Saturday, October 31, 2009

Rain Poems

All fall it has seemed to rain here in Dallas. Usually October is the most glorious month of the year. The days are pleasant; the nights begin to be crisp; the trees turn golden; and it’s impossible to stay indoors. This fall in contrast has been muddy and wet and unpleasant. A better time to stay inside and think about the rain than confront it—especially if you’re in the final stages of a big construction project and need some sunny weather to finish the outside work.

So I thought I’d comfort myself, and those of you sharing the weather here in Seattle South (although actually the weather in Seattle when I was there in September was better than what we’ve had) with a few rain poems this weekend. I hope the weather turns bright and sunny so the rainy days are just a memory, but if not, here are a few poems to read.

First is a poem by the brilliant (but gloomy) English novelist Thomas Hardy. Hardy lived and wrote in the latter half of the nineteenth century and in the early part of the Twentieth Century. In his last years he turned to poetry, which is generally underappreciated.

The following poem turns the observation of English country life into a mediation on life’s meaning and ending, and reminds me of the fact that the rain falls on the just and unjust alike.

An Autumn Rain-Scene
by Thomas Hardy

There trudges one to a merry-making
With sturdy swing,
On whom the rain comes down.

To fetch the saving medicament
Is another bent,
On whom the rain comes down.

One slowly drives his herd to the stall
Ere ill befall,
On whom the rain comes down.

This bears his missives of life and death
With quickening breath,
On whom the rain comes down.

One watches for signals of wreck or war
From the hill afar,
On whom the rain comes down.

No care if he gain a shelter or none,
Unhired moves on,
On whom the rain comes down.

And another knows nought of its chilling fall
Upon him at all,
On whom the rain comes down.

Robert Louis Stevenson was born a decade after Thomas Hardy in 1850, but died at half of Hardy’s age—forty-four as opposed to eighty-eight. A novelist like Hardy best known for Treasure Island and Kidnapped, we usually think of him now as an author for children or young adults. That’s probably a disservice to his memory.

Stevenson’s poetry seems to come from an earlier century and is rarely read seriously now. The following poem ends much like Hardy’s, but at least in Stevenson’s work there is sun and joy after the rain and before death.

When The Sun Come After Rain
by Robert Louis Stevenson

WHEN the sun comes after rain
And the bird is in the blue,
The girls go down the lane
Two by two.

When the sun comes after shadow
And the singing of the showers,
The girls go up the meadow,
Fair as flowers.

When the eve comes dusky red
And the moon succeeds the sun,
The girls go home to bed
One by one.

And when life draws to its even
And the day of man is past,
They shall all go home to heaven,
Home at last.

That’s enough melancholy English poetry for one day. Tomorrow we’ll look at a couple of American poems on rain.

Friday, October 30, 2009

A Big Thank You

Nothing is much better than showing up to the office and having nice people come by and bring us money! Marquette Financial Services has been an annual grant maker to Central Dallas CDC since 2007.

Fundraising can be difficult, but it comes with such great rewards. It is wonderful to meet people from companies and organizations within our community who understand our work and have a heart for improving our neighborhoods and strengthening our social bonds with one another.

Thanks to all of you who share your time, your energy, and your money with us!

Pictured from left to right: Paula Caldwell, Marquette Financial; Laura McIntosh, Marquette Financial; Lori Beth Lemmon, Central Dallas CDC

Thursday, October 29, 2009

What Was I Thinking?

I was walking the units at CityWalk yesterday, and I went into a studio unit on the west side of the building that I hadn’t been in for a couple of weeks. During the time since I had last been in the unit, a lot of work had been completed, including putting the covers on all the electrical outlets.

I started counting the number of outlets, and then taking pictures of the outlets—perhaps the least inspiring example of photojournalism of all time.

There were four outlets above the kitchen counter; five more in the walls of the living room; only one, thankfully, in the bathroom; and then six more in the bedroom area. In all, there were 16 electrical outlets in a 400 sq. ft. studio apartment.

That seemed excessive to me, so I checked a couple of other apartments and they all had a more reasonable number of electrical outlets—or at least what seemed to me more reasonable, maybe a dozen in a unit.

I am sure that I approved everything in the design of the unit, including the number of electrical outlets. When Rob Colburn at WKMC Architects and I were working through the final unit designs we vetted every detail until we were satisfied that we’d done everything we could do to make the unit the best it could be. Perhaps, on paper the number of outlets didn’t look so great. Maybe I suggested to Rob that we needed an outlet here for a television, there for a lamp and a clock radio—and then two more on the opposite side in case the resident decided to put their bed facing the opposite direction.

I don’t remember anymore why we decided to put the number of electrical outlets in the unit that we did. I am sure we had a good unit—or at least a reason that seemed good to us at the time.

At least, for once, the resident should never find himself or herself short on electrical outlets, and should never need an extension cord. I just wish I could remember what I was thinking when I made that decision.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

An Elegant Solution

Sometimes new ways of thinking lead to a better solution to a problem. One new elegant solution helped lead to another for us yesterday. My good friend Jeremy Gregg is executive director of a new nonprofit, Executives in Action (

Executives in Action was organized to turn unemployed executives into an asset for the community. Here’s some of the material from its Web site:


Executives in Action (EIA) engages transitioning senior executives in short-term, high-yield consulting projects with nonprofit organizations, advancing EIA executives as they seek long-term employment in the business sector.


EIA transforms unemployment from a time of uncertainty to a period of great opportunity for personal and community renewal.


EIA works exclusively with highly skilled and seasoned business professionals who are transitioning between full-time jobs – with a focus on C-level executives with 15+ years of management experience.

Nonprofit Partners

EIA appoints executives to high-caliber nonprofit organizations that have been thoroughly vetted by EIA staff. These nonprofits have a demonstrated capacity to provide executives with high-yield service projects and the support that they need to deliver meaningful results.

The idea is elegant. It turns a problem into an asset.

We currently have an architect, Frank Richardson, working with us through the program and he’s proved invaluable in helping us complete the CityWalk development. Yesterday Frank found an elegant solution to a problem that had been perplexing us for weeks—how to organize the mailboxes. It is one of those problems that should be simple, but isn’t.

The post office requires that mailboxes be in sequential order—no skipping numbers and no out of order numbers. Another rule under the Americans with Disabilities Act requires that mailboxes for handicapped units (now called UFAS—Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards) be reachable from a wheelchair.

The way our units are laid out with 13 units on the fourth floor, 16 units on the fifth floor and 19 units on floors six through 14, with one UFAS unit per floor, seemed to make this impossible. No matter how we rearranged the mailboxes we either had the mailbox for one of the UFAS units out of reach of a wheelchair or we had to disturb the numerical order. We aren’t allowed to do either of these two things.

There was another less crucial problem as well. Different styles of units ended up with different numbers on the fourth and fifth floor than they had elsewhere in the building. For example, on every floor from six to 14, units ending in “19” are large two bedroom units (619, 719, 819, etc.). But on the fourth and fifth floors those units were number 413 and 516, respectively. That’s confusing.

Frank solved all these problems by making a leap of imagination and realizing that we could have mailboxes without units. If we just go ahead and assign 19 mailboxes to every floor, ignoring the fact that the fourth and fifth floor don’t have that many units, then everything works.

The mailboxes all line up with the UFAS units within reach and with everything in numerical order. The ADA is satisfied and the post office is happy. We just have nine extra mailboxes that don’t get any mail, and we may even be able to assign those mailboxes to our management company or someone else in the building that needs another mailbox. The post office only cares that the mailboxes are in order, not whether anybody ever gets any mail.

