On the west side of town, Berry Street is a bustling corridor with sidewalks and carefully trimmed trees luring residents to a multitude of restaurants, shops and apartments.
As you travel farther east, however, Berry Street changes.
First, the trees and bushes that line the sidewalks disappear and the businesses become more scattered. The sidewalks become patchy, sometimes overgrown with grass and sometimes just an often-trodden path of dirt.
Then East Berry Street hits the Historic Stop Six neighborhood.
Once a bustling neighborhood in its own right, it is now filled with empty lots, vacant houses, overgrown brush and boarded-up businesses. And Cavile Place, a 300-unit, red brick public housing complex, is often how the neighborhood is defined, said Adrienne Jones Johnson, president of the Historic Stop Six Neighborhood Association.
“You can go into any city and you can immediately identify the projects or the low-income housing in any city, because they all look the same,” said Johnson, who has lived in Stop Six since 1971. “To me, they just have this look about them and it just brings down the neighborhood and how people feel about themselves.”
But Johnson, a former Star-Telegram employee, hopes positive change for the area is coming, since the Fort Worth City Council recently added a $112 million transformation plan for Cavile Place and Stop Six.
The 10- to 15-year plan includes demolishing 300 units at Cavile Place and replacing them with 225 new units on site and dispersing the other 75 units.
A joint effort of the Fort Worth Housing Authority and the Fort Worth Housing Finance Corp., which is made up of Fort Worth City Council members, the ambitious plan also wants to acquire vacant lots throughout the neighborhood and transform them into community gardens, parks and about 190 homes for both rental and homeownership.
Funding the plan
The effort is unfunded, but will need $66.6 million to develop rental properties, $7.5 million for home-ownership, $17.1 million for retail and commercial development and $20.8 million for infrastructure work.
Councilwoman Gyna Bivens said the money will come, but getting the plan, which was approved by the Fort Worth Housing Authority Commission in June 2013, into the city’s comprehensive plan was the first step.
“You don’t set money aside for something that isn’t planned for,” Bivens said.
The plan is a year behind schedule. Bivens was sworn in last summer amid budget talks and the planning for the 2014 bond program, and she said those had to be her first priorities.
“I don’t think people expected me to come in and rubber-stamp everything that had been done before I got here,” Bivens said. “And that is what would have happened had I done things on the schedule a lot of people thought it should have happened on.”
Phase one of the plan, which includes acquisition of 27.5 acres in the area, was originally set to kick off in June 2013.
Despite the delay, Bivens said the plan has traction, and Don Babers, a native of east Fort Worth and known for rebuilding and revitalizing public housing in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, has volunteered to help.
Babers, who worked for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for 40 years, was the regional administrator for HUD in charge of Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana when he retired in 2012.
Babers said getting the money will be the biggest challenge.
The proposed funding sources are varied, and none are secured. Recommended sources include using city money, tax credits, Fort Worth Housing Authority capital funds, federal grants, city land contributions and state home-buyer assistance.
“Certainly funding is the No. 1 concern,” Babers said. “With the tight budget crunch we are going through, we have to be very creative and that is why we need collective partners at the table.”
The Housing Authority is applying for a $500,000 grant from HUD in August to get started, and Bivens hopes to soon identify money for improvements such as sidewalk repairs and lighting.
It gets personal
For Babers, a professional in affordable housing, the Cavile plan is personal.
“I am a native of Fort Worth. I have lived in the Meadowbrook neighborhood since 1975. I was the regional administrator in a five-state area, and now, being able to come back and contribute to my own neighborhood, it is just a joy, to come back and have the opportunity to work in my own back yard and try to make a difference,” Babers said.
“The ultimate goal of the plan is to create the conditions necessary for public and private reinvestment into that distressed neighborhood,” Babers added. “We want to change the ability to predict the outcomes of individuals by their ZIP code.”
In addition to volunteering for Bivens, Babers is one of the consultants working with the Fort Worth Housing Authority and he will coordinate communication with the residents of Cavile, the neighborhood and key stakeholders.
“What happens all too often is we have gone in and corrected one site, but we have not eradicated the problems around the neighborhood, so after three or four years it reverts back to what it was initially, because it was a piecemeal approach,” he said. “One of the key ingredients is a holistic approach, and that is getting the federal government, the local government and certainly business partners to come to the table and make all of this come to fruition.”
Tiffany Williams, a 10-year resident of Cavile Place, said the area “looks like poverty.”
She hopes the revitalization plan will change that, especially to help and to encourage the kids in the area, like her three sons, who are 10, 13 and 15.
“I believe when they change the whole setting, change this whole place out, I believe it is going to have a mind change for them,” Williams said of the younger generation. “For them to see that there is something greater, there is something better.”
For Williams, who is about to finish her GED and plans to pursue a business degree at Tarrant County College, the most exciting part of the strategy is the focus on education in the area, such as creating career training facilities for adults and adding to early education opportunities.
She said she is not worried about when the residents will need to be relocated because of construction.
“I know in order for things to change, we have to change and we have to come out of our element in order to get something greater,” Williams said. “I’m not worried about where I will be placed. I’m not worried about any of that at all.”
Alice Sykes, spokeswoman for the housing authority, said they will resume the planning process in August. Sykes said they will schedule meetings to gather input from Cavile Place and residents and Stop Six stakeholders.
A plan for change
The plan for transformation has three main elements: the neighborhood, the people and housing. It calls for converting vacant lots to community gardens, which would also help address the food desert in the area by providing fresh produce. It also seeks to create mixed-use retail space, neighborhood open space, education and job training facilities and improved streets.
The list of proposed partners for the plan is extensive, ranging from Tarrant County College to the Fort Worth Police Department.
Johnson said the Stop Six residents will help where they are able, especially with cleanup and spreading the word. She hopes the transformation will bring private development, grocery stores and pride back to the residents.
“I don’t think people would feel so intimated or threatened coming through our neighborhood,” Johnson said. “There are just so many different stigmas that are associated with it because of how it looks. If we do make a change, I think that would be for the better it would benefit the whole community.”