DHA's Decision to Move On-Site Services Out of Cliff Manor Sparks Fresh Concerns

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Last week, the Dallas Housing Authority presented 17 people, once homeless, with a new place to stay in Cliff Manor despite earlier assurances that it would hold off till a task force figured out how to ease their transition into the neighborhood. The mayor has said he hopes to use the ruckus over Cliff Manor as a teaching moment of sorts: The DHA needs to better communicate its intentions with the neighborhoods, and Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance needs to better distribute permanent supportive housing citywide, so they'll be greeted by "a community that's more welcoming" of its newest residents trying to get back on their feet.

But as Mayor Leppert's chief of staff, Chris Heinbaugh, and Brett Willmott, vice president of the Fort Worth Avenue Development Group, told Unfair Park two weeks ago, a zoning issue remained unresolved. As in, did DHA need a specific use permit in order to house the formerly homeless in Cliff Manor?

To which Betty Antebi-Taylor, a building official in Sustainable Development and Construction, said, "No." Her answer came in a letter to DHA's general counsel Gregory Mays dated Monday, which appears after the jump. Wrote Antebi-Taylor, in response to a letter from Mays dated August 4, a SUP isn't necessary because "case-management services [to Cliff Manor's new residents] will be provided off-site." That was news to Scott Griggs, president of the Fort Worth Avenue Development Group, who last night sent a letter to Mayor Tom Leppert and the city council voicing his concerns.

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Griggs points to a June letter from MDHA president and CEO Mike Faenza in which he noted that "several months ago LifeNet, led by MDHA Board vice Chair Liam Mulvaney, was awarded the opportunity to provide full time on site services at Cliff Manor through a competitive process." And in a Street Zine piece posted to Pegasus News last week, contributor Rosie Lena wrote that "there will be monitoring and mentoring available to these people as well as the supportive on-site services offered by LifeNet."

But there was a closed-door meeting at Dallas City Hall last week with several city officials -- among them City Attorney Tom Perkins and Sustainable Development head Theresa O'Donnell -- during which DHA higher-ups agreed to move case-management services to LifeNet's offices at 9708 Skillman St. in order to avoid the SUP requirement.

Council member Dave Neumann told task force members of the meeting, and its outcome, in a brief e-mail Saturday morning:
The City of Dallas Building Official notified me late Friday that she made the determination, based on questions asked and answered, that Dallas Housing Authority has the "right" to continue operating a multi-family facility at Cliff Manor. The proposed uses (including Permanent Supportive Housing) were determined to not be inconsistent with applicable zoning and PD conditions currently in place.

Therefore, DHA is not required to obtain an additional Special Use Permit. I will provide the Task Force with additional information this upcoming Wednesday at the meeting.
All of which led Griggs to send that letter last night, which you'll find below. Long story short, Griggs tells Unfair Park, "Initially, DHA had indicated that LifeNet would be on-site to offer the clinical, medical and social services. DHA even stated a space in Cliff Manor would be reopened as a clinic to serve the PSH residents. The on-site services have been reduced to avoid triggering an SUP." And that, he says in his letter to Leppert and the council, is "unconscionable -- especially when the resident population is considered."

I asked Heinbaugh this morning if the mayor had any response. He said, via e-mail, "We have not seen Scott's letter. I'll make sure the Mayor sees it." There is another task force meeting tonight at DHA HQ, at which city officials will be present. At the moment there's a squabble over whether or not the meeting should be open to the public. (Really.) Updates forthcoming on that front, but till then here's Griggs's missive, followed by Antebi-Taylor's.

From: Scott T. Griggs
Date: Tue, Aug 10, 2010 at 7:35 PM
Subject: Reduced Level of PSH Services at Cliff Manor to Avoid Trigger an SUP & Housing the Homeless in Dallas
To: Mayor Leppert & Honorable Councilmembers:

We learned late yesterday that the DHA Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) program has eliminated on-site supportive services at Cliff Manor to avoid triggering a requirement for a Specific Use Permit (SUP). The Building Official's letter affirming that Cliff Manor has the necessary zoning is predicated on DHA's reduction of on-site PSH services to weekly visits by off-site case workers to ensure participants adhere to the terms of the program. The balance of critical PSH services is to be remotely located across town. This is unconscionable - especially when the resident population is considered. There is not a successful PSH program in the United States that has such minimum on-site PSH services for a resident population, like that at Cliff Manor, which includes habitual felons convicted of violent crimes against persons.

The irresponsible decision to reduce PSH services to avoid triggering an SUP is but one of two serious concerns. We cannot forget an equally urgent matter: The need for a city-wide PSH plan that incorporates best practices.

In 1994, the United States hosted the FIFA World Cup. Dallas played a key role as one of two primary international broadcast centers and the Cotton Bowl served as a venue. In the months leading up to the '94 World Cup, our homeless received intense attention. The City of Dallas prevailed in federal court and successfully demolished the shantytown home to some 200 otherwise homeless residents beneath Interstate 45. As part of the demolition, the City of Dallas offered the shantytown residents counseling and a relocation plan that would let them live in apartments outside of downtown.

Sixteen years have passed and in 2010, we find ourselves in a very similar situation in the months leading up to the Super Bowl. Issues of public safety and basic community standards are again in the spotlight. The pledge of government entities, including the City of Dallas and DHA, to provide alternative housing for the homeless is again being questioned.

And this isn't discounting the daunting dimensions of the challenge to end homelessness. Before the Bridge opened, some 6,000 homeless were in need of critical services downtown each day. The Bridge now serves upwards of 1,500 homeless each day. There remains, however, some 6,000 homeless each day still in need of services downtown. The success of the Bridge continues to attract homeless to Dallas not only from the surrounding cities, but other states as well.

A well-intentioned PSH program was proposed as the solution and next step in a long-range strategy to meet the challenge to end homelessness. But the city-wide implementation plan for the PSH program mandated by the January 28, 2009 Council resolution is still missing.

Government officials in Dallas should be working together on a plan for implementing PSH that incorporates best practices. Instead, the City of Dallas is washing its hands of the matter by releasing the lion's share of responsibility to DHA, an agency with a history of discriminatory site selection practices. As a city, we cannot, nor should not, relinquish such responsibility to DHA.

The DHA PSH program is setting the stage for failure and is a disservice to not only the formerly homeless, who deserve every opportunity to succeed, but to the adjacent community and City of Dallas as well. DHA's unwillingness to ensure an adequate level of on-site PSH services and to engage the community in an SUP process sounds the death knell.

We urge the Mayor and Councilmembers to use all means, including the replacement of DHA boardmembers, to correct the direction of the DHA PSH program. We urge you insist that Cliff Manor residents receive the required on-site PSH services. We urge you to implement a city-wide plan for PSH that adopts best practices. Anything less is a tragedy of complacency.

We look forward to your response.

Very truly yours,
Scott T. Griggs
President, FWADG
COD Response to DHA Cliff Manor 080910

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