For rent: brand new one-bedroom apartments in the shadow of downtown Dallas, a short walk from one of the city’s trendiest areas. On-site concierge. Successful applicants will be homeless, mentally ill and possess criminal records.
These are strange-sounding tenant requirements, but The Cottages at Hickory Crossing is an unusual kind of project. It is a “housing first” strategy: find the homeless a permanent place of their own before trying to solve their problems, rather than the other way around.
The fifty 400sq ft units are set to open in April in north Texas. Despite its bucolic name, Hickory Crossing is wedged between freeways a mile from the city’s high-rises, with railroad tracks, warehouses and the nightlife of the Deep Ellum district close by. One of the nonprofits that has raised the funds for the multimillion dollar project, CitySquare, has an Opportunity Center across the road offering a variety of services for low-income Dallas residents.
“In order to live across the street you have to be chronically homeless, disabled, with some presenting mental health issue, typically drugs or alcohol, and you have to have a criminal background. If you haven’t been in jail you can’t stay in our houses,” says Larry James, CitySquare’s CEO.
The process of selecting tenants is under way. It began by identifying the 300 most expensive homeless people in the county, based on their cost to city services such as the health and prison systems.
The Cottages at Hickory Crossing
“We will have 50 of the most expensive homeless persons. The average cost per person on this list of 300 to the county alone, not counting the city or nonprofit organisations, is over $40,000 a year to stay outside. We’re going to provide a gated community with security, seven day a week mental health services, really good housing – platinum LEED certified – every house has a bedroom scaled to queen-sized furniture, a living room, kitchen and a bath, a nice front porch. Less than $15,000 a year is what it costs to provide that kind of housing,” James says.
All for a rent of 30% of the tenant’s monthly income – whether it is $1,000 or $10. The only requirement? “Be a good tenant,” James says. That means no criminal or disruptive behaviour; but no pressure on residents to immediately go sober if they are addicted to alcohol, for example. Help will be on hand when they are ready.
“I’ve heard stories of people getting ‘housing first’ and sleeping with the door open because it’s such a massive shift, it took months or even a year for them to be able to shut and lock the door,” says Jonathan Grace, a pastor who works with the homeless in Dallas.
Other models for housing that focus on mental illness and alcoholism have been credited with reducing chronic homelessness in Utah by 91% and have been tried in cities including Seattle, Los Angeles and New York.
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Some 40% of homeless adults in Dallas are severely mentally ill.
[. . .]
The sprawling homeless encampment beneath a freeway overpass grew to be so large that it encompassed hundreds of tents and distinct neighbourhoods: the alcoholics, the drug users, the young people, clustered on a dusty patch of wasteland close to the shimmering glass skyscrapers of downtown and a giant billboard advertising a banana-yellow Ford Mustang. Clothes hung on a metal fence, pigeons pecked at the ground and portable toilets stood in a corner near a truck providing medical services.
[. . .]
James believes the cottages could promote a more enlightened approach to homelessness in Texas, one that emphasizes trust, time and collaboration. “People given resources and opportunities typically work hard to solve their own problems. We just don’t respect that enough,” he says.
'Housing first': Dallas's new strategy for the city's most costly homeless people
Selection process for tenants is under way as project seeks to provide permanent place to live before solving issues such as mental health, drugs or alcohol
Tom Dart in Dallas, Texas
Sunday 20 March 2016 08.00 EDT