For Now, at Least, the "Saga" of the Plaza Hotel Affordable Housing Makeover Is Over

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old ramada.jpg
Ironically, this hotel on S. Akard was once considered by some, at least, to be the "convention center hotel."
So much for redevelopment of 1011 S. Akard Street, once the site of hotels named Sheraton, Ramada and Plaza. For months, Larry James, president and CEO of Dallas Central Ministries, and Larry Hamilton, the building's owner and the man responsible for copious downtown do-overs, had hoped to turn at least a portion of the 12-story building into affordable rental housing. It was stop-and-go for a long, long while: James met with city officials for and against the project, hosted several design charettes, worked to woo nearby Cedars neighbors who opposed the makeover, watched the city council shoot down the proposal and finally gave the thing back to Hamilton, who removed from his plan a housing component for the formerly homeless and got the thing back on track as 12 stories' worth of affordable rental units.

But the "saga" -- as James calls it on his blog this morning -- has come to a rather abrupt end. The Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs, which doles out the low-income tax credits necessary for a project such as the Plaza makeover, has cited "33 reasons why the plan is not worthy of funding," James writes, insisting that many of those reasons were "technical and based on inaccurate information." An attempt to revamp the proposal -- by putting back in the housing component for the formerly homeless -- failed, and Hamilton withdrew the application late last month. "Back to the drawing board," writes James at the end of his lengthy post.

James also offers seven takeaways from the experience, chief among them:
People in all parts of Dallas fear and do not understand the chronically homeless. As a result of the fear and lack of understanding, they will resist the development of housing for this subset of the population almost automatically and in every part of the city. Further, many people do not want to hear the facts about the homeless who receive the benefit of permanent housing. No amount of national, empirical evidence convinces most people. Clearly, we must work harder, start earlier and do a better job of presenting the truth about "housing first" and permanent supportive housing as a viable, community solution to chronic homelessness. At the same time, we must find ways to legitimately earn the trust of neighborhood groups. We continue to hope that the success of our project at 511 N. Akard in the heart of Downtown will help with community education and understanding.

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