Marlana Campbell can’t bring herself to tell her two daughters they don’t have a home.
The 45-year-old Waco native received her third rental assistance voucher but has yet to find accommodations for her and her daughters, who are 9 and 11. Instead of telling them their application was denied, she tells her daughters that they are still waiting to hear back.
“I just try to keep them going with ‘We’re gonna get better.’ But there isn’t really too much you can tell them. You don’t put your burdens on your kids, you just deal with it within yourself and just carry on. That’s the only thing we can do,” Campbell said.
Campbell is one of many struggling to find affordable housing. An influx of people relocating to Fort Worth has sparked a hot housing market, where demand has sharply outpaced supply and housing prices have skyrocketed. Such a market squeezes out those using rental assistance to find housing and break the cycle of chronic homelessness.
In an attempt to address this issue, city officials recently allocated $5 million in additional funding for more housing options.
The biggest need for those experiencing homelessness is finding physical places to live in, Tarrant County Homeless Coalition Executive Director Lauren King said. The coalition has about 220 families and individuals in Tarrant and Parker counties who have been approved and received rental assistance but are having trouble finding a place. As of March 31, 331 families and individuals have been housed since Jan. 1, 2022.
Campbell has seen the problem firsthand in Fort Worth and Arlington. Too many are competing for too little housing, she said.
“So when I do get the vouchers, (the other homeless have) gone to certain apartments, which stops the apartments from having availability because they’re already full,” she said.
Lack of options
Campbell came to Fort Worth in January 2021 after fleeing what she described as a hostile living environment, where she and her daughters dealt with stalking and harassment. Because of that, she has been looking for housing that offers security amenities, making it even harder for her to find a home.
“Some people need a little more help than others,” she said.
In December 2021, the city of Fort Worth drafted a funding allocation plan for the American Rescue Plan funds received. There are only about 397 places at any point in time in Tarrant and Parker counties that are accepting the system’s housing vouchers. It notes that several of these units are also available to the general public, further worsening the housing shortage.
The city of Fort Worth currently can provide short- and mid-term housing options for those experiencing homelessness but lacks the resources to meet long-term, permanent housing needs, according to officials.
Fort Worth is short at least 24,000 affordable housing units for those who make between 0 to 30% of the area median income, Tara Perez, the city’s directions home manager, said. For those who are between the 30-50% area median income bracket, there is a shortage of 10,640 affordable housing units.
“It’s always been a difficult process. But with the current rental market, it’s even more difficult,” Perez said. “If we are able to leverage funds to build permanent supportive housing, it kind of solves three problems at once.”
Perez sees three reasons why people experiencing homelessness are struggling to find permanent housing:
- A lack of available affordable housing units.
- Landlords not accepting rental assistance.
- Applicants are denied because of their credit score and eviction history.
“If you’re a landlord with one of these apartments and you have 100 people lined up, are you going to pick the person whose address is a homeless shelter and who has an eviction? Probably not,” Perez said. “I understand it. It’s good for landlords, but it’s hard for us to get our homeless housed.”
Brenda Rios, vice president of development at the Presbyterian Night Shelter, said several of the vouchers provided to those experiencing homelessness eventually expire. Most vouchers are good for only 60 days, Rios said, and may be eligible for an extension of 30 days depending on the circumstances. Shelters also work with a list of partner landlords which limits the places people can apply.
Campbell, the Waco mother of two, said waiting to be approved for an apartment is stressful. Although she has dealt with homelessness before, she said, it’s never been this long before.
“Being a mother, you just have to keep going,” she said “I really don’t even know how to explain it. It’s stressful, but you just gotta go day by day. And that’s stressful on its own.”
With the summertime fast approaching, King said, the coalition is expecting to see an uptick in people experiencing homelessness, especially families.
“Families lose their primary school for childcare when school is out, and that’s a real economic strain on them, so we typically see our numbers go up,” King said.
On April 12, the Fort Worth City Council approved an additional $5 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds to the already allocated $15.3 million for permanent supportive housing. This would create 165 permanent supportive housing units at a price tag of just over $20 million.
Specific permanent housing projects have not yet been determined and will be explored in the coming months to present ideas to council members in June, Perez said.
But the Homeless Coalition’s King said the money can only go so far.
“We’ll meet the need now, but, as a community, if we continue to grow, and want to prosper, we’re going to have to do some significant planning around continuing to at least make some housing that’s affordable to everyone available,” she said.
While the housing market remains hotly competitive, people like Campbell and her two daughters continue to wait and apply for housing options that will help them start their new life here.
Campbell was recently added to the list for permanent supportive housing rather than just temporary housing because she has been homeless for over a year, she said. This means she will have more options to choose from and her rental assistance vouchers won’t expire as quickly, giving her some much-needed peace of mind.
“If you’re living better, it makes you feel better and makes you want to do more for yourself,” Campbell said. “That’s another reason why when I came from Waco, I didn’t want to accept anything. Because I didn’t come up here to be still like I am. I came up here to be better.”
Fort Worth Report fellow Sandra Sadek may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.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.