Fairmount resident Breinn Richter, 42, considers herself an affordable housing advocate. So when she found out about a potential housing project by Tarrant County Samaritan Housing on Hemphill Street, she began reaching out to her neighbors to get a conversation started on the project.
But before she could get any traction, the project was dropped from the list of proposals for American Rescue Plan Act funds approved in June.
“It was there one minute, and it was gone the next. And nobody really knew how it happened,” Richter said, a racial equity consultant at Collective Leadership Strategies and a PhD candidate at Texas A&M in human resources development.
Samaritan House’s original proposal for 2260 Hemphill St., 710 W. Jessamine St., and 2274 Hemphill St. would have brought 60 permanent supportive housing units. The multifamily project was estimated at $7.35 million.
The three lots are zoned for multifamily and/or commercial and are appraised between $50,000 and $270,000, according to the Tarrant Appraisal District. The site has been vacant for years, residents say.
Tarrant County Samaritan Housing President and CEO Kim Robinson met in early June with Councilmember Elizabeth Beck, whose district includes the project.
In an interview with the Fort Worth Report, Beck said city staff reached out to her with reservations about the proposed location of the project because of its proximity to two schools and several other homeless and low-income facilities within a two-mile radius.
It’s the location, not the project, she said, emphasizing that adding another permanent supportive housing project in the corridor would concentrate services for the homeless on Hemphill.
“It’s appropriate that these services be distributed around the city so that we don’t create a second East Lancaster,” Beck said. “I feel like adding additional permanent supportive housing to that particular strip doesn’t do anything to help revitalize that area.”
East Lancaster is often described as Fort Worth’s homeless corridor because of the multiple shelters and services catered towards the unhoused.
Tara Perez, directions home manager for the city of Fort Worth, said applications submitted for any funding are evaluated and scored by a committee. Relevant applications are discussed by the committee with the pertinent council member if necessary, Perez said, but not the residents in that community during that stage.
“The recommendations go through several stages. So their applications are scored. But even after applications are scored, staff is still doing work, kind of going deeper in the applications,” she said.
Robinson declined to comment, citing concerns that speaking about the proposal could affect the organization’s ability to receive city funding for it in the future.
Hemphill Street is home to several mixed-income housing developments and organizations that provide outreach and care for those experiencing homelessness. In October 2021, City Council unanimously approved a rezoning request for a multifamily housing complex by Ojala Holdings — the same company that partnered with Fort Worth Housing Solutions to purchase Casa de Esperanza.
Councilmember Beck supported that project, saying at the time this development would help the community.
Samaritan House also owns Villages at Samaritan House, a 60-unit permanent housing complex for adults with HIV, who are low-income or homeless, in the same area.
“They showed that that works, and their property in the district is very well kept. I’ve never heard any issues of people around, businesses around having issues with the Samaritan House properties that are in the district,” said Fernando Peralta, 30, president of the Hemphill Corridor Development Collaborative, formerly known as the Hemphill Corridor Development Task Force.
Peralta, who ran for Beck’s District 9 seat in 2021, said the task force is vigilant about the developments proposed along the corridor and their potential impact not just on the businesses and residents along the street but on the surrounding neighborhoods as well.
“Elizabeth herself has said that she wants to tackle homelessness. Then why kill a project that’s literally going to positively affect the homeless issue that we have in Fort Worth?” Peralta said.
As a former case manager with the Tarrant County Homeless Coalition, Peralta said this decision by city staff and Beck shows a lack of understanding of the proposal and further emphasized the need for community conversations for these projects.
“This just tells me that the people involved in the conversation, making these decisions, do not have an understanding of homeless services in Fort Worth and what this project is really going to do for our homeless community,” Peralta said.
Richter said she understands the hesitation behind supporting the Samaritan Housing project because of the proposed location. But, as the district with the most homeless people, providing them with housing should be a priority, she said.
“If people are unhoused in that area, I don’t understand why providing them housing in that area is bad. And as far as like concentration of homelessness, well, shouldn’t you provide housing where there is a lot of homeless folks? It just doesn’t make sense to me,” Richter said.
Richter complained Beck “unilaterally killed the project. It didn’t even get to the neighborhood. It never saw the light of day.”
Another development in August 2020 by Saigebrook Development brought a low-income senior housing development to 8th Avenue. The four-story building backs up into the yard of veteran Kippy Jenkins, who has lived in her house on Hurley Avenue for 20 years.
Jenkins recalls how communicative the process was for Saigebrook’s proposal and how involved the developer, community and city were in addressing all questions and concerns from the neighborhoods. She doesn’t have a problem with the apartment complex’s proximity to her home.
“Saigebrook, from the get-go, engaged in the leadership of the community,” Jenkins said.
Samaritan Housing is applying for the second round of federal rescue act funds, which will be voted on by City Council in August. No additional information has been shared on the proposal or whether a new location is being explored.
“Are you confident if you were a public servant, that the decisions that you were making reflect the values and the attitudes and the hopes and dreams of your constituencies?“In Fairmount in particular, there are so many neighbors that always feel like we’re behind on the decision,” Richter said.
Beck said the city of Fort Worth is still new in the permanent supportive housing business and trusts the staff to help guide council members in their decision-making process.
“When you think of the Hemphill corridor holistically, I can tell you that it would have been very difficult to support because I have to be mindful of not just a single project, but the larger scope,” Beck said, adding that putting permanent supportive housing on this corridor is not good for overall development for the area.
Sandra Sadek is a Report for America corps member, covering growth for the Fort Worth Report. You can contact her at email@example.com or on Twitter at @ssadek19.
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