None of us could see that we could have mailboxes without corresponding units, no matter how long we worked on the problem. Frank saw an elegant solution—which is only fitting for an Executive in Action.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Affordable Housing and Corruption at City Hall, Part II

If you’re trying to make money, then, as I pointed out yesterday, you need cheap land and you need volume. Most of the time, land is going to be cheaper in the poorer parts of Dallas. There is also less opposition to affordable housing in low income areas (remember here that I’m talking affordable housing, not permanent supportive housing for homeless people). That’s because it is often as nice or nicer than anything else in the immediate neighborhood. So in order to make money as an affordable housing developer, you are going to work in the poorer areas of the city, and they are overwhelmingly minority.

But you also need volume. “One offs” like CityWalk are expensive. You’re doing everything for the first time.

It’s much easier and faster to do the same thing over and over again—as Henry Ford taught us all. So a successful for-profit affordable housing developer builds as close to the same thing every time as is possible.

A successful for-profit tax credit developer also builds the projects themselves (like Brian and Cheryl Potashnik, pictured in the window of one of their projects, did). The reason for building the project yourself is pretty straightforward. You can get eleven percent of the cost of the project (6% for overhead and a 5% profit) for doing so. This is important because the profit on a tax credit deal is otherwise very marginal. There is the potential for a large profit way down the road, usually 30 or 40 years, when the rent limitations expire, but until then the margins are razor thin.

Building the projects yourself, in the same way every time, also mean that you get good at it. The same architects draw almost the same plans, which are then executed by your construction company using the same subcontractors and the same materials. This is the way subdivision builders make money; the way any mass real estate developer can keep prices down and still make money. It’s efficient.

There is a special problem with applying this method to tax credit projects. Even market-rate mass developers have a problem dealing with the vagaries of the market. In order to keep your construction team together, you have to keep it working. That means a constant stream of new projects. For a for-profit tax credit builder, that means winning awards of tax credits every year.

Tax credits are awarded on a competitive basis and a good for-profit builder should be able to win tax credit awards on a regular basis, if the builder has the support of the local community and political leaders. But that’s a big “if”. The consequences of failure are immense.

A for-profit tax credit developer may be going along building three projects per year for a long time, but then if an important political figure turns against the builder, that builder could be out of business in a single year. Without something to build, you have to let your construction people go. Once you let your team disperse, then you have lost your competitive advantage—that means no future awards and you are out of business.

Getting an award every year means making the political leaders happy, and when the choice is making the politicians happy or going out of business, the pressure to cross legal and ethical lines to do so is immense.

So, in short, the whole system is structured to encourage volume building in low income neighborhoods, which are often led by political leaders with limited means but the ability to put a developer out of business just by withholding their support. That’s a situation perfectly structured to encourage improper activity.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Affordable Housing and Corruption at City Hall, Part I

Dallas attorney and former city councilperson Don Hill was convicted last week on seven criminal counts related to the approval of affordable housing projects in the City of Dallas.
The whole episode has been a sordid one for the City of Dallas and, particularly, for the affordable housing industry. For two years after the investigation started, almost no significant affordable housing projects went forward, and it was only this year that the industry got back to normal. Brian Potashnik, who was probably the preeminent developer of affordable housing in Dallas pled guilty to bribing Don Hill, and is also likely to face a prison term.

The entire episode probably says a lot of unfortunate things about the City of Dallas, but I’m not going to generalize beyond the affordable housing industry, because that’s what I know. (If you want to understand something about the larger problem in the City of Dallas, then I’d suggest looking at Jim Schutze’s writings in the Dallas Observer over the past two weeks).

The big pot of money in affordable housing deals is 9% tax credits. The 9% tax credits are designed to pay about 75% of the cost of an affordable housing project. In return, the housing developer agrees to limits on the rents that can be charged on the units for a time period somewhere between 15 and 40 years. The amount of credits you get is determined mostly by your construction costs—you don’t get anything extra for land expenses.

As a practical matter (and I’ve blogged about this before), you can’t get the tax credits without the support of the community, both the neighborhood association (if there is one) and the elected political figures. There are also lots of hoops and a few tricks that you need to follow in designing the project, but after a while you learn how to comply with all the requirements.

If you want to make money building affordable housing (and thankfully I work at a nonprofit where that isn’t our main interest), then you need to find cheap land and you need to do lots of volume. By spending as little on land as possible, forming your own construction company and building virtually the same design many times, then you can maximize your efficiency and your profit.

Unfortunately, while that’s the most efficient way to build affordable housing, it’s also a recipe for corruption.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Permanent Power

The biggest hold up at CityWalk right now is getting the permanent power turned on. God willing, the power will finally get turned on Tuesday, but it’s been a difficult process.

We need the power on not just because every building needs electrical power, but also because some of the work in the building can’t be completed without power. Without electrical power, the elevators can’t run. No elevators means the hoist on the outside of the building has to stay in place, and that means we can’t close up the 14 doors where everyone enters and exits the hoist through the skin of the building.

No power means no air conditioning. Some of the work we need to do can’t happen until CityWalk is air conditioned. For example, ceiling tiles will warp if exposed to wide temperature swings. In short, the electrical power needs to be on—right away—if we’re going to keep the construction schedule.

For some reason the electrical power has been a problem right from the start of the project. Originally the specs called for using 480 volt power at CityWalk. Our electrical engineer checked with the power provider to make sure 480 volt power was available, and it was.

Unfortunately, apparently the electrical provider didn’t tell the engineer that there would be a $750,000 extra charge for 480 volt power, and the engineer didn’t ask. So less than a month after we started, we were looking at an extra charge that would use up the entire contingency for the construction on the project.

Our lenders were not going to be happy—0% completion and we’d used 100% of the contingency. Rather than try to explain that eventuality, we worked to redesign the system to run on 240 volt power, which was available without an extra charge, and after several months of work finally succeeded in finding a system that only cost us about half as much extra—and I did what the owner has to do, go find some more money.

The electrical system for a high rise building isn’t something you can buy off the rack. It’s all custom built. So even though we ordered the equipment last winter, it wasn’t due until this summer, and then the last of it didn’t arrive until the beginning of September. It was late.

Then the equipment took longer to assemble than planned, but finally last Saturday was set as the day to turn the power on. After a week of rain, however, we had another problem. We had a leak.

Now, I’m not a technical guy, but even I understand that water and electricity are not a good mix. So we had another delay while the leak got fixed. The only way to find out whether the leak was well and truly fixed was to test it with water. Last Tuesday when I went up to the building, someone was standing in front of 511 N. Akard watering the concrete. I’m sure passersby were baffled, but I knew he was testing for the leak.

The leak seemed to be gone, and after a pretty heavy rain on Wednesday, we were still good. Everyone was relieved. We had to be almost only the only people in Dallas happy to see yet more rain in one of the wettest falls in history, but without the rain there was no way to be sure about the leak.

If only there are no more problems, then finally, on Tuesday, October 27, permanent power will be restored to 511 N. Akard.

Then we can start using the elevators and air conditioning, and finish some of the work that’s been delayed while we wait for electrical power.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

CityWalk’s Furniture

Doug McAlister was kind enough to put together an image of the furniture that we will be putting in the rooms at CityWalk. Here it is:

It’s simple, but functional. We wanted the furniture to reflect the Mid-Century Modern feel of the building, so we went with a fairly light wood, a hammered aluminum table, brightly colored dining chairs and, although you can’t see it in this image, a very mod-looking green and brown combination for the armchair.

