Will ‘Forward Dallas’ Send City Backwards?

Dallas City Hall | Image by Thomas Faull/Getty Images

A public town hall meeting was held Wednesday evening to discuss the long-term vision for Dallas and whether high-density housing should be integrated into single-family neighborhoods.

Over 100 residents appeared at the town hall meeting attended by The Dallas Express to voice their concerns or support for Forward Dallas. This proposed City-wide plan establishes new guidelines for using and developing public and private land.

District Council Members Jesse Moreno and Paul Ridley led the Forward Dallas town hall meeting, assisted by Plan and Zoning Commission members.

Forward Dallas is being pitched as a solution to the City’s lack of “affordable housing.” Many residents, however, believe the plan is a bait-and-switch that actively encourages private equity firms to build townhomes, duplexes, triplexes, and other Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) at the expense of homeowners in single-family neighborhoods.

According to City Plan Commissioner Melissa Kingston, there is no easy solution to the housing affordability crisis in Dallas. Kingston explained that the problem stems from two factors: people’s cost of living rising faster than their wages and the boom in regional demand, which has reduced inventory and boosted competition.

“Everybody in my neighborhood says, ‘I’m glad I moved here when I did because I couldn’t afford to live here now.’ It’s the same phenomenon whether you live in a $2 million neighborhood or a $250,000 neighborhood. It’s happening everywhere,” said Kingston.

“It’s part of what’s so challenging about plans like Forward Dallas. How can we, as a city, really move the needle and make places for people to live on a longer-term basis? That’s why we’re having these conversations,” she added.

However, many residents believe the affordability crisis is manufactured and that any solution should focus on empty plots of land and not the addition of high-density housing types.

“Developers are not altruistic; this is an opportunity for profit,” said one town hall participant. “This is an opportunity for private equity to come in and tear down homes and build rental units.” The participant claimed that Millennials and Gen Zers will spend the rest of their lives throwing money at high-rent housing instead of owning a home.

While most residents at the town hall aged 40 and up opposed the plan, residents in their 20s and 30s mostly supported it.

Other meeting attendees expressed dismay at the plan’s lack of protection for historic, conservation, and planned development districts, with one resident pointing out that the area near Jim Miller and Interstate 30 has no protected or historic districts because no one cares about 1950s houses.

“I want those who are going to get a lot of protection to look out for us,” the resident said.

Kingston assured the resident that the City would add language in the next Forward Dallas draft to address the preservation of historic districts.

Another participant suggested that if the City wants to build more high-density housing, it should be near Dallas Area Rapid Transit.

“Increase density in transit-oriented development areas and stay out of our single-family neighborhoods,” the resident told Kingston.

Kingston says the City needs to be proactive about creating more density and adding more housing types, but it should also be thoughtful about where to add density.

“We do not want to eliminate single-family zoning in Dallas,” she said, “but we need to find a solution that fits because the problem is not going away.”

Council Members Ridley and Moreno were not immediately available for comment when contacted by The Dallas Express. However, Council Member Cara Mendelsohn of District 12 replied that her residents overwhelmingly want to live in a neighborhood that includes “single-family housing, parks, schools, and houses of worship only.”

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