"On Jordan Lane, pride replaces blight"

Arlington Citizen-Journal, Nov. 2, 2011
By Patrick Walker

On a beautiful fall day last weekend, residents along Jordan Lane in central Arlington were tending to their yards, running errands and cleaning house.

On the surface, it was just another busy Saturday in suburban life. But Jordan Lane isn't just any street.

Where now stand cozy homes with nice-size yards just a few years ago were dilapidated houses that the city deemed unfit for human occupation. Blight and decay had moved into the postwar neighborhood just blocks northwest of Fielder Road and Division Street. Upstanding citizens trapped by circumstance were forced to share their block with drug dealers and the like.

"It's a pretty neighborhood," said City Councilwoman Kathryn Wilemon, whose district includes Jordan Lane. "But there were houses that had become truly uninhabitable. There were people living in them, but it wasn't a good situation."

That began to change in 2004, when city officials targeted the street for a redevelopment project. Eleven blighted properties with a taxable value of $327,140 were razed. In their place, 11 new homes valued at $1,173,000 have been built. And in them now live 11 families who might not otherwise have realized their dreams of homeownership.

Working together

At a time when the public's opinion of the government is at its lowest, the project shows that the public sector can still get things right. City officials obtained funding from two federal sources, the Department of Housing and Urban Development's HOME Investment Partnership Program and Community Development Block Grants, to buy the old houses and to relocate the people who lived in them to safer, affordable, more comfortable quarters.

Arlington sold the land to the Fort Worth-based Tarrant County Housing Partnership, a nonprofit that helps first-time buyers become homeowners.

Over the next few years, 11 three-bedroom, two-bath homes were built, their sizes ranging from 1,200 to 1,645 square feet. They have large bedrooms, brick mailboxes, new landscaping and Energy Star appliances.

Now, the last of the new homes, priced $110,000 to $120,000, has an owner, bringing the project to a close.

Officials say the benefits are shared by many.

"The city's investment of approximately $800,000 in HOME funds transformed this community into a beautiful, quiet development where thriving homeowners raise their children and care for their homes and their community," said David Zappasodi, executive director of the Arlington Housing Authority. "The investment also benefited the city, county and school district by raising property values by over $845,000."

Besides the homeowners, who could receive up to $10,000 in down-payment assistance through the housing partnership's programs, neighbors can feel a renewed sense of pride, perhaps serving as motivation to spruce up their properties.

In other words, there's a domino effect. "It increases the viability and sustainability of the surrounding neighborhood," said Donna VanNess, executive director of the housing partnership. "It helps with economic development, and that's really the whole purpose behind it."

A place of their own

Maurico Aguilar and his family moved into their Jordan Lane home a little over three years ago. They had been living in an apartment in Grand Prairie and dreamed of having a place to call their own.

After several offers on existing homes fell through, Aguilar asked his real estate agent to broaden the search.

"They told me about this one," he said, taking a break from mowing the back yard. "It wasn't finished yet."

Motioning to the nearby mobile home park, he said he was at first concerned that it wouldn't be the best neighborhood for him and his wife to raise their four children.

But the chance to have a brand-new home and a big back yard won him over, and he hasn't regretted it.

"We haven't had any issues," he said. "It's been quiet."

Across the street and a couple of houses down, Blerim Bresa was tinkering in the garage.

His family, who bought the second of the 11 homes, has now lived there for about five years, happy and content.

"It is true -- it's the American dream," he said. "It's good enough for me."