The image also includes the placement of the furniture in the unit. We’re having all the furniture installed, and Doug wants to make sure that it’s all where it ought to be. It’s attention to detail like that that makes working with Doug a pleasure.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Tours and More Tours

As we get closer to completion at CityWalk, the tours are also getting closer together. On Tuesday, Stephen Bradley brought a couple of old friends of his from Little Rock around to see the project. Darryl Swinton is the Director of Housing and Charles Vann is a Housing Counselor for Black Community Developers, Inc. (BCD, Inc.) located in Little Rock. The BCD, Inc. is a full-service outreach of the United Methodist Church. You can read about the organization here:

Since 1967 BCD, Inc. has been working to turn around the 12th Street area in Little Rock and bit by bit BCD, Inc. is making progress. Touring CityWalk gave us a chance to compare notes on permanent supportive housing developments and trade ideas on economic development. Sometime I hope to be able to make a return visit to their projects in Little Rock.

Then on Wednesday, a couple members of our Board of Directors were able to look at our progress after our monthly board meeting.

That’s David Dunnigan, one of our board members on the left, and then left to right, Chuck Thompson who manages several of our properties, Ailene Medlock who is also on our board, Randy Allen, the superintendent, and Johnice Woods, our property development coordinator in the Pink Helmet (another story in itself!).

Next week we’ll have even more tours. We just need to try to stay out of the way of the workers.

Thursday, October 22, 2009


Today I’m thinking about garbage. I mean that literally. I just found out that our waste compactor for CityWalk won’t be delivered for four weeks.

We hope to have people in the building in two weeks. So we have to have a solution to handle the garbage for those two weeks—in the end, as head of the organization, that means that I have to have a temporary solution for garbage disposal for two weeks.

The waste carts will be available, but they aren’t the relatively friendly little guys that all of us in Dallas use for our trash and recycling and is pictured here.

These are big, industrial units that weigh 92 lbs. and can carry a load of more than 500 lbs. It’s not like we can pick them up and pour the trash into a dumpster—even two strong people would have a hard time lifting them if they were just a quarter full.

Fortunately, I guess, the number of people in the building will be fairly limited for those two weeks. Fewer people means less trash.

I’m sure we will work out a temporary solution. We will probably use some smaller carts, more like the residential unit pictured above. Then we can place a dumpster down below the raised platform that will hold the waste compactor and dump the small carts into the dumpster.

Someone on staff will have to be vigilant about making sure the carts don’t overflow and dump them when needed. Maybe someone will come up with a better solution, but that’s what we’ve got right now.

On the whole, not at all an unsolvable problem, but it’s one more of dozens of details that we need to work out in order to be ready for our residents at CityWalk.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A Visit to the Wyly

This past weekend I was one of a large number of people in the city who went to see the new AT&T Performing Arts Center, and one of the things I was able to do was wrangle a personal tour of the Wyly Theatre. One advantage of doing the work that we do here at Central Dallas CDC is that we get to know a lot of architects, contractors and engineers, and I knew someone (slightly, but just well enough) that had worked on the Wyly.

It’s an extremely interesting building. It would probably be more accurate to say that it’s a machine. I can’t embed videos here, but if you follow the link to Unfair Park, you can see how the theatre changes shapes: The machinery is enormous—and very cool looking.

The structural engineering of the building is a real triumph. The entire building is supported by two X trusses, on V truss and a solid back wall. The result is a building without interior columns and with very little structure blocking the view from the interior to the exterior.

Although the building is ten-stories high, only two of the floors fill the full floor plate. Every other floor is interrupted by a two-story space or a window into the space below.

In short, the Wyly is a machine for making theatre, not really a building. In fact, one of the architects told me that so much money was spent on the interior equipment, that only limited funds were available for the shell of the building.

I have to say that given the nature of the building, I really like the extruded aluminum piping that covers the exterior. It’s brawny and modern in the real sense of the word—industrial and without excess decoration. A machine for making theatre should look like a machine.

That said, I’m not competent to judge the quality of the space as a theatre, but it surely offers the director sufficient options to best stage a play. If we get theatrical performances that equal the machine Dallas has built to stage them, then we can look forward to some outstanding theatre.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Comfy Chair

What else could you want when you finally have your own place with a kitchen, bathroom, a door that you can lock and furniture? The answer, of course, is a comfy chair.

Our original furniture package for the studio units at CityWalk included a dining table with two chairs, a bed, a wardrobe, and a nightstand, but no armchair. We’d tried to find one within our budget, but failed for a long time. Part of the problem was that even small differences in price add up quickly when you are buying 142 of something (even a $20 difference is almost $3,000).

The rest of the problem is that we’re fussy. We wanted a chair that was comfortable for a broad range of people, so whenever we got a new chair in to try, all of us had to give it a sit. Some were fine for a tall, thin person; some were fine for a shorter, heavier person, but none were comfortable for all of us. If it wasn’t comfortable for us, then we figured the chairs wouldn’t be comfortable for some of the people living at CityWalk and they got sent to the reject pile.

Finally, our good friend Doug McAlister (the “furniture guy”) figured a way to get the chair we wanted at a price we could afford—have it made. The chair in the picture is a discontinued model, but one advantage of buying 142 of something is that you can have it made to order. We’ve had the chair around the office for a few days now and it’s the first chair in our price range that has passed the rigorous “sit” test by all of us.

Yesterday Doug picked the chair up and he’s sending it off to the factory to serve as the model for the 142 chairs we’re having built. The fabric is being updated to something that will wear better and look a little sharper (IMHO), but other than that the chair will be identical to the model.

Thanks to the generous support we’ve been given by the Mike and Mary Terry Family Foundation we were able to furnish these units, and thanks to Doug’s hard work we finally think we’ve found a chair that will make the Mike and Mary Terry Family Foundation proud.

BTW: I can’t talk about Comfy Chairs without including a link to the Monty Python sketch:

Monday, October 19, 2009

Pragmatism, Part I

America has invented only one new philosophy: Pragmatism. In the latter part of the Nineteenth Century and the early part of the last century, Charles Sanders Peirce, William James and John Dewey articulated a new and particularly American philosophy known as Pragmatism. William James described Pragmatism as holding that:

“Ideas become true just so far as they help us to get into satisfactory relations with other parts of our experience.”

The philosophy of pragmatism is much more subtle than the idea that what works is true—probably a closer approximation would be to say that truth has to be verified by empirical experience (maybe something like Ronald Reagan’s statement that we should “Trust, but verify.”).

I plan to discuss pragmatism at more length (as soon as I understand it!), but right now I’m more interested in the traditional American approach to the world, which I’m afraid we are losing.

One of the hallmarks of American thought has always been our willingness to question authority. It has seemed that, unlike European thinkers, Americans start fresh, without preconceptions, and that start has made America the preeminent scientific nation in the world. Look at the recent award of Nobel Prizes for science.

Medicine went to three Americans: Elizabeth H. Blackburn, Carol W. Greider and Jack W. Szostak. Physics went to three Americans: Charles K. Kao, Willard S. Boyle and George E. Smith. The award for chemistry went to Americans Venkatraman Ramakrishnan and Thomas Steitz and Israel's Ada Yonath. Finally, the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences went to Americans Elinor Ostrom and Oliver Williamson.

