By Jeffrey Ruiz

Originally appeared in Dallas Free Press 

Co-reported by Bethany Erickson, D Magazine

Patsy Ruth Jackson struggled to hold back tears when she learned she might finally receive the home repairs she needs to move back into her West Dallas house.

The Dallas City Council voted last week to forgo the home insurance requirement for homeowners applying to the West Dallas Targeted Rehab Program, a City of Dallas neighborhood revitalization effort designed to provide financial assistance for home repairs. The city had rejected nearly half of program applicants, most of whom lacked home insurance. 

Jackson was among those who didn’t receive assistance because she didn’t have home insurance. She says insurance companies refused to insure her house because it was in such poor condition, it didn’t meet state requirements.

“There are so many people that need the help that couldn’t afford homeowners insurance,” Jackson says.

The West Dallas Targeted Rehab program was funded with $2 million in unused city bond dollars. It was conceived by the community, Dallas Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Omar Narvaez told fellow council members at their Housing and Homeless Solutions committee meeting, the day before the council voted.

“We allowed the constituents to decide what we were going to do with those dollars,” he said of the funds dedicated to West Dallas Census tracts. “The community created this home repair program.”

When it launched in December 2020, in addition to having insurance to qualify, homeowners needed to earn less than $79,900 a year, live in their home as a primary residence, have a clear title to the home, and not be behind on their property taxes or mortgage payments. 

As of November 2022, nearly two years after the program launched, the city had committed about $800,000 of the $2 million to 90 applicants — a far cry from the 200 it had aimed to help by summer 2022.

David Noguera, the City’s Housing and Neighborhood Revitalization director, said it was easy to lift the home insurance requirement because while some programs are tied to funding that requires homeowner’s insurance, such as the federally funded Home Improvement Preservation Program, the West Dallas program didn’t necessarily need it.

“In this case, because the West Dallas Targeted Rehab Program is funded with old bond funds, we are eligible to remove the insurance requirement and be more inclusive to residents that would like to participate,” Noguera told the committee.

But Councilmember Cara Mendelsohn was not a fan of the idea. At the Housing and Homeless Solutions committee meeting, the day before the council voted, she told several  of her council colleagues that even though old bond funds are paying for the repairs, it’s “still taxpayer money.”

“To not have insurance is to possibly invest it and literally see it go up in smoke,” she insisted. “This is the cost of home ownership.”

Narvaez countered, explaining that for many who would qualify for the program if the requirement was removed, it wasn’t a matter of not wanting insurance; it was a matter of not being able to obtain it.

Seniors in West Dallas living on a fixed income don’t have the luxury of balancing the cost of paying a newly acquired premium for homeowners insurance while juggling everyday expenses, Jackson says. 

“There’s a barrier for a lot of homeowners because of the disrepair of some of their homes,” Narvaez told the committee. Many homeowners also lost their insurance after damage from natural disasters like February 2021’s catastrophic Winter Storm Uri, he added.

“Many of them are hoping this will pass so they can get their home repaired, so they can get their home insured,” Narvaez said.

West Dallas resident Rayella Delley Boyd did receive West Dallas Targeted Home Rehab funds, and her insurance was due for renewal this month, but her annual premium coverage rate increased this month to $1,789, about $500 more than her initial cost of $1,244. Boyd had to drop her insurance. 

Rayella Delley Boyd inspects the wood siding and window frames of her home on Monday, Oct. 31, 2022. She says replacing all of the wood material around her home is one of her next home improvement projects, but she can’t afford it on her own | Photo credit: Jeffrey Ruiz
“Back in the day, my mom tried to get [homeowners’ insurance], but the only thing she said she could get at that time was the fire insurance. I’ve been keeping up payments on that,” Boyd says. The city eliminating the home insurance requirement “is a whole lot better for people that probably can’t afford no high-rate insurance.”

“Most of my neighbors cannot afford insurance or cannot get insurance because their homes are so old,” West Dallas resident Debbie Solis told city council members before they voted at last week’s meeting. She was among the West Dallas residents who helped decide that the unused bond funds should be spent on home repairs. “It is something we need in our community, but the barrier is too great.”

Shortly after Solis’ public comments, the council voted to approve the revised requirements without any debate. City staff’s recommendations also increased the amount allotted per home from $10,000 to $20,000.

“The pandemic hit, and things got more expensive, and $10,000 just doesn’t go $10,000 worth of repair like it used to,” Narvaez told the committee. “We’re not able to maybe fix an entire foundation with $10,000 or fix an entire roof.”

Thor Erickson, assistant director of the City’s Housing and Neighborhood Revitalization department, said of the 76 applicants denied, about 60 were denied because they didn’t have home insurance.

The city will work to reach out to those 60 applicants at the beginning of the year, Erickson says. Depending on “where we end up after the first round of folks” who applied and could now be eligible, previous recipients who received up to $10,000 in repairs can re-apply for an additional $10,000 toward the new $20,000 cap, he says.

Boyd received $10,000 when she applied last year, and she says she will re-apply for an additional $10,000. The initial funds paid for her foundation to be repaired, but the drywall inside the home was damaged through the repair process. She says the exterior siding also needs to be replaced due to the rotting.

The prickled siding on the left side of Rayella Delley Boyd’s home remains untouched even though contractors installed new siding panels on the right side of her home on Monday, Oct. 31, 2022. She received assistance through the West Dallas Targeted Rehab Program for foundation repairs but needs additional assistance to repair the siding around the entire home, she says | Photo credit: Jeffrey Ruiz

Jackson can’t wait to hear from the city after the new year. The funds will pay for a new foundation and drywall for her entire home. The disrepair has kept Jackson from living there for two and a half years, and she hopes to move back in as soon as possible. 

“Now we can apply for the program and we ain’t got to stress out that we ain’t gonna qualify,” Jackson says.