Listing a number of items on the agenda for 2022, Jenkins said the county will make an “unprecedented investment in mental health this year” and “spend an unprecedented amount on infrastructure.”
“Well, the county is taking buildings that we own and tearing those down. We’re taking land that we own, we’re building on it. We’re partnering with private business to build affordable housing,” the Democratic county judge said.
Noting that the county will also work with religious charities, Jenkins specifically mentioned a project in Oak Cliff that will house “hundreds of families.” He stated that a one-bedroom apartment in that development will be leased for about $900 a month to residents who are at 80 percent of the poverty level.
In a letter to commissioners, County Administrator Darryl Martin and Dr. Ronica Watkins Babers, the county’s budget officer, described it as a “successful partnership to develop and finance a mixed-income affordable housing project in Oak Cliff.”
Through a short-term program offered during the pandemic, Dallas County already provides financial assistance for housing, utilities, and other expenses for those who are behind on their bills and make less than the area median income.
There are also a number of other housing programs facilitated by the county, including one that helps some residents make the down payment on their homes.
Proponents of such projects contend they reduce homelessness and help lower-income individuals. However, an unintended consequence could be creating unfair competition for the private sector.
Unlike in the private sector, the county has the ability to raise taxes to subsidize housing even during economically turbulent times.
The Oak Cliff project was part of the county’s “objectives and key results strategy program” in the Fiscal Year 2021 budget. The county indicated in its budget that taxpayers are currently liable for nearly $116.7 million in debt.
The county commissioners court also increased property tax revenue for Fiscal Year 2022 by five percent or $29.4 million from the preceding fiscal year. This includes $13.7 million collected from new property added to the tax base.
The Texan left a voicemail for the Dallas County Office of Budget and Evaluation seeking more information about the Oak Cliff project, such as the cost to taxpayers, but did not receive a call back by the time of publication.
In his interview, Jenkins also discussed COVID-19 and took a shot at Governor Greg Abbott.
“On my end, I’ll do whatever’s necessary to keep you safe from that, including stand up against our governor when he threatens your safety,” Jenkins said.
Since he became the first county judge to institute a shelter-in-place order at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, Jenkins has butted heads with Abbott over their different approaches to reducing coronavirus infections.
The county judge was advocating a statewide shelter-in-place order as late as June 2020 and asking Abbott for more power to issue his own restrictions.
Alluding to efforts by the county to help residents in the event of another extended power outage, Jenkins also claimed in his interview that the Texas Legislature did nothing to fortify the state’s power grid.
During its regular session, the 87th Legislature enacted laws to decrease the chances of another failure of the power grid. These steps included “weatherization” requirements and reforms to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas and the Public Utility Commission.
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Hayden Sparks is a reporter for The Texan and a lifelong resident of the Lone Star State. He has coached competitive speech and debate and has been involved in politics since a young age. One of Hayden's favorite quotes is by Sam Houston: "Texas has yet to learn submission to any oppression, come from what source it may."