Even with changes in plans, housing authority project good for downtown

Posted Monday, Jul. 01, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Continued plans to restore an 11-story downtown apartment building that has been vacant since 2010 come as good news for a central business district that is growing in its number of businesses, workers and residents.

Hunter Plaza, at West First and Burnett streets, is a Fort Worth Housing Authority property that was home to elderly and disabled residents before it was forced to close because of a bedbug infestation.

The $27 million redevelopment will be a mixed-use, mixed-income project that will provide affordable (or subsidized) units as well as apartments for those who can pay the market rate, making it attractive for downtown workers with varying income levels. The first floor is planned for businesses, and a 180-space parking garage will be added.

When the project was announced last year, the intent was to have 40 percent of residents leasing at the market rate and 60 percent at the lesser rate. But because household incomes downtown are rising, fewer tax incentives are available to encourage development of affordable housing. The housing authority will lose about $1.1 million in financing it was expecting.

That funding picture means the housing agency has had to make adjustments in its plans — changing the ratio of affordable to market-rate paying residents and canceling remodeling of the building’s exterior.

Increasing the number of affordable units from 98 to 115 (70 percent) and decreasing the market-rate units to 49 (30 percent), will generate about $880,000 in tax credits, a housing authority consultant said. Scrapping plans to refurbish the exterior of the building will save another 220,000.

Although the housing authority would love to have more full-paying occupants to generate money to help other lower-income individuals secure housing, the increase in affordable housing units is a good thing.

Downtown Fort Worth Inc. reports that there are more than 56,000 jobs downtown, but only 17.8 percent of downtown residents work there.

There are many jobs downtown that are clerical or in the service industry, paying much less than the $125,000 median income of condominium and town home owners and the $83,000 median for apartment renters. More affordable housing is needed.

The housing authority should take another look at refurbishing the exterior. The current drab look isn’t very inviting to future tenants, no matter how much money they make.

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