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.

1 comment:

  1. John, this is a sobering post. Have any neighborhood organizations expressed interest in providing locations? You may have noticed that Plymouth and DESC's developments are focused in the center city and it's partly because of opposition in other neighborhoods. On the flip side I know the neighborhood council in Cascade (near downtown Seattle) demanded more low income housing as a condition of approving larger buildings for Amazon.com's new headquarters!