Dallas City Hall is scrambling to keep hundreds of families from becoming homeless as a real estate management company threatens an abrupt, mass eviction in some of the city’s poorest neighborhoods.
HMK Ltd., the landlord, plans to close 305 rental houses in the city by the end of the month as it faces five lawsuits from the city over living conditions at its houses, according to a letter it sent to the city and residents.
The situation comes as Dallas struggles with an existing homeless crisis and flounders under some of the country’s worst urban poverty rates.
City officials said Thursday that they are putting together a team to figure out what help is available for affected residents. Those attempts are still in the discussion phase. No specific plans have been established.
Mayor Mike Rawlings said in a statement that the city is “proud” of its rules that require “living conditions that meet basic legal standards of decency.”
“Our office will do everything we can to ensure that HMK tenants are not put out on the streets,” Rawlings said.
HMK officials did not immediately respond to comment Thursday.
Some tenants told WFAA in a series of reports that their homes had leaks and extensive damage.
"The walls, they're literally close to falling down,” Joanna Pena told the station.
The city filed five lawsuits against HMK in August, asking for court orders that would force the company to comply with housing standards. Last month, HMK said it would close or demolish most of its 430 rental houses. The city said in a statement that it is not forcing the company to stop renting any homes and that none would have to be closed had HMK “properly maintained them.”
The city has been battling what it considers slumlords for months. The City Council last week tightened regulations and enforcement of living conditions at rental properties in the city.
According to a 2015 city report, 20.1 percent of Dallas families live below the poverty line. That’s a higher percentage than in Austin, Houston or San Antonio. Dallas also has the worst child poverty rate – 38 percent – among all U.S. cities with a population over 1 million people.
The report also found the median Dallas income in 1980 was more than $50,000 but that that number had fallen below $45,000 by 2012. The costs of housing units in the city are now misaligned with residents’ incomes, the report found. And even those who do find housing they can afford don't always end up in living in homes considered to be in good condition.
“A few landlords owning multiple properties account for a significant number of single family rental properties in poor condition,” the report said.
WFAA-TV earlier this year identified HMK as the owner of more run-down houses in Dallas than any other person or company.
“Dallas County tax records show that many are worth between $10,000 and $20,000 and most are categorized by appraisers as ‘unsound,’ ‘very poor, and ‘poor,’” the station reported. “Many of them are occupied by people disgusted by their surroundings but too poor to leave.”
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