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Mayor says Dallas should get more help for homeless from other area cities

Three-quarters of almost 1,600 respondents to a Downtown Dallas Inc. survey of residents on perceptions of the city center said they believe homelessness is a significant issue downtown.

By Everton Bailey Jr.

dallas business
Dallas Business Journal Publisher Ollie Chandok, left, listens to Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson during the State of Downtown conversation panel at Moody Performance Hall on Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2022 in Dallas. The event focuses on the state of downtown two years since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.(Shafkat Anowar / Staff Photographer)

Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson thinks the largest city in North Texas shouldn’t carry the brunt of the weight in helping unsheltered people into stable housing, making the case for a more regional approach Tuesday during the annual State of Downtown event.

Many people without reliable shelter end up in Dallas even though their last known address was outside the city because they have access to more resources, Johnson said during the event hosted by Downtown Dallas Inc. at the Moody Performance Hall. Other cities in Dallas, Collin and Denton counties should share more of the burden of helping homeless people get into housing, he said. Johnson described it as a “regional public health problem.”

“Quite frankly, we’re the ones who invest in the services. Dallas is the city with the compassion and the heart that’s building these resources and creating these rapid rehousing programs and spending millions of tax dollars to deal with this,” Johnson said, “When our surrounding suburbs are not doing it, and in some cases, even may be encouraging folks who need these services to come to Dallas. And then brag about how low their tax rate is.”

Several of the city’s largest homelessness service providers are based downtown and Downtown Dallas Inc., a nonprofit that promotes business and residential growth in the central business district, also has an outreach team to direct homeless people to resources.

Johnson said he believed by 2030, Downtown Dallas could have more residents and businesses based there, fewer people experiencing homelessness and lower crime rates if the city is successful in efforts such as hiring more police officers, stimulating more economic development, and adding more parks and green space.

“We just have to keep the foot on the gas,” he said.

Garland Mayor Scott LeMay said in an interview that he agrees a more regional effort would make sense because some people experiencing homelessness move from city to city. But he disagreed that Dallas is shouldering the burden alone.

“Obviously by sheer volume and size, Dallas probably has a larger homeless population than the suburban cities,” said LeMay, who was elected to the Garland City Council in 2013 and became mayor in 2019. “But the suburban cities, we’re certainly struggling with it and trying to approach it in the best ways that we can.”

LeMay said Garland doesn’t have a department solely dedicated to addressing homelessness and doesn’t have programs like many of those offered in Dallas. But Garland does direct money to nonprofits focused on addressing homelessness or related concerns.

“For us, it has made more sense to put funding in the hands of the people who know how to use it,” LeMay said. “They have a certain level of expertise that we may not.”

Arlington Mayor Jim Ross declined to speak directly to Johnson’s comments but said he regularly talks with Fort Worth Mayor Mattie Parker and Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley about tackling homelessness and said they focus on it on a countywide level.

“Mayor Johnson is perfectly right to be proud of his city, and he should be because Dallas is a wonderful city,” Ross said. “But whether Dallas is the driving engine, or Fort Worth is, or Arlington is, for me, it’s not a matter of what city is driving what, it’s a matter of how do we all work together to make our communities the best they can possibly be.”

Dallas homelessness

Three-quarters of almost 1,600 respondents to a Downtown Dallas Inc. survey of residents on perceptions of the city center said they believe homelessness is a significant issue downtown.

One of the largest initiatives to house people experiencing homelessness is the Dallas R.E.A.L. Time Rapid Rehousing, a $72 million program led by the city and the Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance to help more than 2,700 homeless people move into apartments by fall 2023.

R.E.A.L. is a city acronym attached to several initiatives meaning “responsible, equitable, accountable, legitimate.”

The $72 million for the program includes $25 million each from Dallas and Dallas County via federal stimulus money, $12.4 million in housing vouchers came from the county, Mesquite, Plano, housing authority DHA and other cities, and at least $10 million came from private money.

More than 1,000 people have been housed as of September, according to city officials.

During a Q&A with Dallas Business Journal President and Publisher Ollie Chandhok, Johnson also expressed optimism about the city’s future while navigating the way out of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Johnson praised police Chief Eddie Garcia and progress the department has made since last year in trying to address violent crime in the city. Dallas’ overall crime rate is lower, but murders are slightly higher this year than the same time last October.

The mayor also highlighted the city’s efforts to attract large business relocations to downtown, such as Goldman Sachs, and noted how changes over several decades downtown such as the additions of the AT&T Discovery District, Klyde Warren Park and Carpenter Park have made the area feel more like a neighborhood.

Johnson also noted the City Council has approved a 2.75 cent drop in the property tax rate to 74.58 cents per $100 valuation — though most property owners will still pay more because of rising appraisals throughout North Texas it is still the largest decrease the city has approved in at least 37 years.

“I think this council really is committed to making sure that we are able to compete with our surrounding suburbs, the rest of the state and the country for all the really cool development opportunities that are out there,” he said. “And we don’t want taxes to be a reason why we aren’t able to compete.”

The mayor echoed sentiments made during his state of the city address earlier this year when saying that the city has to assert itself more to better compete with surrounding cities for events, economic development opportunities and amenities. He described Dallas as the “engine” of North Texas, “the heart and soul of the region” and said he believes the city’s skyline, Arts District and events held in the central part of the city help give Dallas an edge over other area cities.

“We are a legitimate, full-blown great American city, soon to be considered one of the great world cities,” Johnson said. “And you just don’t have that in our surrounding suburbs.”

Johnson and Jennifer Scripps, Downtown Dallas Inc.’s president and CEO, expressed support for Proposition A, a proposal on the Nov. 8 ballot that seeks voters’ permission to increase the hotel room occupancy by 2 percentage points to 15%.

The increase is expected to raise $1.5 billion over 30 years, with $1.2 billion to go toward building a new downtown convention center and up to $300 million available to renovate six venues in Fair Park, including the Cotton Bowl, coliseum and band shell.

Early voting begins Oct. 24 and ends Nov. 4.

Downtown today

Nearly 15,000 people live downtown, up from 14,000 in 2021, according to the nonprofit group. Scripps, while presenting a summary of the survey, said that more than 50% of residents are between 25 and 44.

The area has more than 4,000 employers, $4 billion in planned and active development, and has been the home of $8 billion in development in the last 25 years, Scripps said. She took on the role of Downtown Dallas Inc.’s president and CEO in April.

The survey, the first the group has done since 2018, also found 69% of respondents say they were satisfied living downtown, almost half of survey participants said they have lived or work downtown for less than two years, and more than 50% say they commute to work on most days.

Most downtown residents, almost 40%, said in the survey that they typically walk, bike or use an e-scooter to get around the area. Most said they thought parking was important to them and their guests, and around three out of five survey participants said they most want a grocery store based downtown.

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