06 July 2010

Group Seeks to Stop Oak Cliff Apartments for Homeless

The Dallas News

Opponents of the Dallas Housing Authority's plan to rent apartments to chronically homeless people at an Oak Cliff high-rise have taken their fight to City Hall.

The fact that such tenants at the housing agency's Cliff Manor building on Fort Worth Avenue probably would have battled addictions or mental illness troubles some neighbors. It concerns the Fort Worth Avenue Development Group, which has been leading a turnaround of the corridor.

Specific-use permit

The development group has called on the city to require a City Council-approved specific-use permit for the project, arguing that the property isn't properly zoned for what the housing authority has in mind.

And on Wednesday, Randall White, a founder of the group and neighborhood resident, told the council that Cliff Manor neighbors were shocked to learn about the homeless housing plan.

"Help. Help. Help," he urged the council.

MaryAnn Russ, housing authority president, has said her agency has the necessary zoning and doesn't need the city's permission to proceed. And Wednesday she rejected talk of a city permit.

"The legal opinion we have is it continues the use we've had there all along – low-income rental housing," she said.

Last month, Russ said her agency would target women and older residents in setting aside 100 of the building's 180 units for "vulnerable" people who had been stabilized. Mental health services would be offered, and staffing would be increased, she said, with the possibility of a physical health clinic.

"We are an agency that's supposed to do this sort of work," she said. "The solution to homelessness is housing."

Mike Faenza, president of the Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance, said Wednesday that people now served through The Bridge, the city's homeless center, would be screened and referred by his group to Cliff Manor. They will have "worked hard to be ready for permanent housing and to assimilate into the community" and will have continued support after their arrival, he said.

"Health and human services are part and parcel of permanent supportive housing," he said.

In a letter to City Council member David Neumann, whose district includes Fort Worth Avenue, Scott Griggs, development group president, said the organization is "committed to our social responsibility to aid the longtime homeless with mental illness and addictions."

Yet he wrote that the housing agency needs a use permit from the city to provide medical and "social/psychological services" at Cliff Manor.

And, in his letter, Griggs asked for a decision from the city by Wednesday. City building official, Betty Antebi-Taylor, is considering the request and has given the housing authority until June 16 to respond to questions about its plans for Cliff Manor.

Neumann has said he favors the concept of permanent supportive housing. But the Cliff Manor project should have been discussed with neighbors before its announcement two weeks ago, he said.

'Show of indifference'

At the council hearing Wednesday morning, Neumann lashed out at the proposal.

"I have grave concerns about some of the decisions by the Dallas Housing Authority and the Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance and their show of indifference to the surrounding 12 neighborhoods," he said.

"The neighbors in this area are very concerned about this unilateral action," Neumann said.

Scott Batson, a resident of Stevens Park Village north of the Dallas apartment building, is one of those neighbors.

"The biggest issue for me is that Cliff Manor stands within yards of Stevens Park Elementary and Raul Quintanilla Sr. Middle schools," he wrote in an e-mail. "How can DHA justify housing such an unstable population such as this when we don't even allow registered sex offenders this close to schools?"

Myla Johnson asked in an e-mail: "What happens when an area resident is attacked? The Bridge has a history of violence and crime which could be funneled into the residential family neighborhoods in North Oak Cliff."

Faenza said such concerns are unwarranted. "I am very confident that the people [who are referred to Cliff Manor] will be some of the most positive residents in the neighborhood," he said.

Why? There's no evidence that people living in permanent supportive housing are a neighborhood blight, he said. "We're getting better and better" at placing residents, he said. And with Cliff Manor, "the plan of success is strong."

Faenza said he hopes the move-ins at Cliff Manor begin about July 7. That would give his group and the housing authority time to meet with neighbors, answer their questions and work with them to develop a system for measuring the Dallas apartments effect on its surroundings, he said.

"Words are cheap. We need to develop performance indicators," he said, such as Cliff Manor residents' impact on neighborhood crime and vagrancy.

"It's a business," Faenza said, "and we need to be held accountable."

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