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Fort Worth makes changes to incentive policy on affordable housing

By Scott Nishimura
snishimura@bizpress.net

Fort Worth is making changes to its economic developing incentive policy that will allow residential developers who accept public money to choose between setting aside a certain number of affordable-rate housing units, or paying cash into a local housing trust.

Each deal will be subject to city staff and City Council review on whether there’s already enough affordable-rate housing within a short radius around the proposed development. If there is, the city may allow the developer the choice.

The council voted 7-2 to approve, with Council members Kelly Allen Gray and Jungus Jordan voting no. Gray has objected to the policy change to offer choice, arguing the city has too great a need for affordable housing and it will take too long for the trust to build enough cash to do any good.

With new development continuing to rush into the area, “who is going to work there, and where are they going to live?” Gray said Tuesday. “I think it is incumbent upon as a council and the city of Fort Worth have an affordable housing policy,” she added.

The council earlier this year let two developments - Clearfork and Waterside, both in the path of the Chisholm Trail Parkway - pay into a housing trust instead of setting aside affordable housing units in their developments.

Tuesday’s council action codified the the choice. Developers not setting aside affordable housing units would pay $200 per unit in their development per year they are receiving a city incentive into a city trust.

Money from the trust could be used for anything from building new affordable housing to rehab, depending on a policy to be formulated by the Fort Worth Housing Finance Corp., and it would target the neighborhoods were affordable housing for the lowest-income families is most needed - those earning 30 percent or less of area median income.

“We think it’s going to provide a lot more flexibility and allow us to respond to market conditions,” Jay Chapa, the city’s housing and economic development director, said Tuesday.

The need for affordable-rate housing is most significant at the lowest income levels, city data shows.

Measuring affordability of rental housing for households earning 30 percent of area median income, there’s a shortfall of 16,000 residential units, Chapa said.

But at 60 percent and 80 percent of area median income, there’s a surplus of 17,000 affordable-rate units, he said. The city’s incentive policy has been aimed at the 80-percent level.

Tuesday, Chapa estimated that if the new policy had been applied to 11 city residential incentive agreements dating to 2005, it would produce $9 million for the housing trust over the lives of those agreements.

The agreements, as constructed, have provided 367 affordable-rate units, but none for households earning 30 percent of area median income or less.

“My goal is more affordable housing and more affordable housing at the level we are missing,” Councilman Danny Scarth said. “We do have the option to create some dollars, and then we can very specifically and directly create some units. I’m willing to give it a shot.”

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