Renovations finally under way at east Fort Worth affordable-housing complex

By Alex Branch

Fort Worth Housing Complex - ICON Builders

FORT WORTH — The rumble of bulldozers and that shrill beeping emitted by construction vehicles when they back up sometimes stir Herman Mosley from his sleep in his Prince Hall Gardens apartment.

But he wakes up smiling.

The 44-year-old says he is finally hearing the sounds of improvement at the long-troubled east Fort Worth apartments. Ten buildings have been demolished on land where new units will soon rise, and the remaining 14 buildings will be stripped to the studs and rebuilt.

The redevelopment is part of a project that city officials say will turn the dilapidated buildings into much-needed quality affordable housing. A similar project will begin soon across the street at the Pilgrim Valley Apartments.

With renovations also under way at the adjacent Cobb Park — residents can hear those trucks, too — tenants say the neighborhood is on the upswing.

“When I hear the racket, it just reminds me that better things are coming,” said Mosley, a resident since 2002. “After so many years of them never fixing anything when it broke and just having really bad upkeep, this is a dream come true.”

The 100-unit complex was built in 1967 by the Prince Hall Masonic Trust to serve low-income residents. But by the mid-2000s, the buildings had fallen into disrepair. Tenants complained of rats, and the owner was cited for code violations, including putting locks on the thermostats.

The Housing and Urban Development Department said it would end its contract with the apartments for Section 8 subsidized housing. Federal housing officials once even threatened to sell the complex from the courthouse steps.

ITEX Group, a Port Arthur-based company, bought the property in August. To rehabilitate it, the group got a $1.09 million low-income housing tax credit from the state and a $555,000 loan from Fort Worth.

The City Council also approved a $200,000 loan to ITEX for the Pilgrim Valley project, which will involve rehabilitating 168 units.

“The renovation of both of these apartment communities is huge for the area since it allows for much-needed affordable housing to be renovated into quality communities that improve the overall neighborhood,” said Jay Chapa of the city’s Housing and Economic Development Department.

100 homes

Once finished, the apartments will continue to be 100 percent Section 8 housing, said Chris Akbari, vice president of ITEX.

The apartments were only about 60 percent occupied when the company bought them, he said. So construction didn’t require anyone to move off the property. Instead, residents in the buildings that were razed moved into empty units.

Once the new buildings are ready, residents will live there while their old units are renovated, he said.

The company had to demolish some buildings when it discovered they were below the flood plain. Construction crews have raised the ground about 6 feet and are building a retaining wall, said Rick Calvert, job site supervisor.

When the work is finished, the apartments will have new floor plans, covered porches, and new plumbing and wiring, he said.

“It’s actually going to look like 100 homes instead of 100 apartments,” Calvert said.

Plans call for 12 one-bedroom, one-bathroom units, 44 two-bedroom, one-bath units, and 44 three-bedroom, one-bath units, according to the company. The first new units at Prince Hall Gardens should be available by late January, Akbari said.

Renovations were expected to cost about $60,000 a unit, he said.

‘A little nostalgic’

Most residents are being patient about the inconvenience caused by the construction, said Alice Hardgraves, property occupancy manager. Temporary fences are up around the property, and there are trenches where sanitary sewer lines are being replaced.

Residents are keeping a close eye on their children when they play outside.

Tenant Gloria Ferris, 37, lives in a unit with her two daughters, ages 13 and 10, near one of the construction areas. She said residents were initially skeptical that the project would happen because they had been promised improvements for years.

“You’d run into a lot of people who said, ‘They’re not going to do nothing,'” she said.

When construction started, residents became believers, though they felt both happy and sad about the buildings being demolished, she said.

“My friend’s mother had passed away in one of those apartments, so you feel a little nostalgic when they came down,” she said. “But you can’t help but be excited about all the changes they’re making here. Should really feel like home when it’s all said and done.”

Alex Branch, 817-390-7689