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Building Trust And 'Ugly History': Bringing Housing, Resources To Dallas' Underserved Areas

Equitable development has been brought into greater focus in recent months as Dallas seeks to address a pressing need for more housing and commercial resources in underserved areas.

Two local developers at the forefront of this work, James Armstrong III of Builders of Hope and Peter Brodsky of Reimagine RedBird, spoke about their efforts at a Sept. 13 event celebrating the release of the Dallas Regional Chamber’s inaugural DEI Benchmark Report, a survey of more than 100 Dallas companies.

The first step, they said, is building trust.

Builders of Hope's James Armstrong III, Reimagine RedBird's Peter Brodsky, Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson's Bridget Lopez and C-Suite Equity Consulting's Lorin R. Carter

“There’s a very ugly history of bad development in communities of color, so there is a mistrust [from] the community when developers — particularly White developers who don’t know the community — come in,” Brodsky said. “The only way to build trust is to acknowledge the very obvious truth that most people don’t want to talk about.”

Brodsky’s $200M redevelopment of the former RedBird Mall is bringing housing, office, retail, hotels and healthcare to a historically underserved area of Southern Dallas. He said he has encountered micro-aggressions and outright racism along the way.

Part of the battle is making the case that Redbird deserves investment.

“Those are the things our team is working to overcome,” he said. “To convince people that high-quality amenities in a predominantly Black community is not an oxymoron. It is what is needed, it is what is desired.”

Armstrong’s affordable and workforce housing projects are aimed at correcting a history of systemic inequities that have kept Black and Latino residents from buying homes. The majority of people who live in a Builders of Hope development have thus far been shut out of the homebuying process due to challenges like a lack of capital for a down payment or a poor credit history.

“We see dismal homeownership levels in West and South Dallas, and we are really on a mission to change that,” Armstrong said. 

Black and Latino households earn about half as much as the average White household and possess only 15%-20% of net wealth, said Bridget Lopez, managing partner at Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson LLP. This wealth gap means the rate of homeownership among minorities is much lower than their White peers, she said. 

Lopez’s firm has responded to these statistics by partnering with the city of Dallas on a land banking program that acquires and sells tax-delinquent vacant properties for the development of affordable homes. 

“We believe in equitable development because it gives opportunities and can change lives,” she said.

Truly understanding the needs of underserved communities starts with ensuring diversity, equity and inclusion within a company’s internal framework. This is why measurable DEI strategies and policies are so critical, Dallas Mavericks CEO Cynt Marshall said. 

“Because of the things I’ve gone through in my life, I have a certain lens where I can see different things that maybe others can’t see if they haven’t had those experiences,” she said in a video message. “We see through the lens that we have.”

Members of the Dallas Regional Chamber and local business executives shared their DEI efforts at a Sept. 13 event.

The DRC’s report found that while many companies claim to prioritize DEI, a good chunk are still lacking policies with any teeth.

The majority of survey participants — 85% — have made DEI a core value or organizational priority, but only 60% measure and track progress, and only 49% hold senior leaders accountable for DEI goals in performance reviews. 

“DEI is business-critical, it’s an imperative that has to be foundational to how we operate,” CBRE Chief Responsibility Officer Tim Dismond said. “It’s not only the right thing to do, but it’s good for people and even better for business. We can win and be more profitable focusing on DEI and delivering on its principles.”

CBRE has been intentional about improving diversity within its organization and among its suppliers, Dismond said. Of the firm’s 11 board members, four are people of color and three are women. About 40% of CBRE’s C-suite is diverse, he said.

“CBRE’s commitment to DEI starts at the top, and that is critical for expanding the diversity at the senior executive levels,” Dismond told Bisnow in an email. “The nine executives who report directly to our CEO are held accountable for showing how they hire, develop and promote underrepresented talent.”

There is money to be made in investing in DEI, just as there is a financial benefit to equitable development, Brodsky said. The RedBird redevelopment is not an act of charity but rather a response to the goods and services residents have been requesting for years, Brodsky said.

“If equitable development is going to be viewed as philanthropy, it’s never going to last,” he said. “Because philanthropy is finite, and profit-motivated development is infinite.” 

There is still much work to be done in bringing jobs, housing and resources to underserved areas of Dallas. For those looking to jump into the fray, Armstrong and Brodsky stressed the importance of community engagement and making sure residents have a voice in the process.

“Lead with the community in mind — we can hang our hat on that all day because that’s really where it starts,” Armstrong said. “We are not bringing the table to the community, the table is already there. In fact, we are asking for a seat at that table.”