Housing developer Matthew Berke wanted to know why many landlords were reluctant to rent to voucher recipients. So he asked them. They complained about tenants not taking care of the property. They said it was a headache to work with housing authorities to get their rent each month. Berke says he was skeptical. And he also saw an opportunity—he believed he could help working families and still run a successful company. He trained his eye to the suburbs.
“We discovered that tenants are not marauding folks bent on destruction,” he says. “They are often single moms wanting to raise kids in a good school district. These Section 8 tenants want better schools, and I think that is a human right.”
Berke is the founder of High Opportunity Neighborhood Partners, or HON, which buys single family homes and rents them solely to voucher holders. The company bought its first property in April 2019 and has since purchased over 250 more in seven cities, about half of which are in the suburbs of North Texas.
HON has a goal to increase housing stock for these families, choosing homes that are in good shape, priced well, and located near solid school districts. These are mostly three- and four-bedroom residences, targeted specifically at families who are often forced to live in apartments in segregated neighborhoods with higher crime and poverty rates.
“There’s been a lot of research that says your ZIP code matters,” says Brooke Etie, the vice president of the housing choice program at the Dallas Housing Authority. She is referring to the work of the Harvard Economist Raj Chetty, whose Opportunity Atlas mapped how where you live is a predictor of how much you will earn over a lifetime. “Where you grow up dictates the trajectory of your life and where you end up. We’re focusing on moving families to high opportunity neighborhoods.”
The Dallas Housing Authority has spent years following a court order mandate that it spread out its housing stock. DHA lost a well-publicized lawsuit in the 1980s for having segregated and inferior housing, and there has been no shortage of lawsuits that alleged that DHA housing was still too often concentrated in high-need, blighted neighborhoods.
In 1985, DHA resident Debra Walker sued the housing authority, the city of Dallas, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development for subsidizing segregated and inferior public housing. She won. At the time, 92 percent of Black households in the DHA system were concentrated in Black neighborhoods with poverty rates of more than 40 percent. A decree was made to improve the situation, and DHA’s service area was expanded to include a seven-county jurisdiction, including Collin, Dallas, Denton, Ellis, Kaufman, Rockwall, and Tarrant counties.
The ruling also …….