Downtown tower may house poor
Ministry plans to buy, turn site near Arts District into low-income units
11:52 PM CST on Monday, March 6, 2006
By STEVE BROWN / Staff Writer
Central Dallas Ministries has contracted to purchase a vacant downtown office tower with plans to convert it into low- and moderate-income housing.
The 511 N. Akard building ? next door to the Downtown YMCA and near the Arts District ? would be turned into small apartments that would house low-income residents.
Built to house offices of the Southern Baptist Convention and other tenants, the 167,000-square-foot office tower at 511 N. Akard has been vacant for more than a decade.
"We are proposing to develop 209 units of high-quality, very affordable housing, including about 100 units of housing for formerly homeless individuals and 100 units of housing for low-income individuals," Larry James, chief executive officer of the social service organization, said Monday.
But the proposal will probably draw criticism from some property owners who won't relish the idea of a low-income housing project in that area of downtown.
"Ross Avenue is now Dallas' main street," said real estate broker Newt Walker, who is one of the opponents of the city homeless center planned near the Farmers Market.
"No one is against the homeless. It's a location issue."
Dallas City Council member Angela Hunt, whose district includes downtown, said downtown needs a wide range of housing. "We need some residential properties that will provide housing for folks who aren't making million-dollar incomes," she said.
She said the project will have a relatively low density and won't have on-site services.
Along with the rental units, the 15-story office tower would house retail space on the ground floor and two floors of offices for Central Dallas Ministries, Mr. James said.
The project would cost more than $19 million, to be funded by a combination of loans, grants, and city and state funding.
"We are responding to the revitalization of downtown and the need for downtown's labor market to have places to live," Mr. James said. "Not everyone can live in a $2,500-a-month condo."
Units in the proposed residential complex would start at about $350 a month and would be supported by government rent subsidizes and housing vouchers, he said.
Central Dallas Development Corp., an affiliate of Central Dallas Ministries, has applied for a $1.2 million grant from the Texas Department of Housing & Community Affairs and is seeking $1.75 million in bond money from the city of Dallas to fund the project.
Central Dallas Ministries also receives private-sector support from donors including Bank of America, Kraft Foods, Haynes & Boone LLP and Fannie Mae, according to the group's Web site.
The nonprofit organization will seek historic tax credits for the building, which opened in 1959. "Part of our plan is to go for historic tax credits, which would allow us to fundamentally restore its exterior," Mr. James said.
Built to house offices of the Southern Baptist Convention and other tenants, the 167,000-square-foot office tower has been vacant for more than a decade.
Several developers have looked at converting the tower into homes. In 1999, a Canadian builder announced plans to convert it into a luxury condo project. But the redevelopment was never completed.
Mr. James said that while several floors of the tower have been cleared, the building interior still needs considerable demolition and asbestos abatement.
McCaslin Development ? a longtime Dallas apartment builder and commercial real estate investor ? will be co-developer of the project, called City Walk at Akard.
The building is in an area of downtown that is seeing a renaissance, with construction of the nearby Hunt Consolidated headquarters and developments planned a few blocks away in the Arts District.
Officials with Downtown Dallas, formerly the Central Dallas Association, said they would support redevelopment of the 511 N. Akard building.
"I found out about it just last week, and we are going to take a look at it one step at a time," said John Crawford, chairman of the business group. "It's important for everyone to understand that unless it is a quality project, it doesn't do anybody any good.
"Hopefully it will have a positive impact on downtown," he said.
Mr. James said he met with Dallas' economic development and housing committee members on Monday, where the project got favorable reviews.
The City Council will still have to decide whether to support the development.
"We have until the end of September to close our purchase," Mr. James said. "We have looked at almost every vacant building in downtown Dallas.
"There is no project like this in Dallas currently."
Developments that get homeless people off the streets and provide safe and affordable housing are increasingly common in major cities, said Dallas-based housing analyst Ron Witten.
"You see these kinds of projects in Portland and Los Angeles and Minneapolis and lots of cities," he said. "I'm sure there is a need."
While several of downtown's loft apartment buildings have set aside units for moderate-income renters, this will be the first building targeted at the affordable housing market.
Central Dallas Ministries has already developed a half dozen low- and moderate-income housing projects in East Dallas.
Single-room occupancy apartments, called SROs, are considered critical to solving Dallas' homeless problem.
The city's Ten Year Plan to End Chronic Homelessness calls for 700 of the one-room apartments to be built by 2014. City officials set aside part of the $23.8 million November bond election for SROs.
The rest of the bond money will be spent on a Homeless Assistance Center, where homeless people can receive a variety of services, including emergency shelter, mental health or substance abuse treatment and job training.
Once homeless people become stabilized at the planned assistance center, they will need places to live. But the region has a shortage of affordable housing, especially for those who survive on extremely low incomes. Many homeless people receive or may be eligible for disability checks of less than $600 a month. Dallas currently has 125 SROs, while Houston has more than 1,000.
"We can't bring them in off the streets and not have a place for them to go," said Cindy Honey, executive director of the Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance. The Homeless Assistance Center "will help them through crisis stabilization, then we can try to help them in rejoining the community."
Dallas has more than 9,000 homeless, including at least 1,000 chronic homeless.
Staff writer Kim Horner contributed to this report.
Central Dallas Ministries
History: Opened as a food pantry in 1988
Services: The nonprofit organization has grown into a community development- social justice ministry that provides a variety of services, including food, health care, legal assistance and housing.
Number served: 50,000 people yearly, primarily in East Dallas and South Dallas
Budget: $4.1 million, from multiple sources, including church and private donations, United Way of Metropolitan Dallas funds, and public and private grants