About 10 years ago, a rotted branch fell onto Andrew Berry’s east Fort Worth home. The branch poked holes in his roof and made his kitchen unusable. Disabled and on a fixed income, he couldn’t get the damage repaired. Then, a neighbor referred Berry to Fort Worth’s priority repair program. 

The city spent about $22,700 on Berry’s home and left him with a repaired roof, a working kitchen and a new HVAC system, water heater and shower. Now, he’s started the process of repairing his water-damaged floors on his own, purchasing new flooring bit by bit. 

“I’m real proud and happy with what they [did],” Berry said. “They still check on me, and I still got my paperwork and all that in case. If anything goes wrong, they told me to just give them a call.” 

The city started the priority repair program in 2009, using federal funding through community development block grants. Since then, the program has been able to spend only about $5,000 per home.

“The funding available for applicants had not really kept up with the pace of the average repairs that this program would normally cover,” District 5 council member Gyna Bivens, who represents east Fort Worth, said. “I lobbied for years to try to get it raised from $5,000 to anything more than five.”

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Now, with an additional $2 million in local money to match $2 million in federal grant dollars, the priority repair program’s budget has doubled. The budget for repairs to each home is five times higher, at $25,000. John Cain, who leads the priority repair program, said contractors can now typically complete at least one or two major projects per home.

The program aims to keep residents in their homes by completing major repairs and preserve the number of single-family homes in the city. Holes in roofs, broken heating systems and water and gas line leaks are the most common repairs. Other eligible repairs include broken water heaters, unstable flooring, foundation issues and faulty electricity. 

A collage in John Cain’s office has photos of priority repair program clients in the Ash Crescent neighborhood. (Rachel Behrndt | Fort Worth Report) 

Cain keeps a collage of photos in his office of residents in the Ash Crescent neighborhood who benefited from the priority repair program. He has seen recipients experience the relief of having a cool, dry home for the first time. 

“Some of those families still call me to see how I’m doing,” Cain said. “You meet a lot of good people, and your heart goes out to them. … Of course they’re grateful for what you can do for them.” 

To be eligible for the program, the household’s annual income has to be at or below 60% of the area median, or $45,960 for two people. The house itself cannot be worth more than 80% of the area median home price. Applications for the program are open year-round through the city’s neighborhood services department. Often, demand for repairs outstrips the city’s ability to supply contractors. 

“I can’t make the waiting lists go away,” Bivens said “But at least we know that there’s funding there. I think people are willing to wait, knowing that the wait is worth the effort, as opposed to waiting for five grand that really pretty much doesn’t address anything.”

Program requirements for homeowners

• Own and live in a single-family house
• Located within the boundaries of the city of Fort Worth
• At or below 60% of area median income as established annually by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. This year, a single-person household cannot be earning more than $40,200 or $45,960 for two people.
• Home value cannot be more than 80% of the area median home price for the city of Fort Worth, $334,450 according to the Greater Fort Worth Association of Realtors
• U.S. citizens or legal residency with picture ID
• Provide proof of household income for all adults 18 or older
• Current on their property taxes or on a payment/deferral plan authorized by the Tarrant Appraisal District 

Residents hoping to apply for the program can find more information here

The program, which employs six full-time city employees and four contractors, provides two services: paying for repairs residents may not be able to otherwise afford and providing reliable contractors guaranteed to finish the job. Setting aside cash to address a repair is challenging for residents who are on a fixed income or focused on other bills, Cain said. 

“Even if all you did was go buy parts, it was still, you know, it’s not gonna be cheap, as a lot of these people just don’t have the money. They’re barely making the bills,” Cain said.  

Residents from every council district utilized the program in 2023. The neighborhood services department completed 306 projects last year. The majority of the program’s clients are extremely low income and elderly, according to a report presented to council members. 

“You might live in a neighborhood where the average income is more than six figures. But there may be somebody right there, a widow, who’s 80 years old, and but for this program, she may have to leave her house,” Bivens said. 

The program not only improves the life of individuals but also restores community pride and keeps the city’s older neighborhoods from deteriorating, Bivens said. 

For Berry, the program was a way to begin repairing decades of damage to his home. 

“I can wash dishes and cook. I couldn’t do that at first,” Berry said. “It changed my life a lot.” 

Rachel Behrndt is a government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at rachel.behrndt@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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Rachel Behrndt is a government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report in collaboration with KERA. She is a recent graduate of the University of Missouri where she majored in Journalism and Political...