Dallas voters may be asked to okay $150 million in bonds to shrink affordable housing gap
If Dallas is serious about increasing access to affordable housing, it’d need to ask voters to approve about $150 million in funding in the 2024 bond election.
That’s according to city staffers who briefed council members on the housing committee on Monday.
City staffers say that’s just the start of what it’d take to make a dent in a city where almost half the renters are paying more than they can afford, and homeownership is increasingly out of reach.
The figure that Office of Housing and Neighborhood Revitalization Director David Noguera floated was more than seven times the size of the most recent major commitment of bond money toward affordable housing — about $23 million in 2012.
And it’s also be just the first installment needed to put the city on track to tackle its affordable housing shortage: Noguera said the city would need to come back to voters again in the 2029 bond election to ask for another $150 million.
“Our rough goal for the city of Dallas is 100,000 units that we want to make affordable, that we want to impact over the next 10 years,” Noguera said.
All in, Noguera estimates the city would need to invest $400 million over the next decade to address the issue. That huge investment would be seed money, he told council members earlier this year, to help generate the roughly $4 billion needed to build or preserve the affordable homes the city needs.
Increasing the pace of building affordable homes – both single-family homes and rental apartments – is a priority in the city’s new housing policy. So is increasing investment in preserving existing homes that are affordable by helping to pay for repairs needed to keep them habitable.
“If we’re trying to make this impact, and we’re trying to invest not just in rental housing but also for-sale housing, this is where we want to get to,” Noguera said of the funds.
A major challenge
Almost half of Dallas renters are considered “cost burdened” – meaning more than 30% of their income goes to rent. The burden is even greater for lower-income Dallas renters: For every 100 low-income renters — individuals making less than $30,200 a year — there are just 37 available, affordable rental units, according to the National Low-Income Housing Coalition.
And homeownership is increasingly out of reach. The median Dallas home now costs about $373,000 in Dallas, Noguera said, and it takes a household income over $130,000 per year to afford it. But the city’s median household income just over $58,000 per year.
The housing director pointed to other cities where voters have approved bonds for major spending to address affordable housing. In 2022, Austin voters approved $350 million for housing, San Antonio voted for $150 million, and Columbus, Ohio, voters greenlit $200 million in bond debt to finance housing projects.
“Wherever you look, nationwide, the challenges that we see with housing — cost burdening, affordability — it’s not unique to Dallas. These are problems that the country is facing,” Noguera said.
Every five years, the city asks voters for permission to go into debt in order to get money to pay for major expenditures. Investors buy that debt, and the city makes payments plus interest over a series of decades. Bonds are used for capital investments — they’re used to build or renovate buildings, roads and other infrastructure.
Casey Thomas, who chairs the housing committee, said there’s already a movement afoot to build a broad coalition of civic groups, faith-based organizations, businesses and philanthropies to support a massive housing investment in the 2024 bond election. He wondered whether the city should consider putting an even bigger number on the ballot.
“Let’s go big,” he said.
A mixed response
Others council members were more skeptical, even though they voiced broad agreement that the city needs more affordable housing.
“If this bond is going to be something that’s adopted by the city, then there has to be a very clear vision, and not just production numbers. People have to imagine what they’re going to get for this,” said Jaynie Schulz said. “And I think it’s still murky.”
Jesse Moreno said he needs some assurance that the city isn’t going to ask voters to approve $150 million, only to fall short of actually delivering the promised housing. That, he said, could hurt future efforts to win voter approval for housing down the road.
“I do have a little bit of hesitation on the amount. I want to make sure that we’re able to deliver and able to utilize those dollars,” Moreno said.
Carolyn King Arnold said that she wanted to make sure that the bond money would be targeted to achieve the city’s racial equity goals, “so that we don’t just keep pushing out bond packages so that we can say ‘we have a bond package.’”
And that, she said, means working with city attorneys, housing staffers and council members to make sure the funds used in a data-driven way to address a long history of segregation and disinvestment in communities of color.
“You have to have people … who really will embrace, support, adopt and carry out equity based on the data, so we don’t just do lip service,” Arnold said.
Given the city’s aging population — people 65 and older grew from 14.8% of the city population in 2010 to 17.4% in 2021 - Paula Blackmon suggested housing department staffers should consider making senior housing more of a focus for the bond package.
“You’ve got an aging population that is staying in place. So my question is: Should we look at creating more senior housing so people can move out of their house but stay in their neighborhood?” Blackmon asked.
Cara Mendelsohn said she thinks the city needs to find better ways to support affordable housing than incurring more debt. The city has many other needs like road repair and park improvements it’ll potentially ask voters to fund in the May 2024 bond election, she pointed out.
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