February 19, 2014
Credit Shelley Kofler / KERA News
In recent weeks, we’ve reported on a federal housing investigation regarding where Dallas locates low-income housing.
Some federal officials and community advocates claim Dallas discourages subsidized housing in wealthier, white parts of the city. That results in almost all of the units ending up in low-income and minority neighborhoods, primarily in southern Dallas.
But critics say it doesn’t have to be that way. They point to Frisco, a place known for its country clubs and gated communities. In this upscale Collin County suburb, a low-income development is breaking stereotypes.
In the decorated offices of North Court Villas, manager Nann Gamel gathered information from a young couple who wants to move in.
“We do a full background check: criminal, credit, rental, employment, just like any apartment community,” Gamel told the couple.
But North Court Villas in Frisco is unique.
In a city where the median household income is more than $108,000 a year, a single person living in this development can earn no more than $28,000. A family of three can earn a maximum of just under $37,000.
That’s because North Court Villas was built with the help of federal tax credits and a non-profit housing grant. In return, it must serve lower-income tenants who earn no more than 60 percent of the area’s median income.
North Court Villas in Frisco, an affordable-housing development, is so popular it has a waiting list of 500 people.
"You have more opportunities"
As part of a 1980s court settlement to desegregate run-down housing in Dallas that housed mostly blacks, some of the North Court units are reserved for Dallas Housing Authority clients, such as Chimerle Thompson.
She’s burning calories on a treadmill in North Court’s well-equipped exercise room.
“I’m actually working out this morning,” she said breathlessly as she gestured toward the apartments.
“I love it. It’s very nice.”
Thompson, the mother of a 10-year old, works at a local department store. But she qualifies for housing assistance because she doesn’t earn a lot of money.
When Thompson moved to Texas from Arkansas, the Dallas Housing Authority told her about available apartments in South Dallas and Frisco. The choice was easy, she said.
“I didn’t want to live in South Dallas. I wanted to live in Frisco. I’m not scared of Caucasian people,” Thompson said with a laugh.
“To me, in areas like this, you have better things," she added. "You have more opportunities. There is more going on to me. The streets are nicer. The neighborhoods are nicer."
Kids can play in peace
Thompson is among the North Court residents who defy the myth that minority clients don’t want to live in mostly Anglo communities, says Ann Lott with the housing non-profit Inclusive Communities.
“When you give low-income families a choice as to where they would live, you’d be surprised how many families would chose to live in areas of high opportunity, even if they’re moving to predominantly Anglo areas,” Lott said.
By high opportunity, she means access to quality groceries and stores, good transportation, jobs and highly-rated schools.
Ladeva Hampton loves her spacious two-bedroom apartment with walk-in closets, washer and dryer connections and new kitchen appliances.
But Frisco’s schools are the biggest reason she moved in. She’s a bus driver with two small children.
“I want to put them in the greater school system," Hampton said. "That way, they can grow up and be successful and become something."
“My children, they can feel free to walk," she added. "They don’t have to worry about getting shot at."
Hampton feels lucky to live at North Court villas. The 134 units were already filled when the apartments opened in November. There are 500 people on a waiting list.
No increase in crime, city says
There's another myth that developer Cherno Njie wants to debunk: that it’s too expensive to build this housing in an upscale community.
“We didn’t find the land in Frisco was much more expensive compared to others, especially given the rewards of locating there,” he said.
Those rewards include apartments that are never empty; support from the city of Frisco when some citizens wanted to prevent the affordable housing from being built; and the financing that became available when Njie made his case to the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs.
“The point I drove home is this was a rare opportunity where … a city recognizes the need for affordable housing in an area that has few options for working families," Njie said. "Where the schools are excellent and good opportunity existed to make a difference in the lives of the next generation."
Frisco officials say North Court Villas apartments have been problem-free. There’s been no increase in crime as some residents predicted.
Another North Court resident, Ladeva Hampton, says she can now imagine a better life for her family.
She plans to return to college and complete her bachelor’s degree and then find a job in contract management.
Hampton looks forward to a day when she’ll earn too much money to stay.