Virginia Murillo is not against development and neighborhood improvements — she just wants them to benefit the community. 

The City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved rezoning of land from industrial to multifamily, allowing Ojala Holdings to build an affordable housing complex in the Hemphill neighborhood.

Murillo, owner of Straight Edge by Virginia barbershop, is among a group of business owners and residents pushing back against what they consider gentrification in their neighborhood.

Although she wants the neighborhood to grow, Murillo, 44, said she has concerns about the impact on local business.

“Depending on how the apartments are going to be, are they going to affect any business? Are they going to have to knock any businesses down to open or you know, do an entryway for them?” Murillo said. “We already have issues; they made Hemphill Street two-way … So now with the apartments, is it going to be worse?”

Straight Edge by Virginia Barber Shop on 3720 Hemphill Street. (Cristian ArguetaSoto | Fort Worth Report)

The land where the development is planned is vacant, and the developers will not tear anything down, which Daniel Smith, vice president of investments at Ojala Partners said is part of the reason the company chose that land.

Murillo said she also has concerns that the complex will target those with a higher income than many of the neighborhood residents have and questions whether the project will improve the neighborhood, she said.

Zoning commission presentation from Ojala Holdings

The development, called Tobias Place, will be a mix of one- to three-bedroom units with 90% reserved for people who earn 60% below the area’s median income, which is about $43,000, according to a presentation from the company given to the zoning commission.

According to the presentation, there are no businesses or homes in the 11 acres of land planned for the apartments. If approved, the land rezoned would be on the southeast corner of Hemphill Street and Biddison Street.

District 9 Councilwoman Elizabeth Beck said the development wouldl help the community with affordable housing and will not lead to gentrification.

Rather, this kind of development will help Hemphill, she said.

2021 Point-in-Time Count Unsheltered data in FW by council district

5 – Gyna Bivens: 7

9 – Elizabeth Beck: 55

4 – Cary Moon: 37

2 – Carlos Flores: 28

8 – Chris Nettles: 214

3 – Michael D. Crain: 6

7 – Leonard Firestone: 1

6 – Jared Williams: 0

The area is experiencing homelessness in a way that’s starting to cause problems, Beck said. Affordable housing can help combat this.

The rent ranges from $400 to $1,000, which Beck said is a rate that’s unseen in an area where housing prices are rising.

Ojala has experience in other housing projects, and Beck said the project can help handle homelessness in the community.

“They understand that homelessness is an issue in our corridor,” Beck said. “And so that means that the potential that a homeless person may wander onto the property — or being in the periphery of the property — instead of calling the police or just shooing them away, they are already talking about working with their partners to provide those people with resources to get them help.”

Last year, the company partnered with Fort Worth Housing Solutions to purchase Casa de Esperanza apartments, which is housing for homeless people displaced because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Smith said.

State of the Homeless Tarrant and Parker Counties

In the past 10 years, the company has built or developed over $1 billion in mixed-income housing, Smith said.

“Whenever we first started on our site selection process, we wanted to remain extremely sensitive to the gentrification concerns in the area,” he said. “And, as such, that’s why we picked this tract, because we’re not demolishing any existing structures, we’re not relocating any Latino businesses.”

In fact, Smith said, the development is the opposite of gentrification because it provides low-income housing to working class people. In doing this, Smith said people will not get priced out of the community from inflation and high rent.

The complex will feature amenities to help residents, Beck said.

“They plan to offer an after-school childcare program,” she said. “It’s Class A construction, so it’s what you’re going to see for those much pricier units throughout the city.”

The area Tobias Place will be developed, according to a presentation from Ojala Holdings to Fort Worth City Council.

Other amenities include a community garden, pond, gated access and security, she said.

“This particular project that I think is so important,” Beck said. “This particular area has just been overlooked and overlooked for decades. I think it’s been over 50 years since a new multifamily development has been built in that area.”

The activist group Hemphill No Se Vende, which translates to “is not for sale,” strongly opposed the development. Community organizer Ricardo Avitia, 41, said he does not want the development to use tax dollars if the community will not be able to access the amenities.

“We want the City of Fort Worth to know we are in need of development, yes, but we need positive development,” he said. 

The community wants development it can have access to, he said, which is not the case with Tobias Place. That’s why he does not consider it a positive development. He wants to see the city use money on investing in green space, infrastructure, pools and other community investments.

As of now, no tax dollars are planned for Tobais Place, Smith said. During the council meeting, he said the developer plans to use Low-Income Tax Credit program funds.

Apartments providing amenities only for residents and not the community is standard, Beck said. The Victory Forest Community Center is across the street from the proposed area the community can use.

Hemphill No Se Vende wants to see more investment in the neighborhood, specifically with all the CARES Act money coming into Fort Worth, Avitia said. 

According to the presentation to the commission and Beck, Ojala Holdings reached out to neighborhood associations, Hemphill No Se Vende and other groups about the project. The Worth Heights Neighborhood Association spoke at the council meeting in support of the project.

At the council meeting, three people spoke during the public comment section for the action item supporting the development. Eight people spoke either against the development or asking for the item to be postponed.

“That’s what I believe makes it hard is because I feel like the city has now placed us in a place where it looks like it’s us against us now,” Avitia said. “And when I say that, I mean it’s the Spanish-speaking community against the Spanish-speaking community because here we are saying we don’t want this development. But the developers, showing up with the neighborhood association that the development is going to be in, that’s hard.”

History of Hemphill

According to Hola Tarrant County, a website created by Texas Christian University historians.

Hemphill is one of the oldest barrios in south Fort Worth. The meatpacking and steel industries provided jobs for Mexicans fleeing the Mexican Revolution around 1910. “Despite its long history as a community that literally and figuratively built Fort Worth, very little about it has been recorded, even as compared to the already marginalized history of all Latinos in North Texas and Fort Worth,” according to Hola Tarrant County.

Kristen Barton is an enterprise reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at kristen.barton@fortworthreport.org. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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Kristen Barton

Kristen Barton is an enterprise reporter for the Fort Worth Report. She has previous experience in education reporting for her hometown paper, the Longview News-Journal and her college paper, The Daily...

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