City May Use Storm Money for Homeless Housing


Tiny houses | Image by Occupy Madison

The City of Dallas may build “tiny homes” for the homeless using federal taxpayer grant money related to Winter Storm Uri, which severely impacted Texas in 2021.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has allocated a total of $40.4 million in Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery (CDBG) spending to the City.

The purpose of the grant is “to specifically address unmet needs resulting from the winter storm that occurred in February 2021,” Public Affairs Officer Jenna Carpenter told The Dallas Express.

The City received $24,433,000 in May 2022, followed by an additional $15,967,000 on January 18.

The City told The Dallas Express that disaster recovery funding “rules were expanded to allow new construction.”

“HUD determined that in the wake of a major disaster in which large number of housing units were damaged or destroyed, it was necessary to expand the eligible use of CDBG-DR funds to include new construction to assist with addressing the full range of unmet housing needs arising from a disaster,” according to public affairs officer Jenna Carpenter.

Council Member Gay Donnell Willis first raised this idea during a City Council meeting last Wednesday. Her support of the notion was echoed by Council Member Cara Mendelsohn.

“This seems to be a really reasonable missing solution in our committee for all the encampments that we have,” said Mendelsohn. “Very often, we’re told by staff that they’re not going to remove people from the encampment because they have no place to put them.”

Mendelsohn said the City could easily use this federal taxpayer funding to create a residential community of tiny homes where homeless people could be immediately housed and be provided with support services “to help people become independent again.”

“I don’t think it’s the universal solution for homelessness, but I do think it’s missing in our continuum of care,” Mendelsohn continued. “I would love to see us allocate some money for this service.”

Willis said tiny homes most likely meet CDBG criteria, but she wanted to examine the idea further at the next Housing and Homelessness Solutions Committee meeting.

Building tiny homes for the homeless has been tried in Indiana, Missouri, California, and Oregon, but the execution varies from community to community.

One tiny home project consists of “agency-managed shelters that use pods instead of the traditional gymnasium full of bunk beds,” according to Victory LaFara, program specialist for Dignity Village in Portland, Oregon.

Alternatively, other tiny home communities are managed by their residents and claim to offer a path to home ownership.

A tiny home village for the homeless has been built in Austin by a faith-based nonprofit. The village houses about 250 people who were formerly homeless.

However, data has shown that “Housing First” solutions are not likely to solve homelessness because they ignore underlying causes such as mental illness and drug abuse. A report published last year by the Center on Wealth and Poverty at the Discovery Institute outlined how “Housing First” solutions are “doomed to failure” because they “begin with an inadequate diagnosis of the causes.”

The budget proposal will also go before the committee on March 21, per a motion by Willis, before it goes to the full council on April 12.

The City’s struggle to effectively address the crisis of homelessness and vagrancy has intensified in recent years despite millions of taxpayer dollars thrown at the issue by City Hall.

Three-quarters of downtown residents believe homelessness is a “significant issue,” comparing the crisis to those in cities like Austin, Houston, Chicago, and New York City, according to polling conducted by Downtown Dallas Inc.

Additional polling conducted by The Dallas Express found that most Dallasites think “homelessness, vagrancy, and panhandling” are “serious problems in Dallas.”

Many Dallas residents favor an alternative approach taken by San Antonio’s successful Haven for Hope — a one-stop shop for homelessness that provides services in a contained geographic area. An approach like this has yet to be tried by the City of Dallas.

Council Member Cara Mendelsohn recently tweeted that she has visited Haven for Hope “multiple times,” but she did not elaborate on her opinion of the facility.

When the spending proposal goes before the council, the City will host a public hearing to gather feedback from local residents regarding how the $40 million in grant money should be spent. While the agenda for the April 12 council meeting is not yet published, the hearing was confirmed to The Dallas Express by Carpenter.

The City has published a draft of the spending plan online for people to view in preparation for the hearing.

The City Council accepted the additional funding and adopted the proposed allocations in last week’s council meeting. The largest expense is residential construction, for which $25.4 million has been proposed.

Other proposed expenditures include $2 million for home repairs and $2.7 million for infrastructure repairs. The proposal also includes $2.5 million for “planning” (data acquisition and analysis, and creation and implementation of action plans) and another $2 million for administrative services.

Council members will vote on a final version of the spending plan after Dallas residents have given their feedback.

During the same council meeting last week, the City authorized spending a total of $70.2 million of taxpayer money, as previously reported by The Dallas Express.

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14 days ago

Build them a gym and a park and don’t forget a vehicle to get around

Reply to  Bret
13 days ago

They’re going to through money and something that they know is not going to work. Why not help the elderly and working poor who need insulation and heating for their homes? Buy a few snowmobiles so that the Fire Department can reach those who are in need of help. We had “warming stations” but elderly people who could not walk a mile in the snow to get to them. 250 people died because of this. Address the problem and use the money for what it was given!

14 days ago

Great! And who will suffer for the property upkeep? The city council needs to be removed from their positions.

14 days ago

Amazes me how the city has no problem spending taxpayer money on an idea that doesn’t have a plan. The city has been buying property across town to house homeless individuals and families. However, the problem is they don’t have enough manpower to vet these people to get them off the street into existing properties. Now they want to build tiny homes? This city is adrift without a paddle.

Don M
Don M
Reply to  PMac
14 days ago

Your last sentence is too kind. Typical government ineptitude in all its shining glory. These homes, if built, will be totally destroyed by the homeless because the city won’t keep up with required maintenance.

14 days ago

The City of Dallas should not be legally able to spend that grant money on anything that falls beyond the original PURPOSE and INTENT for which that money was originally appropriated and allocated. Besides, $40 million would build, what, 2 tiny homes? That’s based on the rate at which the City of Dallas spends money, their lack of fiscal oversight, and lack of value they get in return for the money spent,

Reply to  RSW
12 days ago

Yup, what they’re doing is what the federal government did with social security. Using it for things other than the original purpose and then have the nerve to tell us social security is in trouble. No s..t.

14 days ago

Why not build a campground instead? Provide clean water, restrooms, showers, and services and mental Heath care. Skip the construction and let them pitch their tents on defined campsites.