Fort Worth, Texas: Mixed Uses and Mixed-Income Housing Aim to Improve a Low-Opportunity Neighborhood
The 2005 closing of the Masonic Home and School in Southeast Fort Worth, Texas, provided a rare opportunity for urban development: 200 acres in a neighborhood of concentrated poverty near the city center. A group of private investors is leading the redevelopment of the site, known as Renaissance Square, to create a neighborhood that includes mixed-income residential, commercial, and institutional uses. The first phase of housing, completed in 2018, sits on 11 of those acres. Columbia at Renaissance Square provides 119 affordable rental units and 21 market-rate apartments. Through a partnership with Purpose Built Communities, stakeholders in the development of Renaissance Square are focusing on mixed-income housing, education, and wellness to break an intergenerational cycle of poverty and provide uses and services that will help uplift the surrounding community.
Supporting Mixed-Income Housing for a Vibrant Community
Columbia at Renaissance Square consists of one-, two-, and three-bedroom units in 5 three-story buildings designed, according to Raymond Kuniansky, chief development officer for project developer Columbia Residential, in a style that reflects the local area. Project facilities accommodate the wellness and education aspects of the Purpose Built Communities model. A fitness center, large playground, and green space encourage physical activity, and a computer center and library support learning. A community kitchen and other shared spaces promote interaction among residents.
Central to the developer’s hopes for Columbia at Renaissance Square is the project’s mixed-income nature, which along with the developer’s focus on education and wellness, is expected to help break an intergenerational cycle of poverty. The founders of project partner Purpose Built Communities first pioneered this three-pronged approach during the redevelopment of the troubled East Lake Meadows neighborhood in Atlanta in the mid-1990s. The sale of low-income housing tax credits (LIHTCs) was the primary financing vehicle for Columbia at Renaissance Square (table 1). The LIHTC financing caps income eligibility at 60 percent of the area median income (AMI) for 52 units and 50 percent of AMI for 13 units. Other public funding sources included mortgages from the Fort Worth HOME Investment Partnerships Program (HOME) and the Fort Worth Housing Finance Corporation, the city’s low- and moderate-income housing development arm. HOME supported seven units for families earning up to 60 percent of AMI and two units for families earning up to 50 percent of AMI. Project-based rental assistance keeps units affordable for 13 families earning no more than 30 percent of AMI and 23 families earning no more than 50 percent of AMI. Rental assistance is also provided through the Section 811 Supportive Housing for Persons with Disabilities program, which ensures the provision of supportive services, funded by the Fort Worth Housing Finance Corporation, to people living with disabilities in 10 units.
Table 1: Financing for Columbia at Renaissance Square
|First mortgage: Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria/Compass Bank||$5,700,000|
|Second mortgage: Fort Worth Housing Finance Corporation||700,000|
|Third mortgage: City of Fort Worth (HOME)||1,200,000|
|LIHTC equity (9% credits)||16,300,000|
|Deferred development fee||400,000|
Building Partnerships for Community Success
The Purpose Built Communities model relies on building partnerships for success, and in the design phase, the developer sought input from area residents to ensure that Columbia at Renaissance Square would be responsive to local concerns. The Purpose Built Communities model calls for a “community quarterback” to lead local partners working toward the long-term goal of breaking intergenerational poverty. The quarterback organization in Fort Worth is Renaissance Heights United, which includes the North Texas Area Community Health Centers, the YMCA of Metropolitan Fort Worth, the University of North Texas Health Science Center, Texas Wesleyan University, Cook Children’s Health Care System, ACH Child and Family Services, and Uplift Education, among others. Benefits to residents include priority enrollment at the Uplift Mighty Preparatory charter school, which was established in 2012, and discounted memberships at the recently built nearby YMCA facility.
Bringing Opportunity to the Neighborhood
The mixed-income aspect of Columbia at Renaissance Square reduces Southeast Fort Worth’s concentration of poverty while providing new affordable housing in a planned community. In addition to the charter school and the new YMCA, the service organizations represented in Renaissance Heights United offer amenities that were scarce or nonexistent in the low-income community. ACH Child and Family Services, which provides family- and youth-oriented counseling, skill-building, and crisis intervention services, has been transitioning over the past decade to a location near the Renaissance Square area. The North Texas Area Community Health Centers, a Federally Qualified Health Center, also has a facility nearby, and the Cook Children’s Health Care System opened a clinic providing pediatric and dental care close to Columbia at Renaissance Square. In addition, the University of North Texas Health Science Center operates a pediatric mobile clinic that stops at the YMCA every month.
The development of the commercial component of the 200-acre site, which offers numerous employment opportunities, preceded the construction of Columbia at Renaissance Square. Subsequent phases of residential development will allow more people to live close to those jobs as well as Renaissance Square’s wellness and educational opportunities. The second phase of residential development, which is under construction, will add 120 affordable rental units for seniors. Three other residential phases are anticipated, rounding out the vision for a mixed-income neighborhood.