How Dallas’ escalating home prices only add to the city’s homelessness
Note: This article is part of our State of the City project, in which The Dallas Morning News explores the most critical issues facing our communities. Find more topics in coming days as we examine the issue of homelessness.
When prolific homebuilder D.R. Horton put 30 new homes on the market in May, more than 100 people showed up in southern Dallas County’s Glenn Heights community for a lottery-style chance at the properties.
The homes made up a new phase in Arlington-based D.R. Horton’s housing development. As the nation’s largest homebuilder, D.R Horton priced the homes in the mid-$200,000 to $300,000 range — a hard-to-find sweet spot in today’s housing market.
Would-be buyers wrapped around a sales building in Magnolia Meadows for hours, with some dropping out along the way and others waiting until all of the homes were claimed.
Even though Dallas-Fort Worth leads the country in construction of homes and apartments, with 70,000 added in the past year, these builds typically aren’t within the budgetary reach of lower-income households.
Demand for affordable homes is at an all-time high in Dallas and surrounding communities. And supply, as in the case of the Glenn Heights homes, doesn’t begin to match up, creating pressures for everyone from renters wanting to buy a home to sellers who can’t afford to move because of rising real estate prices.
That’s especially problematic in Dallas, where only 4 out of 10 residents own a home, according to research by the Urban Institute using 2019 census data. It’s not much better in Dallas County, where 49.9% are homeowners.
Navjot Singh, chief operating officer of Homes USA Realty, represented buyers who signed up for homes in Magnolia Meadows. When he began his real estate career in 2017, he said first-time homebuyers could get a great deal for $200,000. He was helping people fresh out of college find affordable homes.
In the first six months of 2021, North Texas home prices shot up 18% year-over-year — to a record median of $350,000 in June. The median-priced home now costs 50% more than it did five years ago, according to the Texas Real Estate Research Center at Texas A&M University.
Inability to afford housing is a key driver of homelessness, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness. More than 300,000 Dallas residents live in poverty, and almost 600,000 live in housing-distressed households, according to city of Dallas data. Housing-distressed households are defined as those with homes on the brink of foreclosure or already owned by a bank.
Homelessness “is lacking basic security that a home provides, and there’s a lot of disagreement on where that falls,” said Steve Berg, vice president for programs and policy at the National Alliance to End Homelessness.
Long reach of homelessness
The Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance counted 4,570 people this year experiencing homelessness, a slight increase from 4,471 in 2020.
But with homeownership aspirational, even Dallas’ median apartment rent of $950 is unaffordable for the city’s homeless population and low-income residents, according to city data.
“There’s not enough rental housing for the lowest-income people,” Berg said.
Cities where residents spend more than 32% of their income on rent can expect a rise in homelessness, according to 2018 research by Zillow.
There are organizations working to combat the problem. The Dallas Housing Crisis Center, for example, works with veterans and people with disabilities through a landlord-tenant program that aims to move them into permanent housing.
Christina Rosales, deputy director of Texas Housers, a nonprofit corporation working to solve critical housing issues, said getting people into homes is key.
“It is important that we make big public investments in housing,” Rosales said. “[It’s] belief and policy that prove a commodity.”
In Dallas, homelessness cuts across racial and ethnic categories. In February, the city counted members of the homeless community and found:
- 1,822 were white.
- 2,523 were Black.
- 58 were Asian.
- 51 were American Indian or native Alaskan.
- 14 were Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander.
- 102 were multiple races.
There were 552 people who identified their ethnicity as Hispanic/Latino, leaving the remaining 4,018 as non-Hispanic/Latino.
Nissy New, chief operating officer of the Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance, said her organization is working to bring a collective vision to Dallas on ways to house the underserved. She said homeless veterans, for example, often lose touch with family members or friends, giving them no place to go for help.
“Homelessness most often happens when you lose access to social networks,” New said.
Dallas has hundreds of low-income tax credit properties that can be found on the Housing and Urban Development website.
Ann Lott, executive director of the Inclusive Communities Project, said voucher programs are one way to mitigate the problem, but they often have lengthy waitlists. The Housing Choice Voucher Program, formerly known as Section 8, allows the Dallas Housing Authority to pay a portion of rent to landlords to house people who are homeless or in need of financial assistance.
But when housing opportunities open up, Lott said, they’re not always what displaced families envision. “The only landlords that take it are in areas that are abandoned and neglected,” she said.
“It does sort of beg the question, ‘Is rental housing a workable model if it means there [are] so many people who rely on that for their housing and end up in unstable housing?’” Berg said.