That’s 10 out of 11 (or eight out of nine if you don’t want to count economics as a science—I have my personal doubts). Pragmatism as a philosophy originally appealed to Americans because it was more “scientific” than most philosophies. I think, at our best, American thought is distinctive because we are willing to take reality on its own terms. If we lose this ability then I think we have lost more than we imagine. I don’t want to think that in a decade Americans will win one out of 11, rather than 10 out of 11, Nobel Prizes for science, but I fear we are on that path.

“According to legend, when John Maynard Keynes was challenged about a change in his views on something economic, he responded along the lines that when the facts warranted a change in view, he changed his view. He then queried the rival: "What do you do?"

On occasion I have been asked about one idea or another that we want to try and whether it will work. Sometimes, depending on the circumstances and my mood, I give a long, convoluted answer that explains why we think the idea should be successful—but in truth amounts to “Maybe." But sometimes I simply say that I don’t know, the idea hasn’t been tested yet, but at a minimum the effort will show us one more way that doesn’t work.

“Thomas Alva Edison, a prolific inventor, and his team (yes, he did not work alone!) experimented with thousands of different filaments to find just the right materials to glow well and be long-lasting.”

When we try to deal with difficult problems in society—and I’m concerned mostly with ideas related to poverty and homelessness, because that’s my life’s work—everyone seems to want to prejudge the results of an idea before it has received a trial. The truth is that it may take many, many different efforts to find the best way to solve a problem. Edison persisted through thousands of unsuccessful tries before perfecting a practical electric light bulb. We don’t try ideas that we think will fail, but anybody that promises you that a new idea is sure to work is somebody you shouldn’t trust.

Success in developing new approaches to solving problems is going to require at least two theoretical efforts. First, we must be willing to try a variety of new approaches. Second, we must be ruthless in our analysis of whether any particular effort is successful.

We must not try to pass a failure off as a success. Instead, like a scientist, we must be willing to understand that a failure adds almost as much to our knowledge as a success. Now we know one more way that doesn’t work—one more filament that doesn’t burn as long as we would like. When we’ve eliminated enough unsuccessful approaches, then we will eventually find the right way of doing things. We need to put aside our fear of failure and instead be afraid of repeating failed ideas.

Thirty-five years ago I graduated from college with a minor in philosophy without ever reading a word from the American philosophers of pragmatism, and this year my daughter will do the same. I think this is a major loss of our heritage, and I intend to make it good over the next several months. If you want to join me on this effort, here’s an easy starting place to look into pragmatism:

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Centre for Social Innovation

From our friends north of the border (thus “centre” rather than “center”) comes a really neat idea: Put a bunch of creative people from different fields together and let some new ideas flow. Here’s the Web site:

This is an idea I believe in because it’s what we’ve been doing for the last three years—three or four organizations and one big room and we’ve generated more good ideas out of our collaboration than you can imagine.

We haven’t got it put together yet, but I’m talking with Dallas Social Venture Partners and Executives in Action, which are both nonprofits also interested in the idea.

I think it would be great at CityWalk@Akard. I like the idea of walking downstairs and being able to have a cup of coffee and share ideas with a group of energetic, creative people—I’d miss it otherwise.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

An Empty Jar of Olive Oil, The Rest of the Story

So this morning, after reading my blog, I got the following email from my wife Rebecca:

You said…

“I didn’t know, anymore than I knew whether the stock market was going up or down or whether I really needed that medicine I saw advertised on the television. So I thought back about what I did when my retirement savings were disappearing—I quit opening the statements—and taking inspiration from that course of action, did the only thing I could think of—left the jar in the sink in the hope that my wife would deal with it.”

I thought…

How good of John to soak the jar to get the oil out!

and did the following…

I emptied the soapy water from the jar and re-filled and emptied it about three more times in order to get the soap suds out of the jar before taking it to the re-cycling bin. I have to admit that I wondered whether or not I was wasting a lot of water, in my attempt to get rid of the soap suds.

Turns out she wasn’t sure what was right either, but she acted and took care of the problem rather than hiding from it.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Judy’s Last Day

Today is the last working day for Judy Lawrence at Central Dallas CDC. She is leaving Dallas to move to Mexico with her new husband, David. Judy joined us two years ago after she moved from Milwaukee to Dallas for family reasons. She’d worked there for a large national real estate company—in fact Judy has more experience in real estate than the whole rest of us put together.

I think the way we work shocked her at first. We’re about as far from corporate organization as you can get. Everybody is in one big room and we holler back and forth among ourselves all the time, and everybody doesn’t just include the few employees at Central Dallas CDC. We share space with Brown Architects and the buildingcommunityWORKSHOP, and have a slew of other volunteers and miscellaneous people—all in our 1200 sq. ft. and we all yell back and forth at one another.

The dog from upstairs wonders down sometimes; our office is across the street from a tattoo parlor.

Once Judy acclimated to us, she showed an amazing combination of skills. She is kind and patient to the many desperate people that call us seeking housing. I’m sure many of you could be kind and patient with one call or a few calls, but Judy remains just as good to people on a day when she gets 20 or more calls and during a week when she gets more than 100. She manages our apartment complexes—much better than we ever did before—and works with our property management companies. Judy has taken the lead in organizing all the owner’s responsibilities for opening CityWalk@Akard (our new 15-story affordable housing project), and that means everything from interviewing tenants to ordering the flags that will fly from the top of the building.

Every time there was something we didn’t know how to do, or didn’t do well, Judy had all the skills we needed to complete the job.

Nobody in the eight years Central Dallas CDC has been in existence has ever left us before. Once we hire someone they stay with us. It’s like a family. You can’t really quit it.

So I’m just going to treat her absence as an extended honeymoon with her new husband. That way I can believe that her absence is only temporary and one day soon, when they’ve had their fill of Mexico, she’ll be back to work with us.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

October is National Sausage Month!

Most of the time I’m happy in my adopted State of Texas, but National Sausage Month is one of those times that I miss the Midwest where I grew up. I know there are some good butchers down in the Hill Country, but not many of them seem to have made it as far north as Dallas.

In the Midwest every town, no matter how small, has a butcher shop and sometimes more than one. There was a fierce rivalry between Pleva’s and Mikowski’s butcher shops, and their partisans, in Cedar, Michigan, near where I grew up. Even nearer my home in Empire, Michigan, old Mark Deering, who was still butchering when he was past ninety, was renowned for being able to shave a pound of hamburger off of a bare bone.

The best butcher shop that I’ve ever seen, however, is Kramarczuk’s in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Kramarczuk’s makes garlic sausages so sweet and flavorful that you could eat them for dessert. Just thinking of them makes my mouth water.

In all you can buy (by my last count) forty-three varieties of sausages at Kramarczuk’s. The picture is only a small sampling.

National Sausage Month really calls for a road trip. Just turn right (north) on Interstate 35 and you could be at Kramarczuk’s in less than fifteen hours! But if you can’t get away just now, they also sell over the telephone. You can find the number on their website:

Sorry, but they don’t ship to Alaska or Hawaii.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

An Empty Jar of Olive Oil

Life is so much more complicated than it used to be. Not that long ago you didn’t need to worry about your retirement. The company you worked for provided a pension. The union fought to make it as large as possible and the ideas for 401(k)s, 403(b)s, IRAs, Roth IRAs, and all the myriad of current retirement vehicles hadn’t yet been invented, let alone become everyday worries for millions of Americans. I don’t know about you, but over the past year I first watched my retirement savings shrink until working until I died looked like the only viable option, then I watched them recover so that, just maybe, I will be able to retire some day—in the far off future.
All of that happened and I didn’t have a clue what to do about it. I know we all are supposed to be responsible for our own retirement now, and I am actually pretty literate about financial instruments. I have a law degree and practiced in the financial industry for more than a decade. Now I put real estate projects together and understand how to leverage subsidies, use tax credits and, unlike almost anyone else I know, actually understand what derivates are. I contribute regularly to my retirement account.

