Two characteristics about Irving are important to understanding what this story is about: one, that about 67% of Irving’s residents live in multi-family housing; two, that about 33% of Irving’s residents are Hispanic. In accordance with traditional demographics of poor populations, the Hispanics have more children, thus over 60% of Irving’s school population is Hispanic. There are plenty of Hispanics living in houses, to be sure. That’s why so many Irving homeowners end up complaining about three or four families living in single-family housing. But the majority of them live in cheap apartments in Irving’s older south side. There are plenty of white and black apartment and town-home dwellers as well. Many of them also live in cheap apartments on the south side but many also dwell in newer, higher-rent apartments up north in Valley Ranch or Las Colinas. The divide isn’t simply about race; it’s about class and Irving’s vision of its own future. This is why it’s necessary to briefly dip into a geo-political history of Irving.
Irving is basically divided into old Irving and new Irving by Airport Freeway (183). The older original part of town the south has long been fully developed, at least as far as land usage. It’s mostly suburban single-family housing with some small commercial areas thrown in. Aside from the large city complex, it’s typical suburbia. The “downtown” area, or as it’s known in Irving the “Heritage District” has none of the charm or success of similar areas in Grapevine or Denton. Aside from Big State, the old and old-fashioned soda fountain and hamburger joint, there’s not much there worth mentioning. Of course, the quaintness of the area is also spoiled by being home to Arby’s, a Bank of America branch, and of course, McDonald’s (and a few more of such charmless businesses).
South Irving is also home to much of the city’s Hispanic population. Many of these people are immigrants (whose immigration status may not be quite legal). So much so that the Irving Public Library’s East Branch (not quite matching the geography; it should be the southeast branch) is the home of the Library’s literacy and English as a Second Language programs, as well as having a Spanish-language collection that is equal to that of the main library (Central). As well, when one cruises down Irving Boulevard towards Dallas, one cannot but notice the number of taquerias and tortillerias lining the road, as well as the large Fiesta supermarket at the corner of Nursery and Irving blvd.
North Irving is another story. This is the part of Irving that has developed mainly since the opening of Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, and largely because of it. The Las Colinas and Valley Ranch areas are home to multi-national, multi-billion dollar industries and the Cowboys, respectively. And for those of you who’ve always wondered if they’re separate cities, no, they’re just special parts of Irving that are TIFs, in which their taxes go back into funding improvements in those areas. Needless to say, these have always been the more upscale areas of Irving where you will find very few restaurants or stores that cater to the lower-class citizens (especially Hispanics) and where you are likeliest to see Hummers and BMWs on the streets.
There has been a status quo for at least a decade. Las Colinas boomed briefly around 20 years ago and then stalled. After the construction of several office buildings, development slowed down leaving an area that looked upscale and half-finished. Development in the rest of Irving was slow and the pace hasn’t changed until recently. In just the past two years, new houses and apartments have gone up all over Irving (to use the parlance, both single-family and multi-family residences). There have been housing developments in lots so small they can only build 8 houses and they’re building homes that start at $350,000 between a Wal-Mart and Fry’s Electronics just north of 635 off Macarthur. Several new apartment, condo or town-home developments are underway in Las Colinas, including the stunningly expensive La Villita. The grapevine has it that the business buildings are full up and city tax receipts are doing nicely. Many new retail businesses have opened as well to help things along.
Three new developments (or rather, two new developments and one redevelopment) are now on the drawing board that appear likely to bring unprecedented income in taxes to the City as well as an image of prosperity that Irving has been struggling to obtain for years. The first of these is named Las Colinas Live, a multi-million dollar entertainment, residential and shopping area modeled after successful ventures such as Dallas’ West Village or Mockingbird Station. It will also have a DART rail stop.
It’s a long read so far and you’re thinking “there’s nothing sinister in that”, right? True. But wait just a little longer and you’ll start seeing what it’s all about. The other major development will be on the site of what is now Texas Stadium. In case you didn’t read that piece of news, the City of Irving will be tearing it down and building a retail and business development on it. More on that later. The last development to talk about is the “Old Towne” development, which is being done by Delbert McDougal. Old Towne is basically the old part of Irving, which, ironically, is going to be developed with all-new buildings.
