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DFW's Suburbs Could Be An Affordable Housing-Done-Right Test

Affordable housing comes neither cheap nor easy, but is in great demand. Experts say the suburbs may offer DFW a blank slate to experiment with affordable housing best practices, but even with cheaper land prices, competition and construction prices still make it prohibitively difficult to pencil an affordable project.

Dallas skyline at night

Cushman & Wakefield Executive Managing Director Beth Lambert said it shocks her to see the lack of housing for people who work low-income jobs.

“I look at Grapevine, where we've got the big Gaylord conference hotel and you've got the Great Wolf overnight, indoor water park ... I look at the kind of wage earner that works at those places and how many people those places employ and I say, 'where are they living?'” Lambert said.

After digging a bit, she found they often pile two or three families into less-than-ideal living conditions and commute in large groups to the places where they work.

“They just stack people in together ... you wouldn't think that would happen in today's world, but it does,” Lambert said.

With land prices rising — especially in infill markets — construction prices rising and lenders clutching their wallets, penciling an affordable housing project without public money seems all but impossible, let alone creating the kind of environment most people want to live in. Lambert and Centurion American President Mehrdad Moayedi said the suburbs may offer DFW’s best shot at figuring out a long-term solution to the affordable housing crisis, something many global cities have yet to do.

Lambert and Moayedi are speaking at Bisnow'10th Annual Dallas State of the Market event May 8.

Moayedi said one of the most promising ways to begin solving the problem is to create suburban, mixed-use developments with an emphasis on shared amenities and multiple income levels of housing.

"Instead of having a pond in your own backyard, now we've got a bigger pond that the whole community can walk around and use. There's parks; there's sitting areas ... what it does is it allows people with different economic abilities to live together," Moayedi said. "We used to develop things like, 'this subdivision is $500K; this subdivision is $1M or over,' and they were all kind of segregated ... and now we're kind of trying to back into mixing people up the way they're supposed to be living with each other."

Even with the attention that is being paid to the issue by developers and city officials alike, affordable housing for all is a long way off.

According to Lambert, the rents in places like Flower Mound's Lakeside, which Moayedi hopes is a model for how things could be, are still only a hair lower than the rents in Dallas proper. It is going to take a lot of time, effort and money to make any headway on this problem.

"I think in general, to create these neighborhoods, you have to have a little bit different mindset that it's OK to maybe live within a vicinity that served us in a restaurant or people that are teachers or firemen or policemen," Moayedi said. "As a group we have to let all the economic boundaries that define aside ... everyone is self-segregated by economic status, and I think that's something that is going to take a while to change."

To find out more about the initiatives being taken to address affordable housing, join Bisnow at the 10th Annual Dallas State of the Market event May 8.