I even do my own taxes.

But I don’t know whether the stock market is going up or down. I don’t know whether foreign markets are likely to go further down or not so far down as markets in the United States. I don’t know whether now is the right time to buy stocks or buy bonds or keep my savings in cash.

Look, if Warren Buffett lost $25 billion last year (of course he still has $37 billion left), how in the world am I supposed to manage my modest investments?

It’s not just my retirement that I’m supposed to manage now, though. We are all supposed to become educated consumers of health care. No longer is it enough to trust your family doctor, you are supposed to be ready with pointed questions. Only by doing so can we reestablish a proper market for health care and control the spiraling costs of health care.

I preferred trusting Marcus Welby, M.D.

I’ve been licensed to practice law for twenty-five years and there are still many parts of the law that I don’t understand. I can practically guarantee that anything said about the law by a non lawyer will be wrong—but that doesn’t stop people from constantly offering me their opinion.

I don’t know why I would trust something as important as my health to a fool like me who doesn’t know anything about medicine that you can’t learn from watching television. If real doctors, who have been to medical school and all, don’t know what they are doing, then there isn’t a chance in the world that I’m going to be any help.

But as if it isn’t bad enough that I’m now supposed to be an actuarial and medical expert, I was completely flummoxed this morning by one more thing I am now required to understand—recycling.
There in my pantry was an empty jar that had contained olive oil. It wasn’t a surprise to me because, after all, I’d used the last of the olive oil in making dinner yesterday. The jar was recyclable, but I also know that I’m only supposed to put clean jars in the recycling.

Last year I would just have thrown the jar away. It isn’t easy to clean an oily jar. I filled it with hot water and rinsed it. It was still oily. I tried hot water and soap, but it was still a little oily. I don’t know if it was too oily to put in the recycling or not, but I was now faced with another question: Was the harm to the environment I was causing by running so much water outweighing the good I was doing by recycling the jar?

I didn’t know, anymore than I knew whether the stock market was going up or down or whether I really needed that medicine I saw advertised on the television. So I thought back about what I did when my retirement savings were disappearing—I quit opening the statements—and taking inspiration from that course of action, did the only thing I could think of—left the jar in the sink in the hope that my wife would deal with it.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Seattle Visit—What Did I Learn?

The most important fact I learned from the visit to Seattle providers of permanent supportive housing was that if you have money and political will that you can solve a large part of the problem of homelessness—it’s insights like that that make me a Master of the Obvious.

Seattle has adopted a tax specifically devoted to the creation of permanent supportive housing, which has been reauthorized several times and is up for reauthorization once again this fall. The State of Washington’s rules for the distribution of federal tax credits (the largest source of funding for affordable housing projects of all types) favors permanent supportive housing. As a result Seattle has several vibrant, energetic developers of permanent supportive housing and is currently creating about five hundred units per year of permanent supportive housing.

If you contrast Seattle with Dallas, then it’s hard to be optimistic about our prospects of doing nearly as well. The City of Dallas is pretty well out of funding available to create permanent supportive housing. The tax credit rules in Texas require, as a practical matter, neighbor endorsement of permanent supportive housing developments and nobody has been able to get that endorsement. As a result, the fifty units of permanent supportive housing at CityWalk will be the first new units built in more than fifteen years.

A number of organizations, including Central Dallas CDC, are trying hard to put some more housing on the ground, and it looks to me like a couple of those efforts are likely to succeed, yielding perhaps another two hundred units of permanent supportive housing in the next two years, but it’s heavy lifting to get a project done. Without money and political will I do not see how Dallas will meet its modest goal (as adopted by the City Council) of creating seven hundred permanent supportive housing units in five years. Even creating five hundred units in five years, what Seattle does in one year, looks unlikely to me.

Ending homelessness in Dallas isn’t really a job for nonprofit developers like Central Dallas CDC. The rules of the game are stacked against us and we are going to succeed only rarely, and only when we receive extremely generous support from private donors. Success in ending homelessness depends on changing the rules of the game; it depends (and I shudder when I say this) on the politicians.

If we are going to end homelessness, then I believe we need to do what Seattle did and agree to pay for it. That probably means going to the voters with a bond election to provide the funding to build the necessary developments. It also means going to the Texas legislature (now I’m shaking like a leaf!) and changing the tax credit rules so permanent supportive housing developments get funded.

We’re not going to stop working because it’s hard, but realistically, until Dallas has the political will to solve this problem and puts some money behind the effort, it’s not going to get done.

Monday, October 12, 2009

People Against Drugs Affordable Public Housing Agency

My time as a blogger is almost entirely congruent with the time I’ve served as Chairman of the Board of People Against Drugs Affordable Public Housing Agency PAD), so it seems strange that I’ve never written a word about it. I imagine it’s because it has been a relatively depressing saga.

I became involved with PAD because the Texas Attorney General was looking for some respectable (and perhaps gullible!) nonprofit people willing to serve on PAD’s Board of Directors. During the past fifteen years PAD had operated an apartment complex called Country Creek in Garland, Texas. There wasn’t anything wrong with the operations of the apartment complex, which was professionally managed and provided needed housing for working people with limited income. But the Attorney General has a problem with how PAD used most of the proceeds from the apartment complex—to support a NASCAR Truck Racing Team.

I suppose the effort was a success of some sort, because Green Light Racing, as it is now called, is still in business. You can check it out here if you like: I have to admit that before I became involved with PAD I didn’t even know that NASCAR had truck races.

The Attorney General, however, didn’t feel this was an appropriate use of the assets of a nonprofit corporation (and there were many other serious problems alleged in its lawsuit). The Attorney General sued. PAD went into bankruptcy to stop the lawsuit. All the directors of PAD except for one ended up resigning and, after much difficulty, an agreement was reached to rebuild the Board of Directors. The Attorney General would appoint two directors, the remaining director would appoint two directors and those four directors would elect a fifth member of the board of directors. If the directors deadlocked, then the Attorney General would appoint the fifth director.

The Attorney General appointed me and Elizabeth K. (Betsy) Julian, the President of the Inclusive Communities Project (you can find its website here:

The appointment of the heads of two local nonprofit organizations that specialize in housing issues probably points to what the Attorney General thought PAD should be doing—and it certainly wasn’t racing trucks. The four directors appointed by the different parties managed to elect a fifth director, but that’s about all we managed to agree on. After a short time the directors that were not appointed by the Attorney General resigned. We elected two more directors with expertise in the housing arena, and less than a month after first hearing about PAD, the five of us were suddenly running an organization with no staff, no institutional memory, records that were a complete mess, the IRS after it, that was in bankruptcy and that owed hundreds of thousands of dollars to creditors—much of which we didn’t have the slightest idea why.

For the last eight months we’ve struggled to work our way out of this morass, and last Tuesday, thanks in large part to the good work done by our bankruptcy attorney, Vickie Driver of the Pronske, Patel law firm, the Court finally confirmed our Plan of Reorganization.

Now that the worst is finally past, I feel that I can talk a little about how we got through the last few months and a little about what we hope the New PAD can do in the community.