Breathe deep now, because this is where it gets real. The fact of redevelopment isn't noteworthy unless you’re involved financially. What got my attention was Irving's crackdown on apartments. I first got clued in when a place called Villa Martinique apts. was condemned last year, before the Olde Towne redevelopment was announced. Villa Martinique is inside the Olde Towne area. After it was condemned the company that has the contract for Old Towne bought that property. Again, nothing shady if that's the whole story. What's funky though is that it was condemned barely a month before Irving announced the Old Towne project. What's really funky is that a friend of mine lived there 10 years ago and he said they were a hellhole even then. Those apartments have been condemnation-worthy for years, at least a decade. So why the sudden action? I don’t have the answer, but the timing sure was convenient for Mr. Delbert McDougal, and that, combined with some other developments, gets a little suspicious. There’s more to the story.
So then these stories start coming out in the DMN that Irving has decided to crack down on, let's call them delinquent, apartments. They've decided that after putting up with these complexes for decades, no more! In the past three months, King's Manor and Chivas Square apts. have also been shut down. Let me tell you what these apartments have in common: poor people and crappy old buildings. Of course, only poor people live in crappy apartments, but then nobody's out there building decent cheap apartments for poor people. Furthermore, Irving lawmakers want to require apartments to install fire sprinklers, a move that would convince a lot of apartment owners that it’s not worth doing business in Irving anymore. Of course some of these places were just barely above what you’d consider slums. The wonder is that Irving tolerated them for so long and only now decided it was necessary to come down on them.
I realize that this does not look like a sinister plan yet. Just hold on. According to a city employee, there are 16 complexes targeted for “cleanup” (which probably means forced closure) in the next five years. These complexes are in the area south of 183 around Carl Road. Guess what’s just five minutes down the highway? Texas Stadium, soon to be home of a multi-billion dollar redevelopment. Not sold on it yet?
I’m not saying that for sure there’s anything unsavory going on. It may all be on the up and up and the apartment cleanup may be because Irving has more money now than it has in quite a while instead of cashing in on the homes of its poorer residents when business is booming. But if you were going to go about getting rid of your poorer residents, many of whom happen to be dark-skinned Spanish speakers, this is one way you might go about it. Irving can’t use eminent domain to seize land simply because it doesn’t like apartments. But what it can do is run apartments off by making it impossible for them to continue operating.
It's my suspicion that a couple of things may be going on here. In Land Use we've just been talking about zoning restrictions that were passed for the purposes (disguised of course) of getting rid of apartments and apartment dwellers. Now that was back in the 30's and the 40's, but the law on zoning remains essentially the same; as long as a city has a rational basis for doing it, it's going to be upheld even if an argument can be made that the hidden purpose of the zoning regulation is discriminatory (as long as it's not blatant discrimination based on race.) I thought of that when I read about the sprinkler systems. Irving can argue it as a safety measure, but who will it impact the most, and what will the likely effect be? The closing of apartments in which poor people live. You may or may not remember, but in the wake of the Kelo v. New London decision from 2005, Texas passed a constitutional amendment which forbids the taking of private property by the state under its eminent domain powers, to confer a private benefit on a private party, or for economic development purposes (which is in direct repudiation to the more generous Kelo holding.) So that means in Texas, no seizing property under eminent domain so private developers can develop there. That means that if a city wants to take property, it's going to have to condemn it for other reasons...like that it's unsafe. But once they do so, a lot of these absentee landlords are going to sell the property, and they're likely to sell it to developers who want to use the property the apartments are built on, which just so happens to be the same projects that the City is interested in developing.
Irving has used eminent domain actually, to seize the area for the new Northlake South Campus, which just happens to be in the southwest corner of the Olde Towne development. Of course it was for the public good, but it doesn’t hurt that it’s a “$10.2 million facility” and will bring hundreds of students daily to a sleepy, under-retailed area of Irving, which some day soon may sprout more restaurants and shops.
