Legacies: A History Journal for Dallas and North Central Texas, Volume 1, Number 2, Fall, 1989 Page: 39
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housing for African-Americans, black civic leader
Maceo Smith observed, "It is harder to find
homes for Negroes in Dallas than in any other city
in the South."8
Only West Dallas, an unincorporated tract
separated from the city's downtown by the Trinity
River, provided space for additional black
housing. That area, part of the floodplain that had
been "salvaged" by the Trinity River Levees during
the 1930s, remained susceptible to seasonal
flooding due to improper drainage of the lowlands.
By 1948, over 9,000 blacks resided in this
setting of flimsy shacks, abandoned gravel pits,
garbage dumbs, open toilets and shallow wells.
The lack of city services such as water and sewage
disposal caused hardships and helps explain the
disproportionately high number of the county's
typhoid, tuberculosis, and polio cases in West
Blacks' inability to find adequate housing in
West Dallas also accounts for their new round of
home buying in the Exline Park area, trouble spot
of 1940. As blacks moved into this area, whites
once again responded with violence, bombing
eleven black homes between February, 1950, and
The growing concern about the negative
impact of black housing shortages on the city
generated by some West Dallas housing surveys,
along with the new round of violence in South
Dallas, led the Dallas Citizens Council and the
Chamber of Commerce to name a joint committee
to investigate black housing conditions in Greater
Dallas. Their findings showed how massive housing
shortages forced blacks to live under conditions
which threatened "the health and welfare
not only of themselves" but also that of the
"entire community." Agreeing that the black
housing problem was "acute and critical," the
study called for immediate action."
After discovering that 80 percent of the city's
black residents could not afford to build or rent
housing meeting minimum standards of "sanitation,
safety, and decency," the committee recommended
building 1500 units of public housing for
blacks over the next 15 months. Acknowledging
that public housing was controversial, the committee
emphasized how the private sector had
failed to meet the need.
With this report in hand, the city's two most
powerful business organizations - the Dallas
WEST DALLAS AREA
The shaded area indicates the Dallas Housing
Authority's boundaries for the 3,500 unit West Dallas
housing project, which opened in 1952.
Citizens Council and the Dallas Chamber of
Commerce - initiated the movement for more
public housing. They acted out of concern about
the negative impact that the black housing shortage
would have on the city. Although in no way
enthusiastic, these pragmatists viewed public
housing as a better alternative than increased
crime, sickness, and racial tensions.'2
With the blessings of the city's business elite,
then, and with the cooperation of the city's nonpartisan
CCA, the DHA undertook public housing
in West Dallas including a 1,500 unit project
for whites, a 1,500 unit project for blacks, and a
500 project unit for Mexican-Americans. In order
to protect the three contiguous projects located on
513 acres, as well as improve the entire area, the
city council annexed all of West Dallas.'3
The West Dallas housing projects did not
mark an end to the city's concern with slums and
low-income housing shortages. The same year
that builders finished those public housing projects,
Congress passed the Housing Act of 1954,
which established the Urban Renewal Program.
Unlike public housing, the federal government's
Urban Renewal Program provided funds so a
local redevelopment agency could clear slums and
sell the land below acquisition costs for either
private or public development. The housing act
also included a new mortgage insurance program
which encouraged the rehabilitation of existing
dwellings in designated urban renewal areas.14 At
first, Dallas was unable to participate in slum
clearance because the state had not passed appropriate
enabling legislation, but the new emphasis
on rehabilitation seemed to provide an alternative
way for Dallas to clean up its slums.
In anticipation of the new law, the city established
a seven member Citizens Housing Rehabilitation
Committee. Under the leadership of
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Dallas Historical Society. Legacies: A History Journal for Dallas and North Central Texas, Volume 1, Number 2, Fall, 1989, periodical, 1989; (https://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth35123/m1/41/: accessed March 21, 2023), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, https://texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Dallas Historical Society.