Home is Where You Can Afford to Live… Sometimes That’s Nowhere
By Apryl Hill
I’ve lived in Dallas, Texas for all of my life. I’ve known very little apart from fiercely hot summers filled with burning concrete, concealed racism, and a people dedicated to appearances so much so that the city of Dallas has a reputation for it.
I have never actually understood what it is about Texas that lures people here. As a child, I’d hear other people brag about being from the Lone Star State–I could never jump on that bandwagon. My mother’s family moved to the mostly white neighborhood in Dallas called Oak Cliff at the end of the 1960’s. They were one of the only Black families to live close to the country club and golf course near Red Bird Lane. The details of the harassment they faced aren’t as sharp as they used to be in my mind, but the sentiment remains clear: to be Texan is a privilege that isn’t fully enjoyed by many people who were “different”.
I’d find out that the driving force behind the mass movement of people to the Lone Star State had nothing to do with the longhorns and cattle tradition I was taught about in primary school, and everything to do with low business regulations and the fact that Texas is an at-will employment state. At-will employment means an employer can fire any employee for any reason at any time . While companies continue to move here for the space and the freedom to bleed workers dry, Texas offers no adequate solution to the massive outcry of suffering citizens that the state doesn’t deem worthy of a safety net. The inadequate solution is to shift the burden out of the hands of our government and let philanthropy attempt to fill the void left by the lack of resources that people so desperately need.
It almost seems as if every building is dedicated to one millionaire or another, and some wealthy benefactor is providing everything that we need to create this mythical, healthy economy in Dallas. Each day I see ground broken on new residential buildings–on the outside you’d think this is the sign of a booming economy–but the units inside are far too pricey for most of Dallas’ population to actually afford. According to Census data, over ⅕ of the population of Dallas lives in poverty while the median annual income in 2018 was around $50,000. According to an article posted last year on a local news site, you’d need an annual salary of over 113,00o in order to live comfortably and happily in Dallas. Whenever I hear someone talk about how much they love Dallas – or even Texas -I always wonder what it is that they love? The Inaccessible healthcare? No access to affordable housing? An extremely inefficient public transit system? Perhaps they are excited about the 100+ temperatures that run rampant during the summer.
I can’t actually express how little I love Texas. I can’t speak for every nook and cranny of the state, but I know Dallas fairly well. I’m not fond. People from other places often say that southerners are friendly, but I seldom see a smiling face while I’m walking about. Maybe it’s the heat, or maybe it’s my ability to see suffering.
It could be that southern hospitality simply isn’t extended to people of color. During the 1910’s and 20’s, most of Dallas’ Black population was forced to move from their homes across the city and relocate to South Dallas near the State of Texas fairgrounds. During this time, Dallas had a very active KKK chapter that was so widely accepted in 1923 they stated “Klans Day at the Fair. This is the kind of hospitality Black people are used to seeing in Dallas – relocation, followed by the building of giant walls so that fair goers didn’t have to look at the devastating poverty, and an active Klan celebrating next door to a neighborhood that Black people were forced to live in.
The housing crisis of 2007 seems to be a disappearing shadow in America’s rear view mirror and some say there’s a new housing crisis on the horizon in the age of COVID 19–but for some communities the repercussions of the 2007 housing crisis are compounding and snowballing. If you’d been forced to move from a house that was seized or foreclosed on, chances are that your credit has been absolutely ruined. Now families enjoy the gift of a nomadic life, where hefty deposits are demanded if you’d like to live in a nice neighborhood. Each year, rent skyrockets, and so either you must be willing to pay a higher price for stability–or bounce around to find the best bargain. In the time of COVID, families are struggling with new challenges like layoffs and furloughs while scrambling to gather rent for impatient landlords. It seems like the same developers and property management companies own all of the reputable housing in Dallas. In 2019, the largest developer was Dallas Based JBI, building 10 apartment buildings with almost 4000 units. Meanwhile, according to Dallas City Hall, 3,722 people were experiencing homelessless while 600,000 Dallas residents live in housing distressed households, meaning their income is not enough to actually afford the rent that they are paying.
With control of the market they have the ability to request outrageous rents and deposits. Moreover, through third party credit reporting agencies, Redlining today has a different face–it’s been disguised as cut and dry algorithms. The problem is that algorithms are not impartial rather they are made by humans and susceptible to human bias. Even as a person improves their credit scores, they can still be prevented from moving into certain buildings. Dallas is able to create a sort of redlining. Through a magical process that makes very little sense, and with a criteria that is more confusing than a tenth grader trying to explain existentialism, agencies like Onsite.com are able to look through a prospective tenant’s information and reinterpret. This third-party company becomes another gatekeeper to block better neighborhoods based on credit information that can be contrary to the actual credit bureaus. Most people who don’t have money live on the outskirts, in the southern suburbs of the city. They commute to jobs across the metroplex which seems perfectly normal to most people. Deep in the heart of Texas, police overreach is rampant. We may never know what a true Texan looks like, but the police are fairly certain of who looks like a criminal. There is a definite cost to living in the suburbs. Though rent might be lower in suburbs like Pleasant Grove and Desoto, the cost of traffic tickets–and eventual jail time for those who can’t afford to pay are crippling. Someone who could not afford the cost of a $75 ticket, surely can’t pay for a warrant- and after arrest this person would have to worry about jail. It’s the equivalent of debtors’ prison. Also, remember that Texas, as I mentioned earlier, is an at-will work state. When this person isn’t able to go to work because they are held captive for a nonviolent crime, they will most definitely be fired.
Philanthropy, thoughts and prayers, and complacency aren’t solutions to any of these problems. I have personal experience with every single issue that I’ve mentioned. “According to 2016 data, there are 23,436 registered 501(c)(3) public charities in the 16 counties that make up North Texas, up from 18,607 in 2011”. On each charity and non profit website, there is a mission statement that takes aim at helping with something that should be a public policy goal. On the Dallas Foundation’s website, on a page dedicated to collecting funds for COVID- 19, the foundation mentions that it “Relieves the extraordinary burden being placed on our public healthcare system” and “Supports the basic needs of low-income individuals and families”. While this seems like a noble idea, charities like these are an inadequate source of funding that distracts from the idea of systemic change through government. Charity in and of itself allows the ruling class to feel benevolent while not fixing problems. The real solvency comes from a social safety net paid for by tax dollars implemented by the government. It is not a gift, it is our right as human beings.
At the end of my lease, my rent will increase andI’ll have to make a choice. Whenever I leave Dallas, I have to accept the risk of unnecessary police interference. Texans are notorious for spinning a bad guy narrative–if you are not self sufficient and industrious, then surely you are morally corrupt. Being poor is a crime. Being poor means that you are somehow choosing not to be a good citizen.
In July of 2018, I heard the Dallas Street choir sing,whose membership consists of homeless people–and honestly with the shame and stigma casts on homeless people in such a plastic and superficial city, it was amazing to hear them lift their voices with such pride and bravery. One of the members composed a song about how she may have made a mistake, but she still deserved a smile–because it’s only by luck that we are not in her shoes. A mistake? What mistake did she really make?
I think the mistake was made on the part of this crippling and crushing system–that reinforces these terrible cycles of poverty–and then places the responsibility on individuals to survive.
People should have guaranteed access to affordable housing, and to be able to live without being rounded up based on class and race. Everyone deserves more than a chance. End of discussion.