By Dianne Solis
James A. Armstrong and Stephanie Champion are fond of saying that West Dallas residents have a “right to stay.” The fight against rapid gentrification has drummed up such slogans.
Armstrong is CEO of the nonprofit Builders of Hope, a community development corporation. Champion, an attorney, is its chief community development and policy officer.
Both have credibility: They live in West Dallas.
“We believe every resident has the right to stay, the right to choose and the right to have a say,” said Armstrong, who speaks with the eloquence of a Sunday preacher, because he is one.
The pair crossed paths when a crisis hit many neighborhoods in West Dallas in 2016. A landlord to the working poor was pulling out of the market. Families risked displacement.
Champion represented some of the tenants. Armstrong tried to get emergency funds to displaced tenants through another agency.
Today, they are fighting displacement again in a once-redlined region full of established working-class neighborhoods of mostly Mexican American and Black families. The Gilbert-Emory neighborhood sits mostly southwest of Sylvan Avenue and Singleton Boulevard in West Dallas.
Builders of Hope put together an anti-displacement tool kit and presented it to the city of Dallas in late February.
A memo of understanding was signed between the organization and the city to continue the collaborative work. The next step is to identify several neighborhoods as particularly vulnerable to gentrification.
Here are some key aspects of the tool kit:
- Crafting the West Dallas Community Vision plan. West Dallas 1, an association of neighborhood groups, has helped gather resident input. The plan will be presented to city officials for approval later this year. The grass-roots groups are already working with city planning officials, Armstrong said.
- Establishing a homeowner preservation and economic empowerment center in West Dallas on Singleton Boulevard, the community’s main thoroughfare. It will provide tax education on homestead, senior and disability exemptions, plus heirship properties. Builders of Hope wants to open the center later this year.
- Building a 36-unit rental development called Trinity West Villas north of Singleton Boulevard and east of Westmoreland Road. West Dallas hasn’t had a below-market rental development in several years, Armstrong said. The development is expected to break ground in August. In June, the Dallas City Council authorized a developer agreement with Builders of Hope that included about $1.9 million in federal funds for the apartment project, said David Noguera, the city of Dallas’ housing and neighborhood revitalization director.
- Educating residents on home repair assistance through a Builders of Hope program and existing city efforts. Assistance can reach up to $10,000 in the Builders of Hope program targeting West Dallas, Armstrong said. Noguera noted the city manages eight home-repair programs, as well as others that help clear titles, a frequent issue with inherited properties.
“We know that preserving existing affordable housing is the most efficient, and oftentimes, the less costly way to assure that affordable housing remains within the community,” Armstrong said.
WATCH: A Black neighborhood in West Dallas is disappearing as new townhomes rise
The West Dallas community groups have also received guidance from Heather Way, a national expert on affordable housing and community development and a University of Texas at Austin law professor who co-directs the entrepreneurship and community development clinic.
A community legal tool kit, co-produced by Way and others, homed in on ways to protect historic Black places. The kit lists several successful examples, including the Tenth Street Historic District, a former Freedman’s settlement, and the Juanita Craft Civil Rights House, the former home of the storied Black activist.
“It is never too late for the city to do intervention,” Way said. “There are still definitely lots of things that can be done if there is the political will to do that. … Ultimately, the biggest thing is it takes funding.”
This article was reported and edited cooperatively by The Dallas Morning News, the Dallas Free Press and KERA, which participate in the Dallas Media Collaborative, a group of local news outlets, universities and nonprofits focused on covering affordable housing with a solutions-oriented approach.
This story, originally published in The Dallas Morning News, is reprinted as part of a collaborative partnership between The Dallas Morning News and Texas Metro News. The partnership seeks to boost coverage of Dallas’ communities of color, particularly in southern Dallas- at the bottom.