“This is a terrible place to live, and I just don’t know how to get out.”
– a resident of the Pleasant Village Apartments in Dallas.
Something awful happened at Dallas’ Pleasant Village Apartments last Wednesday. Here’s the chronology as reported in the Dallas Morning News.
10:30 p.m. Tuesday: A fight between girls at the Pleasant Village Apartments spills onto a breezeway, and adults soon join the fray.
11:45 p.m.: A man fires a shotgun, and residents flee into their homes. Someone calls 911.
11:50 p.m.: Emerging from an apartment, the grandmother of one girl is struck by shotgun pellets.
Midnight: Police and paramedics respond to the apartment complex. The woman, complaining of chest pains, is taken to a hospital.
1:14 a.m. Wednesday: A resident warns police that people expect the shooting to continue after officers disperse.
About 1:30 a.m.: Many of the police officers leave the complex. Police say at least one officer remained.
Just after 1:30 a.m.: Gunfire sprays a car leaving the complex, wounding three children.
All the children, including a 10-year-old boy and a 4-year-old girl were expected to survive, but a 12-year-old girl remained in critical condition late Wednesday.
Residents are scared
“It was ridiculous – it just don’t make no sense,” said Latosia Gladney, who found herself at the center of the fight – a scuffle between pre-teen girls – that sparked the unfolding bloodshed.
We do not know who is responsible for this outrage. Police have not announced any arrests. So apportioning blame to tenants or outsiders will have to wait. But we do know that the security situation in and around these apartments is out of control. This is not a new phenomena.
The media describes the apartments as extremely dangerous. “Dallas police officers don’t respond to calls from the Pleasant Village Apartments alone anymore. They’ve seen tense situations there attract crowds, lacing moments of conflict with the potential for violence,” the Dallas Morning News reports.
The Dallas Observer said, until recent renovations, the Pleasant Village Apartments was “…one of the worst apartment complexes in southern Dallas.”
Community activist Michael Davis has blogged, “Everybody who knows anything about those two places knows that they don’t care one lick about their tenants. Every summer they’re on TV because their tenants haven’t had A/C for weeks. Both complexes cater to thugs which hold good tenants hostage, and do nothing about it.”
At least some residents back up this assessment. Bryan Pope, 38, said he’s lived at the complex since October and fears every day for the safety of his three children. “I pray for this household,” he said. “That these walls, these windows – that nothing comes through.”
In the wake of the shootings Deputy Chief Patricia Paulhill, commander of the Dallas police southeast patrol division asked for SWAT team members to beef up patrols at the complex this week. When the regular cops have to get the SWAT team to patrol an apartment complex it is not an acceptable environment for children. When the other children in the apartments hear that their playmates have been shot at their home what does this do to them?
We need to review how we got into this development
Now I am going to admit up front that I know basically nothing first hand about life in the Pleasant Village Apartments. I hope over the course of the coming weeks to learn more. But there is clearly something seriously wrong at Pleasant Village.
Part of what’s wrong clearly lies with some of the people who live or hang out at the apartments. Some of the problem lies with law enforcement or the lack thereof. But, since this is a subsidized development, housers must explore issues about the housing development itself that may have contributed to this tragedy.
I’m not going to recommend specific solutions for this particular development until I can learn more. But I do know about subsidized housing policy so I want to add some information about the financing of this development and to discuss how some of the conditions that may have contributed to this tragedy might be mitigated in the future with the application of some of the current best housing practices.
Let me be very clear. I am not ready to point the finger of blame at government agencies, the property owners or anyone besides the criminal who shot these children. There have been favorable media reports on the efforts of the new owners to improve the apartments. But press reports indicate that the residents feel this development is still unsafe and they feel they are trapped in it. We owe it to the children and others living in this and other similarly situated developments to consider what sort of housing policy actions can mitigate their feelings of insecurity, enhance their safety and, hopefully, prevent the recurrence of this type of senseless crime.
