Julián Castro, the new secretary of housing and urban development, stopped off in Fort Worth on Wednesday to tour a renovated affordable housing site, even as the federal agency tries to find money to renovate more units.
“The challenge we have out there right now is every year about 10,000 public housing units fall into disrepair and we actually have a backlog of about $26 billion worth of improvements that need to be made to public housing,” Castro said. “There is no way if we wait for funding to come forward that all those improvements can be made.”
On the latest stop on his nationwide tour to learn about housing issues in local communities, Castro, a former mayor of San Antonio, touted Fair Oaks Apartments, which is getting a $2.37 million makeover, as an example of how to leverage public resources with private money.
“I wanted to come today to take a look at Fair Oaks because Fair Oaks is at the cutting edge of a vision we call rental assistance demonstration, or RAD, which allows for private-sector capital to help subsidized housing be revitalized, and that is some of the work that is happening in the units right now,” Castro said.
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“And that is what we want. We want improvements to the living conditions of the folks we serve.”
Fair Oaks, on Quail Trail in northwest Fort Worth near River Oaks, has 76 units for elderly and disabled clients. Its renovation was funded partly with a $1.7 million loan from Bank of Oklahoma. That money would not have been available without RAD, and Fort Worth was the first city in Texas to pilot the new program.
“The secretary is really encouraging Congress to expand the RAD cap, and what we wanted to do was provide a real-live example of what this program has done for the housing authority and the residents,” said Naomi Byrne, CEO of the Fort Worth Housing Authority.
Castro, who was sworn in as the 16th secretary of the Housing and Urban Development Department in July, oversees 8,000 employees and a budget of $46 billion. He said it was good to be back in Texas.
“I have two pet peeves about Washington, D.C. It is impossible to get good iced tea, and it is impossible to get good barbecue. And I would definitely add that it is impossible to get good salsa,” Castro said after being presented gifts from the city and the housing authority that included a jar of salsa.
He visited the city as the Fort Worth Housing Authority is rolling out several initiatives under Byrne, who started in June.
First is the $29 million redevelopment of the Hunter Plaza public housing tower in downtown Fort Worth — also a RAD project — which kicked off with a “wall breaking” Nov. 6.
Asbestos is being removed from the building, and the tower will be rebuilt over the next year into 114 one-bedroom and 50 two-bedroom apartments ranging from 550 to 850 square feet.