DALLAS (AP) _ Retired executive Dick Prewitt is resigned to the fact public housing is coming to his North Dallas neighborhood.
``It’s like having a tooth that you do a lot of your chewing with develop an abscess and you have to have it pulled _ you learn to live with it,″ he said.
With ``reinventing public housing″ a Clinton administration goal and Housing Secretary Henry Cisneros’ top priority, the Dallas Housing Authority intends to move tenants of inner-city housing projects into 75 new townhouse-style homes on an eight-acre site in a prosperous neighborhood of $750-a-month apartments, $175,000 homes and horse pastures.
Community residents had complained at first that their fears of crime and lost property value were being disregarded.
``Everybody wants a successful community, and you don’t do that by pulling a club out of a bag and banging people over the head with it,″ said Mark Wilkinson, spokesman for a group of homeowners.
The homeowners sued to stop the project _ and sought help from their congressman, House Majority Leader Dick Armey _ but were unsuccessful.
And so, come June, barring any complications, construction will begin, with an eye toward moving the tenants in in 1997.
The homeowners have been meeting with the Housing Authority to hash out the townhouse design so that the homes blend in with the surroundings.
Even though the new homes are going to be multifamily dwellings, they will be made to look more like single-family homes, with peaked roofs, brick and stucco exteriors and landscaped yards; the complex may also have brick or wrought-iron fences around it, similar to the surrounding developments.
North Dallas is the kind of place where residents can go for months without venturing near the city center. Residents can live a lifetime without driving anywhere near slums, as many still regard public housing.
Housing Authority President Alphonso Jackson said the slum image will be eliminated only when the public sees what the agency is doing now.
``Too often what we’ve done is we believed that, as public housing advocates and experts, that living in public housing was a right and not a privilege,″ Jackson said. ``From my perspective, it’s a privilege, and if you violate the privilege, you shouldn’t be in public housing.″
Tenants are required to sign agreements requiring children to have 95 percent school attendance and parents to perform 80 hours a year of service at their children’s school.
Around the country, attempts to introduce low-income housing to prosperous neighborhoods have been met with fear. But fear fades in the face of experience, some public housing officials say.
``We’ve been doing this for the last 10 years,″ said Harrison Shannon, president of the Charlotte Housing Authority in North Carolina. ``The units are attractive-looking. We often have people drive by who can’t tell the CHA units from the surrounding private development.″
The North Dallas project is the first step toward fulfilling a federal judge’s order.
In 1987, U.S. District Judge Jerry Buchmeyer ruled that federal, state and local housing officials had ganged up to keep blacks in the West Dallas Housing Project _ a huge, shabby, aging slum of flat-roofed, two-story barracks-like houses in the shadow of a lead smelter.
The judge ordered Dallas housing officials to bulldoze the 3,500-unit complex, which had been built in the 1950s, and ordered them replaced with an equivalent number of units to be scattered in small complexes in middle-class neighborhoods.
After thwarted appeals, local officials decided to build 474 apartments and to give about 2,700 other families vouchers to obtain their own housing in existing private complexes.
Cisneros, a former San Antonio mayor, endorsed the North Dallas project and the 1994 demolition of the West Dallas Housing Project.
The West Dallas apartments have been replaced by grass and plans for a 200 new apartments to be completed in 1998. Already, the housing authority has bought a derelict shopping strip and renovated it with a supermarket, a police station and various businesses to serve the West Dallas property.
``My contention is that people will destroy things only when you expect them to destroy things,″ Jackson said. ``If you create an environment that is not wholesome and conducive to good living, they’re not going to live well. But if you create an environment that is decent and wholesome, and you expect them and tell them you expect them not to destroy, then they won’t dirty it up.″
Current tenants of Dallas public housing look forward to the possibility of moving up.
``The move for me would be fantastic move,″ Verna Lynch said. ``It would allow my children the opportunity to see a new beginning.″
Neither she nor fellow tenant Barbara Key has any qualms about being the pioneers.
``It would be good for everyone if the people just woke up and saw that it is a new day,″ Ms. Key said.