CitySquare is Building “a More Equitable Future” for Dallas by Creating Affordable Housing—and Showing How Real Estate Professionals Can Help Drive Change

From tiny homes and modern shipping container housing to job training, healthcare services and a food pantry, CitySquare is turning poverty into hope.

What can real estate professionals do to help fight poverty and homelessness? A lot, says John Siburt, president and chief operating officer of CitySquare.

“We recognize the significant lack of affordable housing in Dallas. We can’t really build an equitable future unless real estate professionals help tackle that,” he said.

CitySquare, one of the largest non-profits providing housing in Dallas, offers subsidies to help people pay rent, and provides over 1,000 low-income units in Dallas through a number of housing programs.

Along with meeting housing needs, CitySquare fights hunger through its CitySquare Food Pantry promotes health by providing physical and mental health services and offers hope through job training programs at its Opportunity Center.

“We have a holistic approach,” Siburt said. “Poverty attacks you in a number of ways, so we’re going to fight on multiple fronts.”

On the housing front, the nonprofit created a community of 50 tiny homes across the street from its Food Pantry and Opportunity Center. The Cottages at Hickory Crossing were built four years ago to help the chronically homeless.

The real estate arm of the program, CitySquare Housing, has a new project adjacent to the tiny homes to provide 21 units of container housing, with architecture help from Merriman Anderson and fabrication from Falcon Structures, a company in Manor (just east of Austin) that repurposes shipping containers. CitySquare is currently interviewing general contractors to build the community.

Siburt says they wanted to add more units to “help stabilize the chronically homeless.” By offering the nearby food pantry, along with mental health services, they hope to help keep residents out of emergency rooms, behavioral health hospitals, and jails.

“It’s permanent supportive housing for those who have been chronically homeless,” he said. “They can stay there the rest of their lives, heal from traumas, and move into a productive life.”

Downtown, CitySquare Housing offers CityWalk@Akard, a 15-story building with retail and offices on the first three floors, 200 low-income affordable units on floors 4 through 14, and six market-rate condos on the 15th floor.

CitySquare Housing partnered with for-profit Lone Star Gas Lofts to provide some affordable units within market-rate housing. It also teamed up with the Bank of America Community Development Corp. in Oak Cliff’s low-income Wynnewood Family Housing and a nearby senior living community.

In addition to the locations for permanent housing, CitySquare offers transition housing for young adults aging out of foster care, and rapid rehousing for people who suddenly find themselves homeless.

Siburt, a member of the Dallas Regional Chamber’s Leadership Dallas Class of 2020, says his LD experience gave him “a sense of hope.”

Each year, class members select a service project to tackle as a group. This year they chose the food pantry at the CitySquare Opportunity Center, just south of Interstate 30 on Malcolm X Boulevard.

Before the pandemic, the CitySquare Food Pantry operated like a grocery store for its customers, who could shop the aisles for what they needed. Since COVID-19 hit, it has switched to drive-through, serving more than 1,000 people a week. The LD Class of 2020 members raised funds, goods, and services, and spent time in a hands-on renovation of the food pantry: improving the layout, upgrading flooring, and adding new signage and equipment.

Working with leaders from business, local government, and other non-profits gave Siburt an appreciation for the “servant leader” approach that Leadership Dallas cultivates. He also developed a network of friends who are “going to lead the future of Dallas.”

He believes the experience changes everyone involved for the better.

“I’ m grateful for the Chamber advocating for what economic development and opportunity can look like for all of Dallas, not just some of Dallas,” Siburt said. “I found that the leaders in Dallas care about the right things and are going to pursue a more equitable future for the city of Dallas.”

A version of this story first published in the Fall 2020 edition of the Dallas-Fort Worth Real Estate Review.

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