disqualified them from a lease.

I take the safety of our tenants and neighbors very seriously (after all, I will be a neighbor), but 38 years is a long time. It makes me wonder whether there shouldn’t be some length of time after which good behavior outweighs a past misdeed, even a serious misdeed.

The second case was an application with several less serious felonies, all more than a decade old, none of which on first look seemed to be crimes of violence—and certainly weren’t sexual crimes of any sort. Unfortunately, when you looked at the definition of a crime of violence that we were using, one of the decade old felonies qualified as a crime of violence, even though nobody was hurt in its commission.

I talked to this person long enough to be convinced that they would have been a very fine tenant. I would be not just content, but pleased to live in the same building with them. Under the rules under which we are operating, however, the application to lease was denied.

We want to be careful at CityWalk. To some extent the approval of future permanent supportive housing developments will rest on its success. As I know from my time practicing law, it’s very hard to apply objective rules to human behavior and end up with results that seem fair. That’s the problem we’re running into. I still think the rules we worked out with the advisory committee are as good as we could do. I just wish, sometimes, that I didn’t have to enforce them.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Medicine Cabinets

Details obsess us. When we first started building CityWalk, we didn’t have enough money in the budget to put in a nice medicine cabinet over the bathroom sink. That left us with two choices: a mirror (a decent mirror is very cheap); or a substandard medicine cabinet. I didn’t like either choice. So we pulled the entire item out of the construction budget and left it as an owner-supplied item.

Medicine cabinets became one more item that we had to raise money for, which we did successfully. The picture is of a nice, well-built medicine cabinet installed in one of our units. Anyway, this past weekend, we installed the first of the 211 medicine cabinets that we need for the building. We had hoped to install 39 medicine cabinets, all that we could buy locally, but two were broken and will have to be replaced, so only 37 went in Saturday.

A shipment is coming in from out-of-town this Wednesday, so on this coming weekend we can start on the rest of the medicine cabinets.

A medicine cabinet is a small item, but it’s important. I’m glad we didn’t settle for a mirror or a poorly built medicine cabinet. Every detail is important.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

I Am Thankful Not to be Homeless

I have much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving, my family, my wife, friends and worthwhile work to do, but especially I am thankful not to be homeless.

I am thankful not to be pushing all my worldly goods down a Dallas street in a baby buggy, worried about cold and rain, theft and robbery.

I am thankful to have a warm, safe and sheltered place to sleep tonight and enough food to eat, not just today, because it’s Thanksgiving, but tomorrow and the following days as well.

I have never been homeless (Read this story from last year from someone that has been homeless, if you’d like to know better how it feels:, but I’ve been close enough to those that are homeless so that I think often about how homelessness must feel. Close enough to homelessness to know that I am so very, very thankful not to be without a home.

If you have a home, be thankful for it as well.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Giving Thanks


Today, we have so many things to be thankful for here at Central Dallas CDC.

First of all, the guy showed up from the company that owns our copier/printer/scanner/fax machine that has been on the blink since late last week. Believe you me, we are so thankful that he showed up today.

We are thankful for our new team members, Naquanna and Kevin – they are our community outreach specialists for the citywalk@akard development. Speaking of which, we are very thankful for the lovely team of folks from Pinnacle, our property management company, that has been in our offices for the past several weeks working through the application process with the future tenants of citywalk@akard.

And lastly, we are incredibly thankful that the citywalk@akard project has come to fruition and will be ready for occupancy any day now. It has been a long, hard, road – we put the building under contract in December of 2005 –and the completion of this project is truly something to celebrate. We are thankful for this opportunity to build a new community in the heart of our city, and we are thankful that we will be able to office there in the building alongside many of our community partners and the residents of the building.

I really could go on and on for a long time because non-profit work and community development work brings so many situations and people our way – we are never short on things to be thankful for.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Central Dallas CDC Staff

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Hoist Comes Down

Today, after more than a year of operation, the hoist on the outside of CityWalk finally came down. Once again, we had an enormous crane on site, as you can see from the pictures.

