(TEXAS TRIBUNE) -- A lot has changed in West Dallas since Pete Hernandez’s dad built his family a tiny house — one room at a time — on Guam Street almost 80 years ago. The neighborhood’s mostly one-story, wood-frame homes now have running water. The streets are now paved.
The nearby plot of land that used to house a freight company on Singleton Boulevard is now home to Trinity Groves, a well-hyped collection of trendy restaurants that lures people from all over Dallas every night of the week. That publicly subsidized development and the five-year-old Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge that brings traffic to its steps have dramatically accelerated change in this poor, mostly minority neighborhood.
And Hernandez expects he’ll soon be getting the property tax bill to prove it.
The Dallas Central Appraisal District has already notified him that his house and its land are now appraised at $75,690 — nearly triple the $26,360 they were valued at last year. Hernandez estimates that’ll make his property tax bill cost about $2,300, well above the $800 or so he previously paid. The 57-year-old said he’s not sure yet how he’ll cover this year’s bill. And he’s not alone. Many area residents fear they may have to move elsewhere in a city with dwindling affordable housing options.
“Nobody was expecting that,” he said this week as he sat on his neighbor’s porch. “That’s what’s catching everybody by surprise.”
State Rep. Eric Johnson grew up in West Dallas and now represents parts of that area. The Democrat authored legislation this session that aims to turn West Dallas from a poster child for the often-ignored side effects of gentrification into a national example of how new development can thrive without scattering poor residents.
Johnson’s House Bill 2480 would send 20 percent of some tax revenues earmarked for the Trinity Groves area to nearby neighborhoods. The money could be used to fix streets, pay for people to relocate out of the area or to build affordable housing near new upscale apartments. It was tailored in a way that key provisions would only apply to certain parts of Dallas. The affected areas include a special economic development district in which Trinity Groves sits.
But late Thursday, HB 2480 appeared on a list of bills that some lawmakers plan to block from House votes on Friday. That would likely kill Johnson's bill as key deadlines loom in advance of the legislative session's final day, May 29. Some of the conservative legislators seeking to challenge the litany of bills used the same maneuver earlier this week, leaving several of their colleagues wondering why their legislation was targeted.
“I’m not 100 percent sure why any one of them would have actually wanted to kill that bill,” Johnson said.
But he has a theory. It involves West Dallas Investments, whose officials developed Trinity Groves and are partnering with another firm on new luxury apartments going up across Singleton.
Two representatives of the company did not directly answer questions about those suspicions when asked by The Texas Tribune. Jim Reynolds, one of the company representatives, sent a text message as he boarded a plane late Thursday and said the company was caught in the middle of politics.
"We have been working diligently with [City of Dallas] on affordable housing initiatives and even self imposed some to benefit community but no one is telling that story!" he wrote.
City and state lawmakers deny that the company is playing a role in this week's legislative tussles over the bill. Still, Johnson isn't convinced.
“I’m sure there’s some relation there, I just can’t prove that,” he said.