Back in February, Carlene Thomas King, a local real estate agent, received a call about a new house on the market in Como, one of the historically black communities on the west side of Fort Worth.
The listing price? $486,500.
“That’s ridiculously high,” King said. “That’s a high sales price for almost any area but it’s really a high sale price for that area considering that you have homes over there that are probably 70, 80 years old.”
Price increases over the years have decreased the availability of lower-cost housing, both single-family and multifamily, across the city. Increased pressure on the market – and competition from investors – means more residents are finding themselves priced out of it. Compounding the problem is higher interest rates – the average 30-year fixed mortgage rate has grown to 7.12%, while the median rent in Fort Worth has increased from $803 in 2010 to between $1,262 and $1,557 in 2023.
As Fort Worth continues to grow – its population is expected to grow from 950,000 to a million sooner than later – the city is reevaluating its housing strategy to bridge the affordable housing gap.
A report prepared by Interface Studio shows that housing matching the wages of new residents is more crucial than ever, said Amy Connolly, assistant director of neighborhood services for the city. This Strategic Housing Plan, which the city paid $24,240 for, is part of the city’s larger Neighborhood Conservation Strategic Plan.
“We want to make sure that we know what those shortages are and we put together policies and housing goals for our department and city so that we can try to achieve a better housing ecosystem,” Connolly said.
The report says to close Fort Worth’s housing gap with new construction, it would require between 19,000 and 32,000 new houses. That could cost taxpayers between $1.1 billion and $2.9 billion.
There are also issues for renters in Fort Worth, where prices have risen by 32% in the city between 2010 and 2019. About 40% of renter households are cost-burdened, the report states.
The Texas Relief Fund has helped renters across the state with more than $2 billion in assistance during the COVID-19 pandemic, but there is only $96 million left, according to their website.
Low-income neighborhoods are the most threatened
In Tarrant County, 52% of home sales went to investors in 2021, according to the National Association of Realtors. But in low-income areas, single-family properties were twice as likely to be purchased by an investor.
These investors, both small-time and corporate, often purchase homes in these areas for lower prices before renovating them and either selling or renting them for profit. If the house they buy needs demolishing or the lot is vacant, they will build new.
The trend of investors buying up properties began during the COVID-19 pandemic when mortgage rates were low and demand for buyers was high. Investors often pay upfront in cash, which makes for an unlevel playing field.
“The investors definitely caused a huge problem for us that were working with the lower income buyers, even buyers that may not have necessarily been lower income,” King said. She said not too many people have thousands of dollars to immediately put down on a house.
Additionally, over the past decade, the number of homes under $200,000 on the market in Fort Worth has significantly dropped from 83% to just 12%.
This trend has affected people like Cynthia Ashley, who dreams of buying her first home. At 60 years old, she’s getting ready to retire in a few years and would like to have a place to enjoy her retirement.
But over the past two years, she said she has unsuccessfully made offers on 18 different properties, always beaten by an investor, someone paying cash or someone upping her offer. While she is continuing to look, she hasn’t found anything in her budget of $225,000 that doesn’t require extreme renovations.
“I really kind of felt cheated because I thought I’d done everything I was supposed to do to prepare for that American dream, to get out (of renting),” Ashley said. “It was probably one of the most stressful times of my life.”
The impact of investors purchasing these homes in lower-income neighborhoods takes away from families looking to buy homes to create generational wealth, Connolly said. Investors tend to target houses in southeast and east Fort Worth, which tend to be predominantly communities of color.
“When you are only able to rent, that gives you less wealth that you can pass on. So, that is a concern,” Connolly said.
Another issue the report highlighted was the worsening condition of homes in these neighborhoods. One-third of the city’s housing units are in low-income areas but only represent 22% of major residential rehabilitation permits in 2021.
Most houses in southeast and east Fort Worth neighborhoods are older homes — 75% were built before 1960 compared to just 30% citywide. But their often poor condition increases costs and risks, making them less affordable – and a risky investment for low-income residents.
Investors don’t share the same concerns, which creates what King calls the regentrification effect.
“(Investors) are coming in with corporate money. They’ve got millions of dollars to spend,” King said. “They’re paying all this money for it which inflates what I would call the actual value.”
The issue of affordable housing can be traced back to market conditions over the last 50 years, Connolly said. The current conditions in lower-income neighborhoods match years of disinvestment and racial discrimination, Connolly said.
“You’re gonna find all of those things overlap and decisions that were made 50,70 years ago, they still have an impact today,” Connolly said. “It means that a lot more investment is going to be needed to overcome all of those obstacles.”
City housing analysis to help shape policy
The lack of affordable housing affects cities of every size, said Laura Keyes, senior lecturer and undergraduate program coordinator for the Department of Public Administration at the University of North Texas.
“Fort Worth is not an anomaly. This is consistent with where other cities are,” she said.
Keyes said tackling affordable housing issues can start with working on reducing the price of a house or rent, but that is something the city has little influence over. What the city can do, however, is look at ways to offset those costs, such as reducing the price of building permits or finding mechanisms to subsidize those costs.
As for investors, it can be tricky to regulate them and their impact on the housing stock, Connolly said, since Texas is a strong property rights state.
An alternative solution Keyes encourages is the practice of land banking, in which the city or nonprofits acquire land or houses to be sold at affordable prices.
“The more the city owns, the more they can control what the pricing is on those properties,” Keyes said.
The city has and continues to use that approach in some neighborhoods, working with its partners and the Fort Worth Housing Finance Corporation, Connolly said.
“We’re taking a look at the existing programs that we have to address both the options to increase the supply of new housing. And we’re also looking at what we’re currently doing to maintain affordability for the existing residents that are here,” she said.
On Feb. 28, the corporation purchased 15 acres for an $11 million affordable housing project that will house up to 140 families. And the city is working on a partnership with Tarrant County to fund more permanent supportive housing on Las Vegas Trail.
The city also offers incentives to developers who build or rehabilitate in Neighborhood Empowerment Zones, in an effort to promote affordable housing, economic development and expanded services to historically underserved communities.
The final report is expected to be presented to city council in May.
As for first-time homebuyer Ashley, she hasn’t given up on her dream but admits it’s slowly fading away.
“I don’t see purchasing one but I always hope, I look every day,” Ashley said. “You [once] could get a relatively nice home for under $250,000 [in Texas.] I don’t know if we’ll ever have that anymore.”