deep pothole with caution cone

It’s exciting in Dallas because we are on the cusp of electing a new mayor. The June 8 runoff between Scott Griggs and Eric Johnson will decide who will lead us through improving our streets, living in safer neighborhoods, addressing homelessness and solving the affordable housing crisis. 

What gives me comfort about this race is the candidates’ focus on local issues. Yes, we want international companies to make their headquarters in Dallas, but we have to be intentional about not marginalizing those who are here. Yes, we want convention traffic, but not at the sacrifice of fixing our streets. Yes, we may be the ninth largest city in the United States by population, but we want to remain a community woven together by neighborhoods. 

When I reflect on these four areas of concern — streets, safety, homelessness and affordable housing — I think about the 4300 block of San Jacinto, where they all intersect.

Driving down that block of San Jacinto is like playing a game of chicken between your car and the potholes, the sofas strewn on the side of the road and the bulldozers waiting to demolish what’s there. 

This is where the Emanuel Community Center, the nonprofit for which I volunteer, lies in an area of Old East Dallas that hasn’t been “desirable” for quite some time. It’s down the street from the Ross-Bennett grid, which has long been a magnet for armed robberies and drug sales. More than once it made the list of most dangerous neighborhoods in Dallas. The ECC lies a half mile south of Ross and Bennett, a respectable distance away to not bear the brunt of the melee, but close enough to not be immune to the chaos. 

For years, the low-rise apartment complexes across the street from the ECC were poorly managed but were home to those with lower incomes. Today, it’s a magnet for commercial real estate developers. The area borders Lower Greenville to the north and Bryan Place to the south, so the blocks surrounding Ross between Henderson and Haskell are having a boon.

But a boon for some is a travesty for others. Residents, many of whom receive food assistance from the ECC, were told to vacate. Most had no place to go, at least not in this area of the city. The ones who remained are our homeless clients — faithfully coming to the ECC every Tuesday for a bag of food and, once a month, for a hot meal and medical services.

The buildings have been boarded up for months. After they were stripped of the A/C window units, they are now brick, windowless shells that serve as a home to drug dealers, vandals and those who have nowhere else to go. On our side of the street, a fire destroyed our 1890s Parish House last year, and this past winter, we found a homeless man lying dead in our community garden.

Bad roads, public safety concerns, lack of affordable housing and homelessness — all in one block that is in the midst of gentrifying.

Until now, I’ve experienced gentrification only at an arm’s length by moving into areas that have already gone through the process. Sometimes when I’m driving, I’ll notice that what was there yesterday is gone the next. Gentrification is not pretty, often causing more problems than before.

I don’t doubt the sincerity of either mayoral candidate in wanting to address our city’s afflictions, but sincerity doesn’t solve problems. Arguably, it’s a great place to start.

I want our next mayor to not sit in an ivory tower but drive down the 4300 block of San Jacinto and see firsthand 530 feet of bad roads, high crime, nowhere to go and nowhere to live. 

Scott Griggs and Eric Johnson, I am listening for plans and details. I’m evaluating whether proposed solutions are attainable or merely populist rhetoric. I’m listening for metrics and accountability so we can look back and see if there has been improvement. I’m trying to gauge the ability of our next mayor to work with not just large organizations, but community leaders and residents. 

I’m also voting. And I hope you do too.

Editor’s note: Havlick wrote this column before the May 4 election determined the runoff candidates. We added their names to the online version.

Mita Havlick (Photo by Danny Fulgencio).

Mita Havlick is a neighborhood activist. Find her commentary regularly in the back pages of our print edition and online at lakewood.advocatemag.com. (Photo by Danny Fulgencio)

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