East Fort Worth residents fight proposed low-income housing complex

Posted Monday, Oct. 07, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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A handmade sign reading “Sign Petition Here — Oppose Apartment Proliferation in East Fort Worth” greets residents as they drive into the scenic Bentley Village Estates.

Under the sign, a wooden box contains a petition that is protesting a developer’s plans to build about 230 low-income apartment units down the street.

By Friday, the petition had about 200 signatures.

Residents like Scott Willingham, who has owned his home in Bentley Village since 1984, is worried that the apartments will hurt home values in the area, burden schools and increase traffic on the roadways.

The neighborhood already has more than 3,000 apartment units in a 1-mile radius of where the proposed project would be built in the 8700 block of Randol Mill Road, according to city records.

“Our feeling is that enough is enough. I feel that the City Council and the city of Fort Worth have long overlooked the east side as far as economic development,” Willingham said, adding that the east does not need apartments, and it especially does not need more low-income apartments.

Councilwoman Gyna Bivens for District 5 agrees, saying she plans to fight a rezoning application from the landowner. At her request, the council delayed the vote until the Oct. 15 council meeting.

“I think we have done more than enough to accommodate low-income units,” Bivens said. “We are just tired of being the dropping point for low-income apartments.”

Officials with Atlantic Housing, a nonprofit group focused on providing affordable housing, defend the proposed apartments on the land it plans to buy, saying market studies show the apartments are needed in the area and will be successful. The Fort Worth Zoning Commission approved the zoning change from neighborhood commercial to multifamily medium density on Sept. 11, although the council has final approval.

James Schell, the Fort Worth attorney representing the landowner, East Chase LLP, in the rezoning, said the development has a contract to sell the rezoned land. The rezoning is compatible with the land use in the area, Schell said, adding he would “strongly disagree with any person’s analysis to the contrary.”

The proposed apartments also would not be located in southeast Fort Worth, but on the city’s far east side, which is not as densely populated with affordable housing as the rest of Bivens’ district.

But Councilwoman Kelly Gray, who represents District 8 on the city’s east side, said the disproportionate number of low-income apartments is detrimental to the east and southeast.

Most of the low-income housing tax credits for Fort Worth are concentrated in the east and near-northwest corners of Fort Worth, and two out of four public housing projects owned by the Fort Worth Housing Authority are in southeast part of Fort Worth, according to records from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Texas Department of Housing & Community Affairs and the Fort Worth Housing Authority.

“There are great communities located in southeast and east Fort Worth, but because we have that perception from the apartments, it is lost. So we have to work a lot harder to allow people to see that jewel,” Gray said.

Biased viewpoints

Michael Nguyen, president of Atlantic Housing, said affordable housing projects often face criticism from the community. Atlantic Housing is based in South Carolina, and operates more than 30 apartment complexes in Texas, South Carolina and Florida.

“I do think it is frankly folks just not knowing — poor impressions or biased views for what low-income is,” Nguyen said.

The proposed complex would market to people making 60 to 80 percent of the area’s median income, Nguyen said, and people with concerns about the apartments targeting the working class should look to Silver Leaf Apartments, an Atlantic Housing-owned complex adjacent to the disputed lot.

Silver Leaf Apartments is a mixed-income complex of 176 units, offering select units as affordable housing units.

Victor Burnett, 50, has lived in Silver Leaf for three years and loves the apartments for the peace and quiet. The apartment has a lot of families with children, said Burnett, and he can’t understand why people would be opposed to adding a similar apartment complex.

“This area, it is growing and more and more people will be coming in. It needs to grow,” Burnett said.

Although some have expressed concern over the project’s impact on schools, Nguyen said, Atlantic Housing promotes education by offering tutoring and mentoring activities to children who live at the complex, scholarships for college and discounts on rent for parents whose children have good grades and attendance.

“We believe firmly in being a steppingstone out of low income,” Nguyen said.

No matter what Nguyen says, however, many residents simply are against more apartments in the area.

‘We fear an exodus’

Jack Salamone, a real estate broker and president of the Bentley Village-Waterchase Estates Neighborhood Association, said the concentration of apartments will lower quality of life in the neighborhood, regardless of what income level the apartments are geared toward.

“Low income is not an issue with me. I think everyone needs a place to live — high income, middle income, low income — it doesn’t make a difference. … It is about stopping more multifamily housing; we just have so much of it,” Salamone said.

He is worried about increased traffic congestion and pressure on schools. Residents also are concerned about protecting their investment in their homes. It is an area where home values are between $57,000 and $268,000, according to the Tarrant County Appraisal District,

“We fear an exodus for our community. We fear becoming another community that could be destroyed or lessened in value, like other communities I won’t name in east Fort Worth, who have seen their neighborhoods blighted because of a lack of concern by the City Council,” Salamone said.

DeDe Smith, vice president of the John T. White Neighborhood Association, has also been fighting the apartment complex, sending letters to the council and speaking out at meetings about the high density of low-income apartments.

Tobi Jackson, a Fort Worth school board trustee for much of the east side, echoes their concerns.

“We are excessively dense with apartments, and adding further apartments does not seem to be conducive to what we are trying to do over here, which is stabilize education and stabilize the neighborhood and continue to improve education,” Jackson said.

Impediments to fair housing

Overconcentration of low-income housing was a concern noted in the preliminary results of the Impediments to Fair Housing Choice Analysis for 2013.

The study, completed by Robert Gaudin, director of research and planning for Western Economic Services, is required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and was presented to the Community Development Council in September.

Section-8 housing vouchers are especially concentrated in the southeast sections of Fort Worth, Gaudin said at the September meeting, adding that the city needs to know why that is.

“Then it becomes an issue of are they not welcome elsewhere, is that the problem?” Gaudin asked when he presented the research.

Cynthia Garcia, acting director for the Department of Housing and Economic Development for the city, said her department does not track where low-income apartments are located and has not used that information as a factor when allocating funding in the past, though it may in the future.

The Impediments to Fair Housing Choice Analysis completed in 2010 found that Fort Worth faced many barriers to fair housing, including community resistance to the integration of affordable housing.

“I think it is unfortunate there is a mentality among some residents of the city of Fort Worth that if you are not wealthy, you are not welcome,” said Schell, the lawyer for the development.

Caty Hirst, 817-390-7984 Twitter, @CatyHirst

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Bentley Village Estates, Fort Worth, TX
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