Other Voices

City coming together for affordable housing solutions

Fort Worth officials are working on a strategic plan for affordable housing. In this photo, people in Charlotte consider a $50 million program to help affordable housing.
Fort Worth officials are working on a strategic plan for affordable housing. In this photo, people in Charlotte consider a $50 million program to help affordable housing. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

Eighty years ago our city established a housing authority to find the means of supplying “safe and sanitary dwellings for every family in the city,” in the words of the authority’s first executive director.

Now called Fort Worth Housing Solutions, the authority faces greater challenges than at any other time in its 80-year history to fulfill this original mission. The lack of safe and affordable housing has become a crisis. The city has alarming shortage of 40,702 units for extremely low-income residents according to our calculations. HUD defines “extremely low-income” as households earning less than 30 percent of the area’s median income.

Fort Worth’s rapid growth has created unintended consequences for its lowest income citizens, including seniors and people with disabilities. One in three households in Fort Worth earns less than 50 percent of the area’s median income, which is $75,200. An affordable monthly rent for this family would be $846.

That would have been fine in 2013, when the average rent of a two-bedroom apartment was about $850; today it is nearly $1,200. Average home prices and rents have shot up over the past five years, and nearly one-third of Fort Worth’s population is cost-burdened, meaning more than 30 percent of their income is spent for housing.

Our agency receives enough funding to provide vouchers to approximately 5,560 households, but this is a fraction of the estimated 72,269 that qualify. And those fortunate enough to have vouchers struggle to find housing that accepts them. A recent HUD/Urban Land Institute study found that 78 percent of 1,146 landlords in Fort Worth refused to accept vouchers. The lack of good options for voucher-holders and the thousands of others who need housing assistance is the key reason for our partnerships with numerous developers to build more affordable housing across our city.

We are de-concentrating public housing (and poverty) through HUD’s Rental Assistance Demonstration program (RAD). Families are moving out of Butler Place and into quality, mixed-income communities in good neighborhoods from one end of the city to the other. Eventually Cavile Place will be re-developed into a mixed-income community, assuming HUD approves our applications. Over the past 18 months we have worked hard on an Assessment of Fair Housing, a HUD requirement, and have aligned our goals for the next five years to address the fair housing issues of our community.

In partnership with the private sector, we are acquiring, upgrading and building mixed-income apartment communities in every council district; in fact, 1,600 units are under construction. But much more housing is needed for the restaurant servers, retail clerks, daycare workers and baristas who keep our local businesses running, including new college graduates, and for many who are unable to work due to a disability.

Every individual and family deserves a safe and healthy place to live, and that’s why we, the city and several partners have drafted a strategic plan for affordable housing. Our shared vision is to have an adequate and diverse supply of housing in viable, mixed-in neighborhoods distributed throughout the city by 2028. Our ambitious city will be stronger for it.

Mary-Margaret Lemons is president of Fort Worth Housing Solutions.