BTW: In spite of the name, I’ve never know what People Against Drugs did against drugs—except put a little sticker that said “PAD” on the racing truck.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Our First Four Tenants

We just got word that our first four tenants are officially qualified—something our management company, Pinnacle does for us. It requires determining whether the prospective tenant meets the income requirements and passes the background tests to live in CityWalk. Yesterday was the first day Pinnacle started working on that process, so that’s pretty good progress. Here at Central Dallas CDC the “pre-interviews” will be temporarily suspended until we see whether the people that we’ve already talked to are sufficient to fill the building. There’s not much point in asking people to come in for an interview if we don’t know if we’ll have an apartment for them.

It makes CityWalk real to know that we have tenants ready to live there. The building is almost ready for people to move in.

The cabinets are in, but we still have to move the appliances into all the units and there is a lot of finish work to complete.


Saturday, October 10, 2009

Information for Re:Vision Dallas Interviews

I know I have at least a few readers who are closely following the progress of the Re:Vision Dallas progress. We are now in the process of scheduling interviews with each of the winning designers -- right now the interview with Little is scheduled for November 2 and with MOOV for November 9 and we're working to schedule an interview with the David Baker firm in that same time frame. Here's the information I sent out to each firm about the interview process:

Before addressing some specific questions about the interviews for the Re:Vision Dallas project (thanks to Mr. Louro for helping to focus me on the specifics), let me make some general comments. First, the Re:Vision Dallas design contest is completed and you have all won. Each of you has submitted a design that strongly impressed the Re:Vision jury and with which we have become even more impressed as we have studied it over the summer. The interviews in Dallas are best regarded as discussions between potential partners in the Re:Vision Dallas project. We want to meet you, make sure that we can work together and learn about your approach to solving the problems that will arise in building such an innovative project. For that reason, please don't feel the need to try to impress us with presentation material -- you have already impressed us.

We would prefer to meet and talk with the people who have been and will actually be doing the work. If someone participates in the interview, then we will expect them to participate in the work of the project, barring exigent circumstances. Please do not bring senior people, no matter how brilliant, to the interview unless they will also be doing substantive work on Re:Vision Dallas.

Most of the discussion will be nontechnical in nature, because with the help of The Real Estate Council of Dallas our technical review (at the level we deem appropriate) will be complete before the interviews. There will be no expectation that you are particularly versed in the economics of the project or in the Dallas market, but we will expect that you will be willing to think about the economic consequences of design choices. The Re:Vision Dallas project is intended to serve a broad and diverse population of residents. We do not believe that beautiful design and sustainable living should be reserved for a small elite.

At least three weeks prior to the interview, you will be presented with the topics that we expect to discuss. Those topics will be general in nature and we expect our discussion to range far and wide.

The days of November 2, 3 and 4, 2009 have been set aside for the interviews, but if those dates do not work for one or more of you, then we will find additional days to schedule an interview. You may request either a morning interview, to be followed by lunch, or an afternoon interview to be followed by dinner. In consideration of the distance that they must travel, I will give first choice of interview times to Atelier Data & MOOV. The interviews will not be a public event, but unless I receive an objection, I intend to allow a limited number of interested parties to observe the discussion.

Accommodations will be provided in downtown Dallas, close to both the Re:Vision Dallas and interview site. The Re:Vision Dallas site is a parking lot open to the public and you should feel free to visit it if you like. Please let us know if you wish us to review any additional background material, please provide it in advance of the interview. You may assume that the interviewers are familiar with the competition submission and any additional materials that you have furnished since that time.

Finally, at or before the time of the interview, we ask that you provide us with an estimate of your fees. Preferably the fee will be estimated in two parts: a fee to complete schematic design of the project after revisions agreed upon during our discussions, and, second, a fee estimate for the entire project.

A. Travel Logistics

1. Does the Competition production budget cover flight and accommodations expenses?

Yes, flight and accommodations will be paid.

1.1 If so, how many plane tickets will be available?

Travel and accommodations for two people will be paid.

2. Do you take care of the reservations?

Yes, once the dates for our meeting are agreed upon we will make the necessary reservations, checking with you to make sure that the times are satisfactory.

B. Meeting Arrangements

1. Who will be present at the interview meeting?

The interview will primarily be conducted by me (John P. Greenan, Esq., Executive Director of Central Dallas Community Development Corporation) and Brent A. Brown, our lead architectural consultant. We also expect two to four advisors from The Real Estate Council of Dallas to be present to provide technical assistance at each interview.

1.1 How and where do you think the meeting will take place?

We would like to schedule the interviews during the period from November 2-4, 2009. The interviews will take place at our offices on the third floor of CityWalk@Akard at 511 N. Akard, Dallas, Texas 75201.

1.2 Is it a closed door meeting or will there be some kind of an audience?

There will not be an audience present. We may allow a limited number of interested parties to observe the interview.

1.3 What complementary presentation elements would you like us to bring.

Please feel free to bring whatever materials you would like, you certainly will be given an opportunity to make a presentation if you wish. It might be best, however, to regard the interview as a discussion about how your design can become real and how it will fit into the City of Dallas.

1.4 Will we be presenting along with all the other contestants?

No, the interviews will be conducted separately. We will give each designer the option of interviewing in the morning or the afternoon, and hope that you will join us, with perhaps a few other friends, for a meal after the conclusion of the interview.

C. Technical Assistance

1. Are you still sending us any more objective questions about specific situations as you did with the structure theme or, from now on, you are just sending the topics in order for us to prepare the interview?

If our advisors from The Real Estate Council raise any specific issues, then we will pass them along to you. At present it appears that, setting economic issues aside for the moment, all the designs, suitably modified, are potentially buildable. Therefore, the discussion should be more general in nature.

2. As Architecture Project Team we can give you the overall explanations of all the combined themes, specialities and crossed strategies but, can we have specialists assisting us in order to give more detailed information about specific topics such as energy or landscape approach, by example?

Please feel free to have whatever assistance you think best available. Unless you are advised in advance about a specific issue, you should not expect a highly technical discussion. We will be more interested in your approach to problem solving than the answer to any specific problem. In other words, if we have questions about landscape plantings, then we will expect you to be prepared to describe how you will go about locating appropriate expertise and working with the appropriate parties to determine the most desirable landscape plants. We will not expect you to tell us the exact plants that will be specified. The same approach will hold for any topics that we don't specifically rise with you beforehand.

2.1 As we said, above, we have gathered a team of local American consultants and we have already started to integrate them as part of the technical discussion. Meanwhile, if we find it to be in the best interest of the interview, will it be possible to have them present at the meeting?

Within reason, you may have whomever you feel appropriate at the interview. Please remember that the conference room we will be using seats only ten persons around the conference table (although there is some additional room for observers) and we will be using approximately half the seats.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Seattle Visit—What Did We Learn?

In Seattle a varied group of us—neighborhood leaders, developers, city officials—had the opportunity to learn how two very successful organizations, the Downtown Emergency Service Center and the Plymouth Housing Group, provide permanent, supportive housing in Seattle. I’ve had the opportunity to talk to a few of the other participants in the trip—and some of them have talked to other people. I think it’s fair to say that we all agree on at least some of the things we can learn from Seattle.

First, the permanent, supportive housing in Seattle has no negative impact on the city or the downtown—none at all. The buildings themselves blend into the neighborhood, and unless you know what the sign on them means, you would never know that they were permanent supportive housing.

