Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Grow South Dallas, Local Banks, and Stimulating Opportunity

You've undoubtedly seen TimmyTyper's excellent piece on Frontburner where he interviewed long-time South Dallas leader, Reverend Peter Johnson.  If you haven't, let me point you in the direction and you can do the clicking, reading, and learning:
“The solution to unemployment and underemployment in the black community is not jobs in Frisco, hear? If you really want to address that problem, build a TI over here that employs people. People driving 60 miles to work and making $30,000 a year? That’s stupid. Why do we have so many people in the black community going to Plano and Frisco at 5 and 6 o’clock in the morning? Because there are no jobs in our community. If you have jobs in our community, with people making a living wage, economic development is going to happen around those jobs.” 
Johnson didn’t have kind words for the city’s efforts to this point. “To show you how stupid the city of Dallas is, they gave a black man who fries chicken over here $200,000. Rudy’s Chicken. [Ed: it was actually $890,000.] I’m not mad at Rudy. But the black community is not suffering from a lack of fried-chicken places. You know? For the city to think that that’s economic development, they ain’t got a clue.”
Preach, Reverend.  Of course, this article has stimulated some discussion on the A New Dallas facebook page about stimulating jobs, growth, and opportunity, all of which A New Dallas is focused on.  Our bylaws specifically state "promote economic development and transportation alternatives in and around downtown Dallas."  345 is just the start.

Dallas May, which is his actual name rather than a fragment of a sentence that could simply be finished with "or may not," added that we need local businesses and entrepreneurs in South Dallas.  That sounds great and is correct, but it is more difficult than that.  In my conversations with various South Dallas leaders, the problem is the banks.  The banks are only as smart as their computerized criteria, which is to say very, very dumb.

The result is unofficial redlining based on demographic data and socio-economics.  The neighborhoods can't get loans because the incomes aren't there for the computer to say, "yes.  Loan approved."  It's no different than grocery stores pouring over census data for incomes and seeing high incomes and saying, "yes, let's open a store there."  Then certain parts of the city are so incredibly over-burdened with grocery stores while other parts of the city have none.  It's all inertia, man.

If the Mayor is serious about Grow South Dallas and from what I understand, he is, hoping to raise $100 million for investment.  The problem is what to do with all that money.  The modus operandi for too long has been about throwing money at the problem the only way the status quo knew how, big unnecessary infrastructure and suburban schools, community centers, and the like.  Not real places of activity and opportunity.  A community center without being a center of community is no community center.

Instead, I propose we take whatever money is raised for Grow South Dallas and create a local investment bank for 1) small scale infrastructure re-knitting of neighborhoods that the big infrastructure tore apart and 2) low-interest and/or micro-loans for start-up local business and entrepreneurship in conjunction with those targeted infrastructure investment areas.  However, the key is the design of that infrastructure.  Is it to unite and facilitate social and economic exchange or to divide and disperse?  That is the key.  It is necessary to coordinate the infrastructure with the economic development component in a positive manner.  In other words, you can't let the city of Dallas, NCTCOG, or TxDOT have anything to do with it based on their track record.