You still might say that this is all legitimate practice for a city attempting to better its station. But what if those low-rent apartments that are being closed down are being closed down despite their attempts to come into code compliance, and are being given too little leeway to actually achieve it? Some of the apartments being closed down are suing the city claiming just that. The Spanish Trace apartments are suing the city in an attempt to remain open. Their suit claims this is Irving’s “aggressive attempt to rid itself of working-class minority immigrants." Take also the Chivas Square apartments. A city employee who had occasion to go there frequently remarked that management only found that the apartments were to be closed a month in advance (they were given that month to make improvements). When the employee visited, they found that some of the tenants were unaware that they were going to be forced to leave in a month.
City Manager Tommy Gonzalez addressed this issue (somewhat) in a recent Town Hall meeting. He said that it is his and the council’s goal that no citizen in Irving live in waste and squalor when apartment owners are getting rich off the poor, so every apartment needs to be brought up to code (which they’ve increased to a higher standard and added cops specifically to deal with; look on the city’s website for a current opening for a “Code Compliance Assistant).
How about the fact that preference is obviously being given to apartments like those in Las Colinas where one bedroom, one bath apartments go for over $800 a month? There is no talk on the city council of finding room for new apartments for low-income residents. Those who are forced out must find accommodations in existing apartments or leave altogether, although I did read that Irving was considering giving any tenant forced out $600 in assistance (so generous!). Irving isn’t against apartments, it’s just against apartments that poor people can afford. This quote from the DMN is telling: “But council members say these apartments will be different. They'll be within walking distance of restaurants and shops. Rents will be expensive, and some units will be for sale. In other words, they're trying not to repeat past mistakes.”1If you consider making housing available that your working class members can afford a mistake, Irving is doing a good job of rectifying it.
Lest you assume that this is entirely about apartments, there is the fact that as of this month Irving has reorganized its structure so that the department of Code Enforcement is now under the command of the Chief of Police Larry Boyd. Here’s the text of the paragraph that discusses this move in an internal city memo:
Code Enforcement (led by director Teresa Adrian) will be placed under the auspices of the Police Department. This will allow police and codes staff to better collaborate and help streamline processes. It will give codes staff direct access to information such as vehicles, license plates, and the ability to find property owners in relation to addressing code enforcement issues. Police officers and code inspectors will be teamed up according to beat areas. This also will improve training opportunities: police officers training codes staff on citation issuance, and codes staff training officers on city ordinances to better recognize code violations. A marshal will report to Code Enforcement as well.
I’m not sure who’s violating all those codes, but it could be that after years of older white home owners complaining about 4 families living in one house and 18 cars being parked on the street in front of it, not to mention having to listen to extremely loud music late at night, the city has finally decided to get tough on single-family housing as well. Of course this newly invigorated code enforcement will still be unleashed on apartments first, but we can expect to see some changes on suburban streets as well.
Is it safe to say that Irving is enacting a comprehensive plan intending to run Hispanics out of town and discourage them from living here? Probably not. But it cannot be denied that Irving’s recent actions are having and will have a disproportionate effect on Irving’s Hispanic community. Is it safe to say that the City Council is aware of that? Probably so. They have a bird’s-eye view of everything that’s going on in Irving and if I can see this happening, surely they can too. Whether or not this strategy is unsavory, as yet there’s nothing to say that it’s illegal.
But witnessing Irving’s crackdown on illegal immigrants (possibly violating the rights of US citizens and legal residents), it is evident that there are definitely forces in the power structure of Irving that are unfriendly to the Hispanic community. There are probably elements in Irving's leadership who would like to see less Mexicans combined with people who want to develop Irving economically and want to get some of these buildings out of the way to do so, none of whom much cares what happens to those people once their apartments have been condemned so long as they just get out.
There are some questions that need to be followed up on. Was the timing of the condemnation of the Villa Martinique apartments just highly convenient for the McDougal Olde Towne deal, or did someone on the council make it clear that it was time for them to be condemned with foreknowledge of the McDougal deal? Have other deals taken place whereby developers are buying land at rock-bottom prices when everyone else is paying top dollar (remember those $350,000 homes)? If Irving’s goal is simply to make sure that no Irving resident is living in a slum, where are the proposed low-income housing developments to replace the only apartments many people can afford? Is this a racist policy aimed primarily at getting rid of Irving’s Hispanics or just an insensitive classist policy that will have that side-effect?