Fort Worth council members held off on approving a new affordable housing strategy Tuesday, after multiple residents raised concerns about the strategy’s endorsement of accessory dwelling units.
The strategy report, assembled by Interface Studio, contains recommendations for Fort Worth to address its affordable housing crisis. The recommendations range from establishing a land bank to offering property tax assistance for low-income homeowners. The most controversial recommendation is to revise zoning code to allow accessory dwelling units on single-family properties, either citywide or in specific areas, and incentivize their construction.
Accessory dwellings are smaller residential units on the same lot as a single-family home. They can be converted portions of an existing home, additions to a home, or detached, stand alone structures.
Dave Schwarte, co-founder of the Texas Neighborhood Coalition, told council members he takes issue with “upzoning,” or zoning changes that would increase the density of an area. Allowing and incentivizing accessory dwelling units across Fort Worth is an example of upzoning, he said, and the units don’t meaningfully help with housing affordability.
“Owning a single family home with sufficient elbow room so that you’re not cramped up against your neighbor remains the American dream,” he said
Rusty Fuller, president of the North Fort Worth Alliance, and Libby Willis, an Oakhurst resident, both agreed with Schwarte’s assessment. Willis said she’s supportive of the plan excepting the accessory dwelling unit recommendation. She suggested council members remove references to the accessory dwellings, and pass the affordable housing strategy without it.
“It’s very easy for you all to get input from stakeholders and neighborhood groups who have not yet weighed in on this and then come back with a recommendation on [accessory dwelling units] to put into the plan,” she said.
Assistant city manager Fernando Costa told the gathered residents that a vote approving the strategy doesn’t lock the council into any particular path forward.
“The intent is merely to consider the possibility of allowing, not mandating but allowing accessory dwelling units in appropriate zoning districts around the city subject to appropriate development standards,” Costa said.
Ann Zadeh, former District 9 council member and current executive director of Community Design Fort Worth, said concerns over a few recommendations shouldn’t sink the strategy’s approval. The strategy is a menu, she said, with robust options for the city to choose from.
Donna VanNess, president of nonprofit Housing Channel, urged council members to approve the plan over the protests of the residents. VanNess came to speak on behalf of residents who don’t feel they have a voice because they aren’t homeowners or don’t have access to stable housing.
“I’ve seen many people in these meetings who already have homes, separate themselves from the poor and homeless, take away their ability to grow financially by opposing affordable housing and then blame them for their position in life,” she said.
Ultimately, council members voted to push off the vote until the Oct. 17 council meeting.
“I understand if we do vote to vote for the resolution, it does not do anything to amend the zoning ordinance ordinances right now,” District 7 council member Macy Hill said. “But I do think we need to have a better understanding of what we’re actually voting on and how it impacts our neighborhoods.”
District 9 council member Elizabeth Beck also supported delaying the vote to gather more resident input, but said she wasn’t convinced that those who spoke in opposition were indicative of a corresponding opposition citywide. Accessory dwelling units are an important tool to address the affordable housing crisis, she said.
“I think omitting them because we have some very vocal people come and speak today, we’re doing a disservice not to the people who live in Fort Worth today, but to my children and to our grandchildren and the people who will live here long after we do,” she said.