This is a big sign of progress. It means the elevators are running and we no longer need to ride up the hoist on the outside of the building to get to the upper stories, a ride I’ve made dozens of times. I’m not scared of heights, so it’s never bothered me, but some of the people visiting the building were frightened half to death. One big donor even decided they didn’t want to tour CityWalk until they could ride up on the inside of the building.

Taking the hoist down is necessary so we can close up CityWalk. Until today we’ve been entering and exiting the building through an opening that will shortly be windows. Now we’ll install the windows so the building can be made weather tight.

Still, I’ll miss riding up the outside of the building with Brian Jordan, the Key employee who’s been running the hoist since August 2008. You get a great view of the city—it was the best amusement ride this side of Six Flags.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Design Team Selected for Re:Vision Dallas

One perk of having our own blog is that we can release any news we make here first. So here’s the early version of our press release on the latest progress on the Re:Vision Dallas project (it may change before it’s released on Monday, November 23, 2009—which is also my 26th Anniversary—Happy Anniversary, Rebecca!). Still, if you are reading this early in the morning, then you will be one of the first to get the news, because we’ve got this scoop!

November 23, 2009

For Immediate Release
Central Dallas Community Development Corporation
Re:Vision Dallas

Central Dallas Community Development Corporation (Central Dallas CDC) announced today that it has selected the architectural firms MOOV and Atelier Data as the design architects for the Re:Vision Dallas project, which will turn a parking lot immediately south of Dallas City Hall into the first truly sustainable city block in the world. MOOV and Atelier Data, both located in Lisbon, Portugal, jointly submitted the Forwarding Dallas proposal that was named one of the three winners of the Re:Vision Dallas international design competition last May.

The initial planning for the competition took place between September and December 2008. The design charrette that was sponsored by The City of Dallas and funded by Enterprise, was held December 5, 2008. The design competition opened January 26, 2009 and closed May 6, 2009.

In May, representatives from Central Dallas CDC and bcWORKSHOP met with a jury of panelists who selected 3 winners and awarded 3 honorable mentions. During the months since, we have worked with a cadre of pro-bono executives provided by The Real Estate Council Foundation who have done extensive work on the proposed designs, including site analysis, creation of trial pro formas, engineering and architectural reviews, and estimates of construction costs for all three of the winning designs. During the first two weeks of November, we hosted each of the 3 winning firms here in Dallas for additional discussion.

John Greenan, Executive Director for Central Dallas CDC said, “All three of the design teams impressed us, both with the quality of their designs and in the interviews. Dallas would be a richer city to have the work of any of these architects represented, but as we went further into our review, we began to see the deep logic of the MOOV-Atelier Data design, Forwarding Dallas. Forwarding Dallas seemed to us to do the best job of incorporating concepts of sustainability into the foundation of the design. When we met Antonio Louro and Filipe Vogt, the principals of MOOV and Atelier Data, their passion for quality design and sustainable principles was unmistakable. Any concerns we had about working with architects based in Lisbon, Portugal were satisfied by Antonio’s and Filipe’s clear desire to work in a collaborative manner in bringing the project to completion. In the end, the choice was difficult only because of the quality of the winners of the Re:Vision Dallas competition.”

When asked about the overall impact of the project, John Greenan, Executive Director for Central Dallas CDC said, “The greatest economic impact will come from rebuilding a long neglected part of downtown. There are probably an additional half dozen underutilized blocks in the area of the project, and once we prove up the viability of rebuilding the south central part of Downtown Dallas, I think all those blocks will also be revitalized. What I would love to see is an entire section of downtown notable for innovative, sustainable design--an attraction in the southern part of downtown balancing the Arts District in the northern part of downtown. There are already some interesting, green projects in The Cedars immediately to the south of downtown. A sustainable district that extends from downtown all the way into The Cedars neighborhood is a very reasonable possibility.”