All of the buildings we visited (and all but one historic building we walked by) had ground floor retail. Most of the time, it was pretty high level retail—either restaurants or bars. We talked to one of the owners of a restaurant adjacent to a permanent, supportive housing developments owned by Plymouth Housing Group (we ran into him by accident on the sidewalk) and he clearly had no problem with the development at all, and wasn’t reluctant to say so.

Second, we learned that success in building permanent, supportive housing isn’t dependent on the personality of the organization or its leader. Paul Lambros and Bill Hobson are as different in personality as any two people you might meet. Lambros was smooth and urbane; clearly someone entirely comfortable in high level business conversations; he impressed me as a consummate dealmaker. Hobson was gregarious and argumentative; willing to fight for what he believed was right and a force to be reckoned with. It struck me that their relationship might be best described as “grudging respect”. I don’t think they disliked each other, but I’m not sure that I would invite them both to the same dinner party.

Third, both organizations built housing in the same general place and in the same general way. The buildings were located downtown. The number of residents was more or less one hundred. The apartment buildings were debt free and extensive services were provided, some paid out of the rents received on the apartments and others from whatever public or private monies they could scrape up.

Fourth, the buildings basically had 100% formerly homeless people living in them. Management was aggressive. Poor behavior wasn’t tolerated.

All of this worked very well and it worked well for both organizations. I believe everyone agreed that if permanent, supportive housing worked in Dallas just like it did in Seattle that it wouldn’t cause any problems here—and we needed us some of that.

Monday I’ll give some of my own thoughts about why we don’t have permanent supportive housing here like the 1500+ units they do in Seattle and some of the barriers to creating it.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Profit versus Nonprofit

My good friends Randy Mayeux and Larry James have both addressed the question of the effectiveness of nonprofit compared to for-profit companies recently (see Randy Mayeux’s entry here:, and Larry James’ entry for October 1 here: It’s a topic I’ve discussed recently (see my entry “Eat This Building” from October 2, 2009, so I can’t resist joining the discussion. Here’s the chart, which Randy reproduced, from Dan Pallotta’s book Uncharitable: How Restraints on Nonprofits Undermine their Potential.

I’m still deciding whether I want to invest the time to read the book (so take all this with a couple of grains of salt), but looking at the chart makes me tend to think the book isn’t worth my time.

First, I don’t believe that financial incentives are the way to attract the top talent. Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch, and AIG all paid enormous salaries, attracted the purported top talent and went spectacularly broke. On the other hand, even top universities may relatively low salaries and starving novelists and artists have become a cliché. Albert Einstein did some of his most brilliant work while he made his living as a low level government employee. In short, I don’t think you need high salaries to attract top talent. If I had even a moderate salary to offer people, then I could hire an amazing amount of talent. Unless to define the top talent as the people who get paid the most, I think this idea is nonsense.

Second, any respectable nonprofit doesn’t need to advertise its product. If you’re meeting the needs of the community, then you’ll have more business than you can ever handle. Advertising, IMHO, is for pushing products that people don’t really need or want.

Third, I agree—surprise—that nonprofits are too reluctant to take risks. Nothing significant is achieved without taking risks. Fear of failure leads inevitably, if not to failure, to mediocrity at best.

Fourth, the idea that for-profit businesses invest in the long term is just wrong factually—or else drawn from some other country or century than the United States in the 21st century. It’s a good idea, but first you always have to survive the present.

Fifth, it’s wrong that nonprofits can’t pay return on investment to attract capital. Nonprofits just do it in the form of loans, rather than investments. Right now, Central Dallas CDC has about $25 million in loans, and since we have the ability to repay them all, it isn’t a problem. We also have the ability to create nonprofit subsidiaries (we have three or four currently). If you allow direct investments in nonprofits (and still allow them to remain tax exempt), then they would have an enormous competitive advantage over nonprofits—such a large advantage that for-profit corporations would cease to exist.

In short, I’m not impressed, and I know that’s not fair because I haven’t read the book. But it’s like seeing the trailer for a movie that’s supposed to be a comedy and finding the trailer isn’t funny. Chances are that you’re not going to shell out the money or spend the time to go see the movie, fair or not.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Seattle Visit, Downtown Emergency Service Center

The second part of our visit to Seattle, Washington was with Bill Hobson, Executive Director for the Downtown Emergency Service Center. Bill Hobson—whom media articles inevitably describe as “crusty”—had dinner with us Thursday evening where he held forth for more than hour about homelessness, housing homeless people and what the DESC does.

Bill Hobson is a Texan by birth, and although he’s been running DESC in Seattle for the past twenty-five years, you can still here the twang in his conversation. Hobson is also a fascinating talker by turns brilliant, quirky, and down to earth. DESC is unusual for an organization working with homeless people because it runs both a shelter and permanent supportive housing, and does it very well.

DESC’s best know project is 1811 Eastlake.

The development is unique because it took the seventy-five most expensive homeless people in Seattle and put them in housing. These are the people that are chronic alcoholics, frequent visitors to the emergency room, people that consume the time of the police, the EMS and the jail.

The development has especially attracted attention for its cost savings. Here’s a summary (prepared by DESC) of the findings of an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association, “Health Care and Public Service Use and Costs Before and After Provision of Housing for Chronically Homeless Persons With Severe Alcohol
Problems” (Vol. 301 No. 13, April 1, 2009) :

· DESC’s 1811 Eastlake saved taxpayers more
than $4 million dollars over the first year of
operation. Annual average costs per person while
homeless, the year before moving in, were
$86,062. By comparison, it costs $13,440 per
person per year to administer the housing
· Median costs for the research participants in the
year prior to being housed were $4,066 per
person per month in publicly-funded services
such as jail, detox center use, hospital-based
medical services, alcohol and drug programs and
emergency medical services. The monthly median
costs dropped to $1,492 and $958 after six and
12 months in housing, respectively.
· During the first six months, even after considering
the cost of administering housing for the 95
residents in this Housing First program, the study
reported an average cost-savings of 53 percent --
nearly $2,500 per month per person in health
and social services, compared to the costs of a
wait-list control group of 39 homeless people.
· Alcohol use by Housing First participants
decreased by about one-third. The median
number of drinks for participants dropped steadily
from 15.7 per day prior to move-in to 14, 12.5
and 10.6 per day at 6, 9 and 12 months in

Hobson is an unqualified advocate for serving the most difficult homeless people. In his mind, anyone who tries to serve homeless people and does less than that is simply shirking their duty. Hobson is a rabble rouser, not afraid of legal or political battles. In fact, while I wouldn’t say that he seeks them out, I have a feeling that he enjoys them once they’ve started.

Hobson also has an unremittingly realistic view of the people he serves. He was delighted and surprised by the reduction in the average number of drinks per resident at 1811 Eastlake from 15.7 to 10.6 per day.

Let me repeat that fact: Reducing the number of drinks per resident per day to 10.6 is a great victory.

I can’t imagine trying to get the people of Dallas to support projects like 1811 Eastlake. Selling even projects with mixed populations serving less severely impacted homeless people has been a hard slog—and we’ve often failed.

Hobson would say that we’ve set our sights too low. He may be right.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Sometimes Predicting the Future Is Way Too Easy

One of the questions raised in yesterday's article, Eat This Building ( in the Dallas Observer was why almost nobody has heard of the Re:Vision Dallas project. I suggested that it's because of the process we went through, and are still going through, to arrive at the design for the project, which includes actually talking to people and working with the community on the design:

"There are imaginary projects that get front-page spreads at least in the business section in The Dallas Morning News," Greenan says. "If we had come in December with a set of conceptual plans and lots of pretty pictures and said, 'Look at this wonderful thing we are going to build,' everyone would have said, "Look at what they are going to build.' But instead, when you say, 'We don't know what we are going to build yet, we've got to do research, run the competition, run designs and figure out the economic support,' gee, that's boring. That's like studying health-care options."

