February 6, 2023

Photography by Emil Lippe.
Lisa Ramos-López’s eyes were opened to what was happening in her Mount Auburn neighborhood as she spent time at home during the pandemic. 
“You had to stop and see what your life was like,” she says. “That’s when we noticed some of the houses that were already in the process of going up slowly. We noticed people moving out — neighbors who had been here for years.”
She learned that high property taxes were pushing longtime residents out of the East Dallas neighborhood. Costs were increasing, but incomes weren’t. 
Instead of the single-story frame homes built in the 1920s — the ones common throughout the neighborhood — the new structures were two-story modern houses and duplexes, which don’t match the existing properties and are more expensive. Ramos-López paid less than $100,000 for her home about 10 years ago; today, houses are being listed for at least three times that amount.
Ramos-López says she can see why the family-friendly neighborhood close to Downtown is attractive to newcomers. It’s a point echoed by James Armstrong, president and CEO of Builders of Hope Community Development Corporation, a nonprofit that develops affordable housing in West Dallas, Oak Cliff and Pleasant Grove. 
“What we’re seeing today is private investors and speculative developers realizing that the neighborhood that these Black and brown families were pushed into years ago was actually prime property to live,” he says.
A problem with this in Mount Auburn, Ramos-López says, is that new neighbors haven’t developed trust with established residents. 
“The person who was there for 40 years, we knew them since we were growing up, and we trust them,” Ramos-López says. “How are you going to trust in a new neighbor coming from out of town that you don’t know?”
What’s happening in Mount Auburn, along with several other places across Dallas, is gentrification. It’s a kind of displacement where wealthier people gradually move into historically poorer neighborhoods, pushing out existing residents as the cost of homeownership increases beyond what they can afford. Gentrification and the newcomers can make neighborhoods safer, advocate for street improvements or bring in businesses. In Mount Auburn, Ramos-López says she has noticed streets and alleys being repaired more frequently than before. 
But gentrification changes the character of neighborhoods, in part by bulldozing historical homes and replacing them with what meets the preferences of wealthier families and investors.  
There’s an older woman who lives down the street from Ramos-López’s home. It’s getting harder for the woman to afford her property taxes because she’s on a fixed income, Ramos-López says. And she, like Ramos-López and her husband, is contacted frequently by people wanting to buy her home. 
“I just tell her, don’t do it, don’t do it,” Ramos-López says. “If you see that big white house on the corner, if that’s what you want to happen to your memories of where you raised your kids and your grandkids, that’s what’s going to happen.”
Just as trust is a key part of building community in the Mount Auburn neighborhood, it helped facilitate homeownership as well, Ramos-López says. 
Residents like the Williams family, who originally owned Ramos-López’s home, each had a handful of properties they leased to families. They knew and trusted their tenants to do everything they could to make rent each month. And the landlords might, after a few years, give renters the opportunity to buy their homes. 
Illustration by Jynnette Neal.
That’s what happened in Ramos-López’s case. She and her husband, both lifelong East Dallas residents and Woodrow Wilson High School alumni, started renting their home more than 20 years ago. After about a decade, they decided to purchase the house, and their landlord helped with financing and acquiring the proper documents. He also helped them file for a homestead exemption to pay a little less in property taxes.
Mount Auburn homes aren’t protected by a conservation district zoning ordinance, as are the residences in next-door Hollywood/Santa Monica. So it’s up to neighbors to share resources and advice with each other to preserve their homes, Ramos-López says. 
Along with noticing new construction around her during the pandemic, Ramos-López noticed the problems with her home. The roof needed repairs. The foundation was in bad shape. Window units weren’t keeping the house cool enough in the summer or warm enough in winter.
“All home repairs have always been on hold because family comes first,” she says, noting that her family has been saving for college payments for their three children. 
Scrolling through her Facebook feed one day, Ramos-López saw a post about the City of Dallas’ Home Improvement and Preservation Program, which offers funding for low- and moderate-income homeowners to make repairs and even rebuild their houses. 
Ramos-López and her husband applied for the major rehabilitation program; if selected, they could receive up to about $73,000 in the form of a forgivable loan to make home repairs. 
After submitting the application, Ramos-López received emails saying her family was approved for the program. Worried the notifications were a scam, because she hadn’t received emails from the City before, she ignored them. Finally she was told that if she didn’t respond, she would lose her spot in the program, so she called to verify the email was legitimate. 
Once her questions about the program were answered, Ramos-López and her husband continued with the process. Again with the help of their former landlord, they compiled and submitted documents such as a deed, insurance, pay stubs, tax returns and more.  
They were approved for a $63,000 loan to pay for foundation and plumbing work, electrical rewiring, HVAC systems and energy-efficient windows. If they live in and maintain their home for 10 years, their loan is forgiven. 
Ramos-López is working to educate neighbors on homestead exemptions and initiatives like the HIPP to help them stay in their homes. But there’s more to be done, she says. 
“How do we stop this train that’s coming, and it doesn’t have brakes? It’s coming,” she says. “It’s just, how are we going to coexist? And that’s going to be hard when it’s literally running us out of our neighborhoods, running us out of our homes.”
In Dallas, some areas experiencing gentrification are the same places where redlining occurred.  
Redlining dates back to the 1930s, when the federal government started insuring mortgages as part of New Deal programs to prevent foreclosures following the Great Depression. 
Guidelines were added to help appraise properties and vet homeowners applying for mortgages. Color-coded maps showed which properties in more than 200 cities across the country were “worthy” of being granted loans.

Areas were ranked by riskiness. Those marked with “D” and lined in red were considered “hazardous,” unworthy of receiving loans. Many of these areas were predominantly Black neighborhoods. Mount Auburn was labeled “declining,” just one grade above hazardous.  
The “best” neighborhoods were given “A” ratings. 
The Federal Housing Administration’s Underwriting Manual, which was in effect in 1938, laid out instructions for underwriters at the administration when evaluating how risky a mortgage was, and thereby which loans should be insured.  
Barriers such as highways, hills and parks could prevent “adverse influences” of business and industrial facilities, “lower-class occupancy and inharmonious racial groups” from entering an area, according to the manual. In other words, a physical barrier should separate white neighborhoods from minority neighborhoods, wealthy neighborhoods from poor ones; otherwise, the rating of a location would be lowered, making a mortgage riskier. 
The manual explicitly directed underwriters to examine the location’s surrounding areas to see whether “incompatible racial and social groups” are there. To maintain “stability” and property values, according to the manual, neighborhoods had to stay segregated. 
Borrowers themselves were also rated. Let’s say someone wanted to buy a home in a lower-income or minority neighborhood. According to the manual, those neighbors would, over time, cause the borrower to lose interest in the property. So that borrower should be given a lower rating. 
No mortgages meant no homeownership. So while white and wealthy families were able to purchase properties 80 years ago, many minority populations were robbed of that opportunity. Many of them haven’t been able to pass down assets — properties — and accumulate generational wealth, at least not to the extent of their white counterparts. 
In 1977, to begin to rectify decades of discriminatory lending, the U.S. government passed the Community Reinvestment Act. It requires banks to create an assessment area map to show where each one does business, and it sets regulations on the maps. One of the rules is that assessment areas can’t exclude low- or moderate-income communities.
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