Tenants leased four last week, and just four homes remain. Demand for the three and four-bedroom, two-story frame homes - rented to families for up to $1,080 monthly under affordable housing rules - is the latest encouraging sign in the piece-by-piece revitalization of the low-income, central city neighborhood, officials say.
"Community revitalization has to have a housing component, and it has to have an economic development component," City Council member Kelly Alley Gray, whose district contains the neighborhood, said.
The neighborhood – once known as Terrell Heights – threw a grand opening last week on the $10.5 million Terrell Homes project, a partnership of the city’s Housing Finance Corp. and NRP Group of San Antonio. Mayor Betsy Price, State Sen. Wendy Davis, and former council member Kathleen Hicks attended.
Friday, Historic Southside cut the ribbon on a 7-Eleven. Earlier this year, it celebrated a new Jack in the Box. Both are milestones for Historic Southside, bounded by Interstate 35 on the west, East Vickery Boulevard on the north, Riverside Drive on the east, and East Rosedale Street on the south.
The city in recent years has built the pedestrian-friendly Evans Avenue plaza, a new library branch, and Hazel Harvey Peace Center for Neighborhoods in the neighborhood.
Next year, the Housing Finance Corp. plans to build the first two to four of 11 planned homes in the neighborhood that it will sell to buyers qualifying under the affordable housing rules.
"The city has made a significant investment, and we have private developers who are starting to make a significant investment in the community," Gray said. "Now you’re seeing the fruits of everyone’s labor."
The HFC-NRP partnership emerged from the recession, buying the lots from a group whose redevelopment plans stalled and building the homes on nine streets with help from federal money and $2.5 million in tax credits purchased by Comerica Bank.
Leasing on the homes, which range as high as 1,575 square feet, started two months ago. Tenants qualify based on income and family size, and don’t have to requalify to renew. Rents can rise or fall annually, based on trends in median household income. Tenants cannot sublet.
Tenants who rent for 15 straight years will be eligible to buy the homes for the remaining debt, estimated to be $1.7 million on the entire project, or an average $32,000 per home.
The partnership may also offer a refurbishment package to be built into a higher sale price, said Jay Chapa, Fort Worth’s housing and economic development director.
The homes come with fully-equipped kitchens, ceiling fans, walk-in closets, and garages.
"I would be stunned if these houses weren’t worth $150,000 in 15 years," Daniel Markson, NRP’s senior vice president of development, said.
The Housing Finance Corp. has 11 lots under contract to purchase in the neighborhood and has an architect working on designs, Chapa said.
The homes will cost $75 to $80 per square foot to build, and HFC will build them as they sell, he said.
"The idea is to just sell them at cost, to get the market going there," he said. "We think the price point is going to be $90,000, $100,000."
Gray likes the lure of immediate ownership.
"We have to look at ownership right now, as opposed to down the road," she said. "It has to be a mixture for us to be truly successful."
The HFC-NRP partnership planned to build a second phase of up to 30 more lease homes in Historic Southside, but it shelved that after a lawsuit by a Dallas group against the Texas Department of Housing forced the agency to rewrite its rules for how to dispense tax credits.
The lawsuit allleged the old rules effectively kept poor people in historically low-income neighborhoods, and said the rules should be rewritten to encourage affordable housing developments in higher-income neighborhoods.
"If the Terrell Homes application had been submitted under the (new) rules, it would never have been awarded," Ramon Guajardo, an affordable housing consultant and retired Fort Worth assistant city manager, said.
The new rules are in place for 2013, and Markson and Chapa hope to lobby for changes in 2014.
Guajardo said Fort Worth needs more affordable housing in various neighborhoods, not just poor ones.
"But I think the change that has been put into place for the next year goes from one extreme to the other," he said. "And the answer is somewhere in between."
Susan Jackson, 42, (photo above) and her 10-year-old son are among Terrell Homes’ newest tenants, moving from the Carver Heights neighborhood and leasing a three-bedroom for about $900 per month.
Jackson lost her job as a home health aide and her home to foreclosure, both two years ago. Her unemployment benefits have run out, and she’s just started a business, offering to assist elderly clients and give them baths.
Through fliers and posts on Craigslist, she secured her first two clients for the $30 service in the last week, one in Arlington and another in Colleyville.
"That money adds up," Jackson said.
"I’m trying to not even think about" the rent, she said. "God has been so good to me."
Al Piper, president of the Historic Southside Neighborhood Association, said he hopes the new families improve the neighborhood schools and spur reinvestment by other homeowners.
"As parents that move into the community get more involved in the schools, that will facilitiate better education for all," Piper said.
Piper said one young couple recently purchased a home in Historic Southside and invested $80,000 into a rehab.
"He indicated it was worth his investment," Piper said.
- Scott Nishimura, Star-Telegram Fort Worth City Hall reporter, firstname.lastname@example.org