The seeds for Bonton Village @ Lake Highlands were planted in summer 2019 when the City of Dallas identified a city-owned property in northeast Dallas as an ideal location to build housing for residents experiencing homelessness. Adam McGough, who serves as Deputy Mayor Pro Tem and Councilmember for the district that includes the site, decided that an innovative approach would be required to ensure the project was developed as a community asset and included robust workforce programs.

McGough then began to do what he does best—convening key partners that could bring his vision to life. Daron Babcock, Founder and Executive Director of Bonton Farms, agreed to scale a local model for economic development and housing that he created by listening to and learning from the community. Mike Reinsel joined the team to lead the project and replicate the model for workforce training and corporate partnerships that he helped establish at City of Refuge in Atlanta.

Bobby Page, Founding Partner of JPI, and Steve Van Amburgh, CEO of KDC, bring nearly 80 years of combined real estate experience to the project and have pledged personal and in-kind contributions. Elisabeth Jordan, Founder and President of The Human Impact, will lead efforts to identify potential residents and help create community rules and accountability measures. Stephanie Bohan, former Executive Director of Agape Clinic, will serve as Director of Health and Wellness. Dozens of other partnerships will be announced as the project moves forward.

Several prominent philanthropists, foundations and companies have expressed interest in helping establish this state-of-the-art destination that will attract visitors and praise from around the world. Other elected officials are already asking for similar projects in their communities.

Bonton Village @ Lake Highlands secured unanimous approval from the Dallas City Council on June 24, 2020, to enter into a 12-month option agreement for the conveyance of nearly 13 acres of city-owned property at 12000 Greenville Avenue.

This means we are in the early stages of the project and will be required to raise a significant portion of the funds and submit detailed plans that are informed by the community and the people we are serving before the land sale is finalized. There are several factors that will determine exactly when the project will be completed, but based on early projections, we anticipate the first phase will open between January and July of 2022.

Nowhere in America is there a campus open to public commerce where active rehabilitation and human reinvention is taking place. Bonton Village @ Lake Highlands is a community asset that will establish a new model for economic development and housing. It’s a combination of the successful components and programs from Bonton Farms in southern Dallas, City of Refuge in Atlanta and other best practices across the country.

It will provide people with opportunities for meaningful work and housing, while creating a sense of community for residents that is connected to and integrated with the surrounding neighborhoods. It’s a project designed to benefit everyone.

The farm-to-table café will provide a place for everyone to eat nutritious meals prepared with vegetables from the on-site urban farm. The farmers market will provide a place for everyone to buy fresh produce and delicious items like Bonton Farms’ famous honey butter made in the on-site preservatory. The bakery and coffee house will provide a place for everyone to buy fresh breads, pastries and beverages.

Co-working and meeting areas will provide places for everyone to host gatherings and events, and the amphitheater will provide spaces for events and entertainment. The workforce innovation hub and related programs will provide everyone with access to job training, skills and placements. The clinic will provide everyone with access to high-quality healthcare, dental and vision services.

Everyone means literally any person who wants to visit. The only aspect of the project that cannot be utilized by the entire community is the tiny homes, but of course, everyone benefits from its purpose of providing short-term housing to people in the area experiencing homelessness.

A lack of access to safe and affordable housing, living wage jobs, healthy food choices, healthcare, and education are long-standing challenges that have a negative impact on all communities. Like most large urban cities, Dallas has been unable to provide sufficient funding, leadership and strategies that are required to ensure that all residents—regardless of their race, gender, age or ZIP Code—have the opportunity to equally participate in the success afforded to others in Dallas.

Traditional projects and programs aimed at resolving these enduring inequities have been limited in their impact because they don’t focus on what we have identified as human essentials, the most significant of which is a sense of community. We believe healing and transformation is most successful in an environment that is conducive to people feeling known, accepted and loved. It’s a simple concept, but these deep-lasting relationships create sustained impact.

Planting seeds in the ground, feeding chickens and milking goats are viewed as trivial activities, but they have proved to be life-changing moments for people at Bonton Farms who haven’t felt a purpose in life for a while. Suddenly, growth of those vegetables depends on them, and the lives of those animals are their responsibility.

We embrace a holistic approach and develop customized pathways for people to transition from crises to stability and thriving independently. Rather than merely connecting someone to a job or an apartment, we address the underlying issues tied to their loss of employment or housing.

Bonton Village @ Lake Highlands has partnered with The Human Impact to assist with recruiting program participants who are unsheltered within a two-mile radius of the project, express a desire and are physically able to obtain and retain employment and housing, agree to obey community rules, refuse to engage in panhandling, are not a registered sex offender, and have not been convicted of a violent felony.

Community rules will include passing random drug tests, paying rent on time and participating in a recovery program, if needed. Other rules will be developed as feedback is received from residents of the surrounding neighborhoods.

Bonton Village @ Lake Highlands is located within the Dallas Division of Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN), a nationwide initiative that brings together law enforcement officials, prosecutors and neighborhood leaders to identify the most pressing crime problems in a community and develop comprehensive solutions to address them.

PSN includes the direct and significant involvement of the Dallas Police Department, Dallas City Attorney’s Office, Dallas County Sherriff’s Department, Dallas County District Attorney’s Office, Texas Department of Public Safety, FBI, ATF, DEA, U.S. Marshals and researchers from TCU.

The leadership team of Bonton Village @ Lake Highlands will work closely with PSN and its partners, and the project will employ a full-time safety manager and feature security cameras and cutting-edge technology to reduce crime in the area.

The majority of funding for capital expenses (approximately $15 million) and operating expenses (approximately $2.5 million annually) will be paid with private donations. A small amount of funding will be requested from local governments to fill an expected capital funding gap that has not yet been identified.

With high poverty rates and rising homelessness, Dallas already has a desperate need for this project, so the loss of jobs and housing caused by COVID-19 adds to an existing need. Bonton Village @ Lake Highlands will implement advanced sanitation and testing methods utilized in other local facilities that have been successful in slowing the spread of COVID-19 and other viruses.

Bonton Farms was born and designed from listening to the needs of a broken community. Its founder immersed himself by literally living in the neighborhood and building one-on-one relationships. Stakeholder engagement is the lifeblood of our organization.

While we recognize that there is a lot of work ahead of us, Bonton Village @ Lake Highlands is focused on engaging with the people we will serve and stakeholders. Our team has been hosting several community meetings to solicit feedback from residents and stakeholders and is committed to continuing those conversations as the project moves forward. We take responsibility for communicating our plans to the public with complete transparency.

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