A few minutes with District 5 Councilwoman Gyna Bivens

In the latest installment of our occasional conversations with Fort Worth leaders, District 5 Council Member Gyna Bivens provides an update on development in Stop Six and the Trinity Lakes neighborhoods.

After the city allocated $2.5 million for capital improvement projects in Stop Six in 2017, Bivens said the crime rate decreased by 24% and building permits increased by 74%.

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity. For the unabridged version, please listen to the audio attached to this article.

Priest: In 2020, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development awarded Fort Worth Housing Solutions and the city of Fort Worth a $35 million grant to revitalize that neighborhood. In September of this year, the revitalization kicked off with the groundbreaking of a senior living apartment complex. What’s happened since then? What is there to look forward to next?

Contact Bivens

District 5 Councilwoman Gyna Bivens attends the Reby Cary Youth Library opening. (Cristian ArguetaSoto | Fort Worth Report)

Bivens: Well, we don’t think it kicked off in 2021. It really kicked off long before then, because you have to take into account why the groundbreaking took place. The community sees the kicking off as the demolition of Cavile. When we demolished Cavile, we tore down a housing complex built in 1953. I was born in 1954, so that was something that had been around a long time. Demolishing Cavile also meant there were about 300 families that had to be housed somewhere. And so I would dare think they would see the kickoff being when they were moved. And so when you had to demolish the housing complex, you had to come back with replacement housing. And I can tell you, individual home builders started building homes before Cavile was demolished because they started buying land. 

We changed zoning so that home builders or property owners could do what they wanted to build. There had been a detriment to development — and that’s my term — because we’ve had in place a historic designation that was improperly placed, and it kept people who bought property from building the homes of their dreams. We started this quite some time ago. The city of Fort Worth started by demolishing unsafe structures, so it didn’t just start in 2021. 

And when you look at the number of unsafe structures, I’m talking about homes where people knew that drug activity, prostitution, or all types of illegal activities were taking place, because these unsafe structures had just been just left standing. I took office in 2013. I started just really demolishing unsafe structures very aggressively in 2015. And you saw people buying properties. And so even though there’s no master planned developer in Stop Six, the individual home builders are part of this important activity to see housing be replaced. 

So fast forward, we were able to get the components of a bond election that hadn’t taken place yet. But by working closely with Fort Worth Housing Solutions, we know that a community center, Martin Luther King Community Center, is going to be demolished. That’s going to be part of the Cavile Revitalization Plan under another name. It’s going to be a hub. And when you look at the demolition that took place just a few weeks ago, that was proof to the people that yes, this really is going to happen, because for years people did not think they would see revitalization. … When you saw the demolition, that was a celebration, because it validated the things we’ve been telling people all along.

Priest: So what’s next?

Bivens: We’ve got to have housing to provide for those 300-plus people who are coming back, plus the ones who don’t rely on public housing. What we want to see is an economic revitalization.

So when you take a look at putting in new streets, new street lights, getting rid of tons of brush and debris, and getting rid of vegetation. Streets were so bad. In some cases, you would have thought you were looking at an alley. And so the city has to just sharpen up what it’s doing in terms of service delivery.

And when you look at those stats I shared with you, you can tell that they are. One of the delays to the Cavile plan and the reason why it never got a grant before is because we had factors that were not aligned with what HUD thought would build a good community. Crime was high. Scholastic achievement was very, very low. And not many people are bragging about it this day and time, and we didn’t have good public safety. We didn’t have the community investments. So there are things that you may drive by in Stop Six and not know that this was part of revitalization. 

One of those is Bunche Park. Bunche Park is a park that got closed I think back in the 80s. I’m not sure. But I opened Bunche Park when I came into office because it had been part of the public school desegregation case. And so we were able to put Bunche Park as part of that equation for HUD to consider awarding that grant. So now we should be approaching phase three in Bunche Park. It’s located on Ramey (Avenue) close to Deborah High School. 

When you drive through Stop Six, you no longer see boarded-up houses. You see lots cleared, making it available for development. And we have street lights everywhere. Things that you would take for granted brought a lot of joy to people who had been in Stop Six. The first thing they talked about when we had community meetings was the need for something like streetlights, so things that are easily overlooked by those of us who know that this is what we’re due because we pay tax dollars, these things weren’t delivered in the fashion that they should have, so you’ll see us continuing with our capital projects and public safety improvements…

Priest: The 300 families that lived in Cavile Place, do you ever worry that they will not come back to District 5?

Bivens: Absolutely … if you can get the housing built so people can get back within a couple of years, there’s a good chance you can get most of them back. If it takes more than two years, we were told they’re probably gone.

Priest: Are you concerned about gentrification arising out of this?

Bivens: At this point, we haven’t seen the investment that has just imposed such high taxable property rates on people yet. But we’re always concerned about people who think they won’t be able to afford to live in their neighborhoods. 

What I would submit to you is when we first started with the challenging question of gentrification,  the choice was very clear then because it was, “Do you want to live next to a lot where there could be meth, or do you want to put a house there?” …

Construction is also expected to begin this month on a Trinity Railway Express in District 5. It will be located on the northern border of the new 1,600-acre Trinity Lakes development east of Interstate 820 and north of Trinity Boulevard. The station replaces one at Richland Hills. That city voted in 2016 to leave Trinity Metro. 

The station parking lots, track and signal work are budgeted at $25.8 million. The North Central Texas Council of Governments is a funding partner and has allocated federal grant money to the project, Trinity Metro spokeswoman Laura Hanna said. The station is expected to be operational in May 2023. Here Bivens talks about this development along with another master planned community called Lakes of River Trails: 

Bivens: It is amazing the progress that has taken place. We’re now at 1,800 single-family homes. And the goal is to see 3,000, and I think the developer will see 3,000 homes, probably, if I had to guess, I would say by 2023. He has put in four specific lakes. This used to be a gravel pit. … It was the perfect location for Trinity Metro and the North Texas Central Council of Governments to look at when they knew they needed to find a spot to replace the rail station that had served Richland Hills. It’s a magnet. It is just a few minutes from DFW airport. It is close to two or three job centers. Bell Helicopter’s global headquarters is located in my district. DFW airport, part of it is on District 5 property. And of course, American Airlines and their integrated operations center are located in my district.

It’s the perfect location for rail, and it’s just a real obvious location for home development. And now we’re seeing in Lakes of River Trails these smaller homes that are called “cottage homes.” Those are coming up. And I was with officials from Bell Helicopter at a luncheon just a few minutes ago, and the leaders were talking about how the cottage homes are a perfect fit for seniors who might be retiring or for new homeowners who don’t want to have a 4,000-square-foot home right away. That neighborhood is flourishing very, very nicely.

Finally, Bivens shared what she thinks of this City Council compared to past ones she’s served on. 

Bivens: This council is much more energetic. They are fearless when it comes to thinking outside the box. I liked the way they process things. And they interact with staff in such a way that it motivates staff to be more energetic in thought. And so you know, I’m delighted. I was listening to three of them at the luncheon that I just got back from and every time I’m around them and just watch them interact, it’s energizing for me. And I just say, I’m just so glad that we have this team that we have now. And it will make our city better.

Jessica Priest is an investigative journalist for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at jessica.priest@fortworthreport.org or via Twitter. 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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Jessica Priest

Jessica Priest is Fort Worth Report's government and accountability reporter. She was previously on USA TODAY's regional investigative team. After Jessica reported that a Midland County prosecutor worked...

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