New home, new hope: Fort Worth family sees dream of homeownership come true

06/07/2014 4:26 PM

06/07/2014 4:26 PM

Eight-year-old Krystal Avila wants a pet, preferably a cuddly puppy.

So as she walked through the soon-to-be-finished bungalow that her family will move into this summer, she started analyzing the three-bedroom, two-bathroom home for where her pet will sleep.

“My pet is going to stay in there,” she finally said, pointing to what will be the laundry room.

Her mother, Valerie Amparan, already knows that the kids will be able to persuade her to get that pet to go with their first house.

“I can’t wait to move in. I’ve already started packing. I have this feeling that I can’t even describe. A house is something we have always wished for,” Amparan said, eyes watering as she looked at the soft-yellow home on a quiet street in the Hillside neighborhood.

“They want a back yard to play in and a pet — just that good stuff for kids,” she said.

The family of five lives in an apartment now, but she said they are ready to switch from renting to homeownership because of the home buyers’ counseling and financial help from the Tarrant County Housing Partnership.

“Now I’m seeing the real life. I’m in my house,” Amparan said, laughing and still seeming a little shocked. “It feels good.”

Amparan’s home is one of three that the housing partnership is finishing construction on this summer, after buying the tax-foreclosed lots from the city of Fort Worth at a discount last year. The organization is buying 12 more tax-foreclosed lots after the City Council approved the sale Tuesday, hoping to build a total of 15 affordable houses in the Hillside Morningside neighborhood.

Trinity Habitat for Humanity is getting 30 properties through the same program.

“It is difficult for people who are considered our workforce to purchase homes, with tightening credit markets and a lack of affordable housing. There are all those challenges that keep that demographic and that population as renters, and they can’t build equity, they can’t build wealth,” said Donna VanNess, president of the housing partnership.

Her organization serves about 3,000 people a year, getting them on the track to homeownership by providing credit and home buyer counseling. The partnership gets about 100 to 150 people into homeownership each year, she said, by helping them find real estate agents and lenders and giving advice. Some receive financial assistance with down payments, depending on their income.

The right ‘price point’

For Councilwoman Kelly Allen Gray, selling the properties to nonprofits at 20 percent of the Tarrant Appraisal District value is a win-win, getting the tax-foreclosed lots back on the tax roll and providing needed affordable housing in Fort Worth.

“It starts to address affordable housing from homeownership. And that is not a conversation we have had in the city of Fort Worth for the last four or five years, that we have desperately needed to have,” Gray said. “And so organizations like TCHP help us and help me actually further that dialogue of talking about homeownership, and bringing back communities.”

Valued at $56,800, the 12 tax-foreclosed properties in the Hillside neighborhood were sold to the partnership for $11,360.

Also Tuesday, the council approved selling 30 tax-foreclosed properties to Trinity Habitat for Humanity. The properties are mostly vacant lots, though some of them have houses that need either repair or demolition, and had a total value of $210,600. They were sold for $42,120.

“Obviously discounted prices always help when you are building high-quality homes for workforce families,” said Gage Yager, executive director of Trinity Habitat. “It is getting the price point down to where it is truly affordable that is always a challenge.”

Those lots will be used to build 25 Habitat homes in the Como, East Carver Heights and Hillside Morningside neighborhoods. Yager said Habitat will concentrate on certain neighborhoods instead of building scattered units to have a greater impact on the community.

“It is transformational for the family, homeownership is, and then more ownership of such homes in a neighborhood is transformational for the neighborhood itself. It hits both targets,” he said.

Rebuilding lives, communities

For leaders like VanNess, Yager and Gray, there is no denying there is a need for affordable housing in Fort Worth.

The waiting list at the Fort Worth Housing Authority for the home voucher program is 18,000 people long.

“That, I think, pretty accurately paints a broad picture,” Yager said. “There is always a demand on the lower end of the economic spectrum for viable, quality housing.”

It takes Habitat home buyers about a year to move through the queue, Yager said, with much of that time being used for homeownership counseling and the future owners volunteering for the organization.

Habitat builds about 30-35 homes a year and rehabilitates about 150 existing homes per year, he said.

According to city records, Fort Worth lacks about 17,000 affordable units for the city’s poorest residents, or those who live at 30 percent of the median area income, which is $19,750 for a family of four.

That is the housing spectrum Gray wants the city to focus on.

In Hillside, Gray said, several revitalization efforts are coming up in addition to the housing units. For example, the Hillside Park Walking Trail opens to the public June 14.

“Those families that we are providing homes to are the exact same families that are our kids and our friends, and us, who need a good starter home to kick off their family, and for them to feel safe and for their kids to have yards and a place to play,” Gray said.

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