Right on cue this morning (Friday, October 02,2009), The Dallas Morning News thoughtfully placed this article (I've only put excerpts below, the full article is here: (, but you'll have to buy the paper edition of the article to see the pretty pictures) on (guess where) the front page of the business section:

Dallas Arts Districts projects wait in the wings

08.31 AM CDT on Friday, October 2, 2009

By STEVE BROWN / The Dallas Morning News

As Dallas' new performing arts center prepares to open, the downtown Art District is a hot property.

Completion of the AT&T Performing Arts Center and the start of construction on the desk park over Woodall Rodgers Freeway have given the Arts District plenty of location, location, location. What it doesn't have for commercial development is timing, timing, timing.

The recession and financial sector meltdown have put big private-sector projects planned for the district on hold.

"If not for the current economic tsunami, we would be starting our Arts District now," said developer Craig Hall, who plans a high-rise office and condo project on Flora Street between the Meyerson Symphony Center and the new Wyly Theater. "I think about that site all the time and how to adjust to the current market and push forward on at least a portion of the project....

A couple of blocks away at Flora and Routh Street, developer Billingsley Co. had hoped to be started on the second phase of its successful Arts Plaza complex.

The Two Arts Plaza building is designed to include offices, loft-style condos and retail space overlooking a small park.

But until the developer comes up with a lead business tenant and a lender to finance the deal, the project won't make it off the drawing board.

Developer John Sughrue sounds a bit melancholy when he talks about his firm's Museum Tower, planned for Pearl Street across from the Meyerson.

"We were supposed to break ground last October," he said. "If we had started, we would probably be up to the 30th floor right now."

But the condo groundbreaking was put off by the credit crunch and recession...

Now not all of these projects may turn out to be imaginary -- it's especially likely in my opinion that Lucy Billingsley will build Two Arts not too far down the road -- but as a whole they aren't any more likely to get built than Re:Vision Dallas. This is also not the first time that any of these projects have appeared in The Dallas Morning News. Craig Hall has owned his property at least ten years, and the Museum Tower, which is admittedly a very handsome design, has been under discussion for at least six years:

So if you're worried that we don't plan to start to build Re:Vision Dallas until the beginning of 2011, then don't worry that will still be years faster than either of these projects have gotten underway.

And if The Dallas Morning News doesn't want to do a story about Re:Vision Dallas until we've actually completed the project, that's fine as well. We don't plan to finance Re:Vision by appealing to people that are unduly impressed by pretty pictures.

Monday, October 5, 2009

The Value of Walkability

Today's blog is a reprint of someone else's work, but one I think is important. I'm only copying the summary here, but CDOs for Cities has put together a significant study that at least suggests that walkability has real, definable economic value. A taste of the findings are reprinted here, but you can find the full study at this site:

(and thanks to my brother Garth for bringing this study to my attention!)

New Study Shows More Walkable Homes Are Worth More

August 18, 2009

Posted by: Sheila

CHICAGO: Though housing values are still slow to rebound from the collapse of the real estate market, a new analysis from CEOs for Cities reveals in more walkable neighborhoods are worth more than similar homes in less-walkable neighborhoods, pointing to a bright spot in the residential real estate market.

The report, "Walking the Walk: How Walkability Raises Housing Values in U.S. Cities" by Joseph Cortright, analyzed data from 94,000 real estate transactions in 15 major markets provided by ZipRealty and found that in 13 of the 15 markets, higher levels of walkability, as measured by Walk Score, were directly linked to higher home values.

"Even in a turbulent economy, we know that walkability adds value to residential property just as additional square footage, bedrooms, bathrooms and other amenities do," said Cortright. "It's clear that consumers assign a tangible value to the convenience factor of living in more walkable places with access to a variety of destinations."

Walkability is defined by the Walk Score algorithm (, which works by calculating the closest amenities - restaurants, coffee shops, schools, parks, stores, libraries, etc. - to any U.S. address. The algorithm then assigns a "Walk Score" from 0-100, with 100 being the most walkable and 0 being totally car-dependent. Walk Scores of 70+ indicate neighborhoods where it is possible to get by without a car.

By the Walk Score measure, walkability is a direct function of how many destinations are located within a short distance (generally between one-quarter mile and one mile of a home). The study found that in the typical metropolitan area, a one-point increase in Walk Score was associated with an increase in value ranging from $700 to $3,000 depending on the market. The gains were larger in denser, urban areas like Chicago and San Francisco and smaller in less dense markets like Tucson and Fresno.

"These findings are significant for policy makers," said Carol Coletta, President and CEO of CEOs for Cities, which commissioned the research. "They tell us that if urban leaders are intentional about developing and redeveloping their cities to make them more walkable, it will not only enhance the local tax base but will also contribute to individual wealth by increasing the value of what is, for most people, their biggest asset."

An example of the effect of walkability on housing values cited in the study is found in Charlotte, NC. IN a neighborhood with a typical Walk Score of 54 called Ashley Park, the median home price was $280,000. In a neighborhood with an above average Walk Score - 71 - called Wilmore, an otherwise similar home would be valued at $314,000. Controlling for all other factors including size, number of bedrooms and bathrooms, age, neighborhood income levels , distance from the Central Business District and access to jobs, "if you were to pick up that house in Ashley Park, and place it in a more walkable Wilmore, it would increase in value by $34,000 or 12%," Cortright said.

In the typical metropolitan areas studied, the premium commanded for neighborhoods with above average Walk Scores compared to those with average Walk Scores ranged from about $4,000 to $34,000, depending on the metro area.

"Walking the Walk' shows definitively what we've always believed - that homes in walkable neighborhoods continue to be a good investment, and are one of the simplest and most effective solutions to fight climate change, improve our health, and strengthen our communities," said Walk Score founder Mike Mathieu. "Our vision is for every property listing to include a Walk Score: Beds: 3 Baths: 2 Walk Score: 84."

The study included 15 metropolitan areas, finding a statistically significant positive relationship between walkability and home values in 13 areas: Arlington, Virginia; Austin, Texas; Charlotte, North Carolina; Chicago, Illinois; Dallas, Texas; Fresno, California; Jacksonville, Florida; Phoenix, Arizona; Sacramento, California; San Fransisco, California; Seattle, Washington; Stockton, California and Tucson, Arizona. In one metro area Las Vegas, walkability was correlated with lower housing values, and in Bakersfield, California, there was no statistically significant connection between walkability and housing valuses.

Real estate data for these markets was provided by ZipRealty (NASDAQ:ZIPR,, a national full-service residential real estate brokerage. "Walkability is a factor we've always considered important for buyers and sellers when bidding or pricing a home. We appreciate that "Walking the Wal" has confirmed this intrinsic value," said Patrick Lashinsky, chief executive officer for Zip Realty. "We are one of the first sites to adopt Walk Score alongside our listings because we feel walkability helps all our clients in the home search process."

"There are a number of trends that are reshaping the American Dream," said Coletta, "and the value home buyers now place on living close to more daily destinations is one of the most important. Now, planning, zoning and development decisions have to catch up to consumers."

BTW: The Walk Score ( for CityWalk@Akard is 100 - a perfect score under the Walk Score system!