November 14, 2011

New Hunter Plaza won't be public housing, agency tells former residents

Formerly public housing, it is intended to be affordable housing, the city housing authority says.

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FORT WORTH -- A redeveloped Hunter Plaza will open no sooner than 2014 and will have fewer units than the closed public housing center had, officials say.

Fort Worth Housing Authority officials talked about the project Thursday at a meeting with former residents. The authority closed the building in downtown Fort Worth a year and a half ago because of a bedbug infestation.

This summer, the housing authority hired Mayse & Associates architects and Carlton Development to redevelop the property for mixed use with affordable housing. Authority officials stressed the change to residents, saying, "The new Hunter Plaza will not be public housing."

Instead, residents will have to use housing vouchers they were given when Hunter Plaza closed, he said. Most displaced residents have used the vouchers to move into privately owned apartments, though a few moved to other public housing.

"If you want to, you have the option of taking your voucher to the new Hunter Plaza," said Brian Dennison, vice president of development and asset management for the housing authority.

It's not clear, however, how many units the new property will have or how many will be available to people with vouchers. Authority President and CEO Barbara Holston told former residents that the final plan will involve fewer than the previous 225 units.

"Those apartments were very, very small," Holston said. "To reconfigure them to make them new apartments, we know we have to reduce the number."

Occupants will have a wide range of incomes, officials said.

In their request for proposals from developers, authority officials said the project will include the "gut rehabilitation" of the 155,000-square-foot property, an elevated parking garage and a facade makeover.

The housing authority will hold informational meetings at several locations near apartments where former residents live, authority spokeswoman Alice Sykes said.

Seeking to return

About a dozen former residents attended the meeting Thursday. Several said they are interested in returning to the property.

One asked whether former residents will be first in line to use vouchers to move back in.

Dennison said that he wasn't sure how that process will work and that some former residents may go on a waiting list. Holston said determining the best way to "take care of our former Hunter Plaza residents" will be part of discussions as the plan proceeds.

"Well, we should think about that because we were made to leave Hunter Plaza, and some of us liked it," said Belinda Weathers, 56.

After the meeting, Weathers said she misses "the family atmosphere" at Hunter Plaza. She said she lives on the west side and doesn't know any neighbors at her new apartment complex.

At Hunter Plaza, "when someone got sick we would call each other every day to make sure everyone was OK," Weathers said. "It was like you had a family away from home."

Former resident Loretta Miller, 48, said she lives in south Fort Worth and misses having an apartment downtown.

"It was right on a bus line and felt safe," Miller said. "I'm not going to be there to see the [holiday] parade this year. I just really liked it there."

Battling bedbugs

Hunter Plaza struggled for years with bedbugs, which have re-emerged in hotels and homes nationwide.

The housing authority signed a $632,000 contract with Terminix for fumigation, decontamination of all 219 residents and their possessions, and costs associated with moving residents' belongings.

Some residents were unhappy with the move; others said they prefer their new homes.

Sykes said the authority will keep updating former residents throughout the redevelopment. The Housing and Urban Development Department is being consulted, and construction will probably not begin until 2013.

"We don't even know if it will still be named Hunter Plaza," Sykes said. "There is a long way to go."

Alex Branch,


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