Black Clergy present a plan for economic development in southern Dallas

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Faith leaders in southern Dallas said they want a community-driven approach to development, using available land and public-private partnerships.

Reverend Edwin Robinson speaks to attendees at a Black Clergy meeting at the Dallas City Temple Seventh-Day Adventist Church in Dallas on Thursday, Jan, 30, 2019. Robinson and other faith leaders from Dallas talked about a community-driven vision for economic development in southern Dallas.

In the pews of the Dallas City Temple Seventh-Day Adventist Church, faith leaders and community members watched an episode of Vox’s new Netflix series. The short documentary explained how slavery perpetrated racial inequality among homeowners and continues to impact black households today.

When a pastor asked the largely black audience who had learned new information, very few raised their hands.

It’s been a year since a group of black pastors laid out a list of demands for city leaders to create a safer and more equitable Dallas.

This time, Rev. Edwin Robinson, a member and organizer with the Dallas Black Clergy, said he wants the community to start talking about an economic development plan to revitalize southern Dallas.

“We’re here to change the game,” Robinson told the crowd Thursday night. “It’s time.”

The roughly 60-person crowd included black developers, Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot and a legislative aide for council member Adam Bazaldua.

The plan, compiled from a series of other recommendations for the city in the past few years, proposes a variety of new ways to increase southern Dallas’ tax base through development. Ideas include using available land by faith groups and creating an investment fund to increase wealth in low- to middle-income households.

The investment, similar to a private equity fund, would raise capital that could be used for development. The fund could also offer a return on investment if the city chooses to contribute, said Derek Avery, a developer and chief executive officer of COIR Holdings LLC, who helped with the plan.

The plan also proposes that land owned by historically disenfranchised institutions — such as black churches, historically black colleges and universities and other schools — could be used to invest in affordable, mixed-income and middle-income housing.

The churches would maintain ownership of the land and lease it, with rental escalation clauses based on market value, according to a presentation.

Robinson said the city has moved too slowly on potential public-private partnerships centered on the people most impacted by the policies. He has already been working with City Temple Seventh-Day Adventist Church and Friendship-West Baptist Church, which together own roughly 100 acres in southern Dallas, he said.

Robinson said he has had discussions with some southern Dallas council members. Another meeting is scheduled for late February to get more community members involved.

The city is also in the process of coming up with its own strategic plan.

Council member Tennell Atkins, who represents part of southern Dallas and heads the council’s Economic Development Committee, told council members in a memo that they’ll look at the draft this month. The city plans to create a 21-member panel that will review the proposal and provide feedback to an external consultant by March 6, according to his memo.

The council is scheduled to discuss the final draft in late April.

Atkins said he hasn’t read the Dallas Black Clergy’s proposal yet but is open to suggestions. Though he hopes to meet with the faith leaders, he said he doesn’t want any more ideas that don’t translate into action.

“We got a whole lot of plans. But a plan does not help the city. We need policy,” Atkins said Friday. “We need tools to help us grow the tax base.”

Jaime Kowlessar, senior pastor of the Dallas City Temple Seventh-Day Adventist Church, said that society has valued “one color over another” and that Dallas zip codes can help determine residents’ quality and length of life.

Kowlessar said the plan the Dallas Black Clergy has drafted can help reverse decades-long discriminatory policies through the city’s zoning practices.

Avery said single-family zoning and too much retail space have been the most problematic policies.

If the city allowed for more density in southern Dallas, “then we would build that tax base quickly,” Avery said, snapping his fingers, “without displacing people.”

Change is already happening, Kowlessar said, but it’s up to the community to take matters into its own hands.

“We are not waiting for a hero,” he said. “We are the heroes.”