June 23, 2008

Hundreds of Dallas Housing Authority’s Rent Vouchers Go Unused

By Kim Horner, The Dallas Morning News

Jun. 23--The Dallas Housing Authority provides rent-assistance vouchers to about 17,000 families. Nearly 8,000 more are on a waiting list, a backlog so massive that the agency quit taking new applications four years ago.

So why does it also have 500 special rent vouchers going unused?

DHA boss Ann Lott says some on the list have tried to use the vouchers -- which are reserved for blacks willing to move to predominantly white areas -- but couldn't find landlords to accept them. Some families have bad credit or poor rental histories.

Others on the list have declined the vouchers, telling DHA they don't want to move far from relatives and churches. And families without cars struggle with the lack of public transportation in some suburbs.

Jamice Warren says she's highly motivated to leave her far northeast Dallas neighborhood. She doesn't want her two young children to keep hearing gunshots and see people fighting in the street.

But it took her almost four months to find a landlord in the northern suburbs.

"Everyone I talked to said, 'No, we don't accept that,' " said Ms. Warren, whose children are 10 months and 3 years old.

Four months is the limit for searching. Families who fail to find a landlord in that time go back to the waiting list, and the voucher becomes available again.

DHA is required under a court settlement to offer the vouchers, which pay part of a family's rent plus application fees and deposits.

Mike Daniel, a Dallas lawyer who represented plaintiffs in the lawsuit that led to the settlement, said he believes there are plenty of African-American families ready to live in predominantly white areas. He said the agency has not worked hard enough to find them.

Ms. Lott said she was satisfied that "we're doing what we need to do to get the vouchers out."

She said DHA plans to create a new waiting list soon -- but only for blacks willing to move to white areas. "This new process is going to expedite [the system] significantly," Ms. Lott said.

The agency is waiting for approval from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which funds the program.

Ms. Lott said the vouchers must be used by December or the agency could lose funding for them.

The 500 unused vouchers are what remains of a pool of 3,205 required under a 1995 order that led to the settlement.

U.S. District Judge Jerry Buchmeyer, who is now retired, ordered the DHA to build that many units of housing in predominantly white areas.

The agency was met with strong neighborhood resistance, and the court later agreed to allow vouchers instead.

DHA vouchers

Seven black residents sued the Dallas Housing Authority, the city and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in 1985, alleging that Dallas' public housing for blacks was segregated and substandard. Former U.S. District Judge Jerry Buchmeyer agreed and required the following through a series of court orders and settlements:

-- The DHA must help 3,205 black families rent homes in predominantly white areas.

-- The DHA also must build 474 new units of public housing in areas without high concentrations of poverty. The agency will meet that requirement when it completes 40 townhomes at Hillcrest Road and the Bush Turnpike. They are expected to open this summer.

-- The DHA also has complied with an order to demolish a sprawling, dilapidated 3,500-unit housing project in West Dallas and rebuild there with less dense developments.

-- The city reached a final settlement in 2003 that provided increased police patrols and neighborhood assistance centers.


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