Gentrification and displacement of poor people is a hot topic nowadays in West Dallas, and there are opposing views on this situation. Some argue that this gentrification has nothing to do with displacement but with progress and development that also benefits the quality of life of those that currently reside in this community. Others, however, challenge this position and argue against it criticizing it for being a scheming tactic to push out lower-income families and welcome a new affluent community.
On April 25th, 2017, the Mayor’s Star Council met with some of the protagonists of this contest for West Dallas. The issue was discussed openly and candidly, getting a first-hand experience of the political and economic battle that is taking place. Among the panelists was Mr. Khraish, owner of HMK Ltd. Along with his father, Mr. Khraish bought back hundreds of 70-year-old rental homes in this contested area of West Dallas in 2004. Since then, they have been leasing these homes to lower-income families for about $300 a month.
Mr. Khraish argues that what is taking place is a typical gentrification process of renovating the community to conform to middle-upper-class standards and displacing minorities and poor people (both of which are the prevalent community of West Dallas). He vehemently contended that the economical movement taking place there does not have the people of West Dallas in mind for it is a simple strategy to develop high-standard housing with a big property-tax-assessment. He says, “the Dallas historic pattern is: whenever it is time to grow, minorities have to go.”
There is no arguing that gentrification does push low-income people away when they no longer can afford to live in the developed area. However, in this case, some are challenging this notion of gentrification and claiming that it is about improving the standards of living for all people. Gentrification, in this context, is meant as a process to raise the quality of living in a place that is racially and economic diverse. The desired goal is not expensive property and taxes but a safe and clean community.
Mayor Mike Rawlings of the City of Dallas dismisses the displacement conspiracy theory of Mr. Khraish and says, “we [want] those families to continue to stay there; it makes us richer.” (KERA) Mayor Rawlings has been outspoken about this and has challenged the claims of Mr. Khraish by voicing out his concern about the precarious, unsafe, and unhealthy condition of the houses Mr. Khraish owns and leases in West Dallas. Rawlings is concern about the condition of these houses and how low-income families are suffering.
For Mr. Khraish, this is a hostile takeover situation of gentrification to displace minorities and low-income families that have no other place to go; for Rawlings, this is a concern about the wellness of the community that has been long neglected and ignored, and have endured many years of poor housing that do not meet city code.
In an article published early this year in the Dallas Observer, Jim Schutze notes that Mr. Khraish proposed that Mayor Rawlings replace the broken houses with multi-family rental properties using his own capital and the aid of federal subsidies. The problem with this proposal is that Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is unable to subsidize areas that are “heavily afflicted by poverty and segregation,” (Schutze) rendering Mr. Khraish’s proposal unviable.
There is enough blame to go around and issues like this one need creative leaders to help find solutions. Dallas has had an affordable housing issue for many years and has failed to plan appropriately. If people are displaced, they will be hard pressed to find and afford housing anywhere nearby. But just staying is not a solution either, for their homes are barely standing or functional. The bad condition of these houses go back 60 or more years and today are even worse.
The two sides in this city’s battle for West Dallas are contentious and make appealing cases. One claims that the issue is not the development of high-standard housing, but the displacement of low-income families; the other makes a case for improving life quality in spaces that have been neglected for many years and have the right to better housing standards.
Whatever the outcome, this battleground will define the character of the City of Dallas for many years to come.