Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Differences between CityWalk and EVERgreen

Today’s blog began as an answer to a question on the Dallas Fort Worth Urban Forum, but I thought it had enough general interest to post here. EVERgreen is a proposed permanent supportive project from First Presbyterian here in Dallas.

“How would you compare & contrast this proposal for Expo Park with Central Dallas Community Development Corp and 511 Akard?”

I have only glanced at the EVERgreen application, but I can talk a little bit about the differences between Evergreen and CityWalk.

First, the projects are based on different models. We copied from Common Ground in New York. Projects based on that model try to include a mixed population of people who have been homeless and people who haven't. To make that work, the housing has to be attractive enough so that market tenants aren't discouraged from renting there by the stigma that still attaches to a homeless building.

That's why CityWalk needed to be downtown. Affordable housing is so rare in Downtown Dallas that demand far exceeds supply.

The downside is that it's a very expensive choice. We raised a ton of philanthropic money for CityWalk, but that was because it was a first and caught the imagination of some people with money. In New York, Common Ground has managed to build 3,000 units on this model because a lot of state and local money is available. In Texas there is no state money, and there will only be local money if the City Council and the voters approve it in a bond issue--and that money would likely not be available until 2012 at best.

Evergreen looks to me like it is based on some of the models I saw in San Francisco (I don't know if they looked at those models or not). In the old Tenderloin district there are a number of former Merchant Marine hotels that have been converted to permanent supportive housing. They all have shared kitchens like the Evergreen project.

I have looked at projects that are 100% formerly in a number of cities and they work just fine, so I don't think that's a problem. I also think the location is fine. To properly run a permanent supportive housing program you need enough units (probably a minimum of 75 units) to do so efficiently. Otherwise the operating costs eat you up.

The need for that much density makes it difficult to locate in traditional single-family areas. You also need access to good mass transportation and land that isn't too expensive. In Dallas, the best locations are Downtown (if you can afford it), the Cedars, the near East Side, the Design District, and maybe some of the more commercial areas of Oak Cliff or near one of DART's light rail stops.

The more diverse and dense a place is, the better. Most of those locations are going to have to have 100% psh units. I know the people in the Cedars or Expo park don't want to hear it, but those areas are sketchy enough already for renters. There won't be a market for mixed projects any time soon, unless you do something really special with building.

Graham Greene is a good architect and the Evergreen building looks good, from what I've seen. I think Evergreen would actually raise property values--it's likely to be the best looking building in Exposition Park. The approach is very similar to what and where New Hope housing is doing in Houston. Their projects have been very successful.

The only thing I don't like about Evergreen is the shared kitchens. That won't affect people outside the building, but they tend to be a management problem. People don't clean up, take other people's food. The problem isn't any different from four guys sharing an apartment in college--but it's a problem there as well.

I would guess it was done as a cost saving measure, but it could also be an expression of their philosophy. Building community be eating together and all. I still wouldn't do it.

Either a mixed population or all psh works fine--if you get people a place and do a good job with management then there really aren't any other secrets, from what I've seen.

I don't see any reason it shouldn't be a successful project and an asset to the community.

A final note: It's just coincidence that both Evergreen and The Cottages are under development on the East Side of Downtown. We don't talk to each other about our projects, even though we all know each other. With only two or three viable choices, it's not so surprising. I have tried to develop projects in the Design District and the Cedars, but those didn't work out for one reason or another. First Presbyterian also had a proposal Downtown that didn't work out.

Anyway, that's all I know and more.

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