The Re:Vision Dallas neighborhood is remarkable, primarily for the absence of nongovernmental entities in the immediate neighborhood. The property immediately north and west of the proposed site (1502 Canton) belongs to the City of Dallas (City Hall and the Convention Center, respectively).

Central Dallas CDC has also directly contacted most of the owners of the few occupied properties within 1,000 feet of the redevelopment site, and two of the major land owners, Dan Millett (Millett Printing) and Larry and Ted Hamilton (owners of the Plaza Hotel) are enthusiastic supporters. Leaders and members of the DOWNTOWNDallas organization also attended the charette for the project and are supporters. Central Dallas CDC has also discussed this project with the Downtown Dallas Residents Association, and we believe that the Downtown Dallas Residents Association will support the project. Finally, most of the surrounding area is vacant, and discussions with owners and brokers suggest that the potential increase in land values will attract the support of the owners of those properties.

Sunday, November 22, 2009


Once you reach a certain position, and it doesn’t have to be very high, suddenly you are in enormous demand to go to meetings. As far as I can tell, the goal is to take anybody who achieves something worthwhile and immediately fill every minute of his or her day with meetings so that that person can no longer do anything useful.

Larry James, CEO/President of Central Dallas Ministries, is one of the worst afflicted people I know—his days are entirely filled with meetings. Now part of that is his fault. He is generous to a fault and will meet with just about anybody about just about anything, and he is so warm and generous that everyone wants to meet with him.

My wife, who is also warm and generous, has the same problem. Both Larry and my wife try to compensate for the time they lose in meetings by working longer and longer hours, but it’s a losing game. Meetings are infinite in number while there are only 24 hours in a day (except for the change from daylight savings to standard time when you get an extra hour).

Until recently I’ve managed to avoid the worst of the plague of meetings. I’m the highest executive officer of Central Dallas CDC, so I don’t really have a boss who can call meetings, and I don’t call any for my staff. After all, we all work in one big room and listen to everything anybody else says. Why would we need to meet and what would we need to talk about?

I’ve developed other protective practices. One is a highly cultivated reputation for disliking meetings. It discourages the timid. I avoid joining trade and professional organizations—most of them are too inclined to hold meetings. I keep a handwritten calendar. There’s no way to schedule me for a meeting without my knowledge.

But in spite of all these efforts (and some other, secret methods that I can’t reveal even to the readers of this blog), I’m losing the battle. I’m currently averaging almost five meetings per day. At an hour each, and if you allow half an hour between meetings for travel, that means I’m spending almost seven out of eight hours of each day doing meetings. By the time you’ve checked your email and voicemail, eight hours have passed and you haven’t got to your real work. Earlier this week someone suggested that I should hire an assistant, because it was getting too hard to schedule meetings with me—I had to resist telling them that was all to the good!

One of my heroes is Lieutenant General William Pagonis.

He was the director of logistics for the Gulf War, and was known for his efficiency. He was famous for removing all the chairs in the room, except his, before holding meetings. With everyone else standing up, the meetings were short and to the point. No time was wasted. Now that’s a real War Hero!

The problem with meetings isn’t that they’re useless. In fact they are necessary much of the time. The problem is that they crowd out all other work. You schedule meetings. You prepare for meetings. You travel to meetings. You attend meetings, and then you write minutes so you can remember what was said in the meeting. And the day is done and all you have done is meetings.

There is no time to think, study, write or research-let alone address any of the action items your meetings have undoubtedly produced. There is only time to talk. I think that’s why so many organizations and so many people do one piece of significant work and nothing else important—their life has been sucked away in meetings.

If we could just reduce the number of meetings then I’m convinced we could fix the economy, find a cure for cancer, eliminate poverty and finally invent the flying cars I’ve been waiting for all my life (ever since I saw them in an old issue of Popular Mechanics). Right now, at this very instant, I’m sure some brilliant doctor is NOT inventing a cure for the swine flu because, instead, he is in a staff meeting.

I am convinced that when the sun is a burnt-out black cylinder and the human race has long vanished that only two things will survive: Meetings and cockroaches. It’s a chilling vision.