Rehabilitating the Pleasant Vilage
As an older, privately owned and managed, HUD financed property, Pleasant Village has changed ownership from time to time. Most recently it was purchased in 2004 by Guardian Management LLC, an Oregon-based real estate management company.
The Dallas Business Journal reported that the new owner said the apartments were “drug-infested” and “on the verge of losing their HUD backing.”
“We’re always looking for owners who are willing to invest in their properties,” Patricia Campbell, spokeswoman at the Fort Worth regional office of HUD told the Business Journal. “We certainly want these units to remain in the affordable housing inventory, as long as they can be well-maintained.”
The Pleasant Village Apartments is a property originally developed forty years ago by private owners with financing from HUD. The development was built in 1968 and is comprised of 12 buildings. It was the recipient in 2006 of $6 million in tax exempt bond financing from the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs along with low income housing tax credits in the amount of $3,701,520. The 200 unit apartment development, located at 378 N. Jim Miller Road in South Dallas, also has 130 Section 8 project based housing vouchers.
When the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs reviewed the application submitted by the new owner for Low Income Housing Tax Credits on July 21, 2006 the state agency noted, “The buildings are currently 91% occupied and generally in poor condition.”
The state reported that the owner’s cost of acquiring the apartment development was about $2.9 million (about $14,500 per apartment). The hard costs of rehabilitation was about $3.5 million (about $17,700 per apartment).
The state’s underwriting analysis showed that for the first year of operation after rehabilitation the property would have a gross income of $1,350,636, total expenses of $827,219, net operating income of $523,417, debt service of $431,676, for a net cash flow of $91,741.
The developer’s fee stated in the underwriting report was $1,120,536.
So what is the public purpose of spending millions to revive a crime and drug plagued 40 year HUD project in poor condition?
It is those 130 Section 8 vouchers that make this a priority property for preserving. If the apartments get torn down, the HUD commitment to provide the 130 Section 8 vouchers goes away. In a city like Dallas with a waiting list for Section 8 of 8,000 families and where the waiting list has been closed for new applications for four years, hanging on to Section 8 vouchers is a priority.
What was the cost to the government of the Pleasant Village Apartments? First, there is the cost of the Low Income Housing Tax Credits – $3,701,520. Second, there is the cost of the tax exempt bonds. (I can’t find a formula to calculate this cost). Then, there is the cost of the Section 8 rents paid on behalf of the tenants. There is no data for this particular development to use to derive an accurate figure for this, but I would estimate $700,000 per year would be reasonable ($400 per month X 130 tenant households).
Not an example of best housing practices
If the rules and regulations were not in place linking the Section 8 vouchers to this property, today’s housing policy should probably dictate that the public subsidies be used for funding affordable housing in places other than Pleasant Village. There are four reasons.
1) Generally speaking, housing policy today does not favor linking large numbers of Section 8 vouchers to a particular development. The quote at the beginning of this post from the tenant saying, “I just don’t know how to get out” is based on the fact that Section 8 is tied to the property in this case. With vouchers linked to the property, if tenants, move they lose their Section 8 subsidy.
Permitting tenants to choose where to live is the preferred option today. I need to point out however, as I have written many times before in this blog, that tenants’ real life choices about where to live are severely constrained because most landlords refuse to rent to Section 8 voucher holders – a form of discrimination that is legal in Texas.
2) Housing policy today would discourage large concentrations of extremely low income tenants (incomes <30 percent of median) in a single development. With the number of project based Section 8 units linked to this development, it is almost guaranteed to have at least 65 percent of its households with extremely low incomes.
3) The development size is too large. This is more my opinion than prevailing housing policy but 200 low income apartments is too large of a development.
4) New affordable housing should usually not be constructed in a segregated neighborhood. Once again this my opinion and that of most researchers and critics. It is not always current practice. Interestingly, it has been suggested that Pleasant Village might have been originally constructed and operated as a segregated all white apartment development in 1968. The property then transitioned to a largely African-American development.
As a community we have an obligation to get outraged and work to fix the situation at the Pleasant Village Apartments. To the extent that housing conditions played a role, we housers have a special responsibility.