Area housing partnership plans first green development

Fort Worth Business Press (Nov. 28, 2011)
By Betty Dillard

Tarrant County Housing Partnership Inc. was founded in 1991 by a housing task force formed by then-Fort Worth Mayor Bob Bolen and community leaders.

Since its inception, TCHP, in collaboration with the county, the cities of Fort Worth and Arlington and other public and private sector partners, has become the area’s leading nonprofit organization helping current and potential homeowners through all stages of ownership.

The organization has produced more than 3,600 affordable housing units and administered nearly $20 million in funding for new construction and neighborhood stabilization as well as generating $51 million in first-time homebuyer mortgages. Combined with its housing units, TCHP has generated about $4.8 billion for the economic development of Tarrant County.

The housing partnership is topping off its milestone anniversary this year with the recent wrap-up of the Jordan Lane Revitalization Project, a city of Arlington collaboration that involved construction of 11 new homes on a single street in one of Arlington’s oldest neighborhoods.

Next year, TCHP plans to start a two-year, multi-million dollar green building initiative of single-family homes and multi-family housing units in Fort Worth – the city’s first.

“It’s amazing to see how this has grown and evolved in the last 20 years,” said TCHP President Donna VanNess. “One of the things that helps TCHP sustain its success is that we’re flexible. We watch and assess the community for what it needs. And we watch for the trends in where housing is going for funding opportunities.”

From what started as a fundraising organization and clearinghouse for all affordable housing activities in Tarrant County, TCHP has grown into a provider of an array of services and programs that tackle the larger issues of housing for first-time homebuyers and for low- and moderate-income families. Core programs include administering down payment and closing cost assistance programs; new construction of single-family residences; homeowner counseling and education; and acquisition/rehabilitation/resale programs.

“We have at least 300 clients in the pipeline at a time for those services,” VanNess said. “That’s just happened in the last two years. Before we just had a handful. Now we’re seeing a huge increase of people losing their homes to foreclosure and other low- and moderate-income people struggling with their house payments and unemployment. It’s important to get people to take action.”

Making dreams come true

The new residents along Jordan Lane in central Arlington are the latest beneficiaries of TCHP’s efforts in working with the public sector.

The city obtained funding from the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s HOME Investment Partnership Program and Community Development Block Grants to buy 11 dilapidated houses on the blighted street and tear them down for redevelopment. The people who lived in the old houses were moved to safer, more comfortable, affordable homes. Arlington sold the vacant properties to Tarrant County Housing Partnership – its third neighborhood revitalization project in Arlington – which built modern, more efficient three-bedroom, two-bath homes, ranging in size from 1,200 to 1,645 square feet.

TCHP sold the new homes for $110,000 to $120,000, helping residents realize homeownership, while restoring a vital neighborhood and raising property values by more than $845,000.

“I’m very proud of what we build,” VanNess said. “Property value goes up, a neighborhood is improved and people who think they can never afford a home are able to buy one all at the same time.

"One of the things we consistently fight over is the term ‘affordable housing.’ It has a bad rep. Affordable housing is basically America’s workforce. You’ve got health care workers, teachers, administrative personnel. These are people you want as your neighbors, people you know will stabilize a neighborhood. You want to loan them money.”

Building for the future

VanNess said rising foreclosure rates have HUD considering offering lease purchase programs again. To prepare for that possibility, TCHP has increased its inventory of multi-family housing units through the Neighborhood Stabilization Program.

“We’re gearing ourselves up for the next phase,” VanNess said. “Too many dominos keep falling. When more people have their houses foreclosed on that increases demand for rental property and that increases rental property prices. Before, low- to moderate-income households were having trouble keeping up with the average house costs. Now rental housing is becoming out of range. That’s why HUD is looking at potential rental programs.”

The nonprofit’s latest endeavor is a $1.5 million construction project of 20 new single-family, energy efficient, affordable homes located in an older neighborhood in southeast Fort Worth.The organization also recently purchased a 70-unit multi-family complex on Fort Worth’s east side. A $2 million rehab on the property will result in a total of 66 units and a new community facility. Both construction projects will be built to green building specifications.

Partners include the city of Fort Worth and the Enterprise Foundation, which will train local construction crews hired for the job in how to build green.

We’re very excited about our green building initiative,” VanNess said. “It can be done. We’ll be able to prove that with this new initiative. Just because it’s affordable housing doesn’t mean it can’t be energy efficient. We’re going to build high performing, energy efficient homes that are affordable. It’s our responsibility as builders to build these types of homes.”

Another partner in the new initiative is EARTH-NT, the Energy and Resource Technology Hub of North Texas, a clean technologies laboratory and business hub. Acting in a third-party role, EARTH-NT, in collaboration with the School of Urban Affairs at the University of Texas at Arlington, will collect data over the next five years from TCHP’s sustainable building. Captured data will include everything from construction costs, length of time it took to build, to types of sustainable materials used.

“They are one of the first if not the first housing partnerships to do this and really put it in place,” said Jyl DeHaven, executive director of EARTH-NT. “They’re approaching it almost like a private sector project. How cool would it be for Fort Worth and Tarrant County to build amazing, affordable, sustainable, energy efficient homes? It’s a whole different way of doing 
business.”