The Near Southside is arguably Fort Worth's most eclectic neighborhood, with a mix of old and modern, rustic and artistic.
As the 1,400-acre district just south of downtown becomes an increasingly popular place to live, work and play, the folks at a nonprofit organization known as Near Southside Inc. are working on strategies to keep the housing in the area affordable.
It's a tough task, especially in a city undergoing a historical boom in the construction of luxury apartments. Since 2010, 16,640 apartment units have opened in Fort Worth — but only 4 percent (710 units) are renting for below the average rent price of $1,093 per month.
Planners want some luxury apartments in the Near Southside, but they also want affordable housing.
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"We want every housing type with as many price points as possible, as many housing options as we can have," said Mike Brennan, Near Southside Inc. planning director.
The idea is to make the area attractive not only for physicians who work in the medical district but also entry-level nurses, bartenders, insurance workers, college students and even starving artists whose murals bedeck many of the exterior walls in the neighborhood.
Brian Crowell, a partner with Hudgins Companies, a firm that specializes in multifamily housing, used to live in Near Southside. Today, he is building a five-story apartment complex at Magnolia Avenue and May Street — which, fittingly, will be called Mag and May.
The building will feature 231 units, including several "micro units" — studio apartments that will range from $900 to $950 a month. But there will also be much larger apartments renting for several times that amount.
The first floor will feature 9,000 feet of retail space, including restaurants with patios that open to the street. The second floor will feature a swimming pool that opens to Magnolia Avenue, "so people can engage with the streetscape," he said.
The stoops outside the ground-level apartments will feature 12-foot-long murals painted by 14 or 15 local artists, Crowell said.
Crowell said his vision was to build housing that was affordable for the people who already live in the Near Southside.
"We've had a number of nurses starting out making $35,000 to $40,000 a year, and that just can't qualify or afford one of those new one-bedrooms that's $1,250 a month, so what we tried to do was figure out how to service that market," Crowell said. "We've done that through some micro units that still have ultra-high finish outs, but allow them to get in at between $900 and $1,000.
"At (rents of) $1,250, you have to make $42,000, $43,000, $44,000 in order to get in, and that totally takes out the X-ray tech, the insurance billing specialist, the line cook, the bartender, that totally misses the demographic that already lives here and would love to live here, but is being priced out through this gentrification we are seeing now."
Some other strategies Near Southside Inc. is using to ensure the housing mix is diverse:
▪ Bike-friendly apartments: An eight-unit apartment complex at Cleveland Avenue and South Main Street will feature on-site bicycle parking and will cater to residents who don't wish to own a car. Unlike other parts of Fort Worth, Near Southside doesn't require apartment buildings to include a minimum number of parking spots per unit.
▪ Unusual materials: At Evans Avenue and East Oleander Street, an Idea Works FW office structure is made of re-purposed shipping containers (the huge metal cubes typically seen at ocean ports).
▪ Federal tax credits: Near Southside Inc. works with Fort Worth Housing Solutions (the city's housing authority) to encourage developers to set aside a certain number of their units for rent to qualified low-income residents in exchange for tax breaks.