Grapevine City Council members voted against the rezoning Oct. 15 after both council and the Planning and Zoning Commission raised concerns about the traffic impact of the 362 proposed apartments.
The case brought attention to the lack of affordable housing options in Grapevine, according to Shonda Schaefer, CEO of Grapevine Relief and Community Exchange, or GRACE. The 72 trailer lots at Shady Oaks are mostly inhabited by one or more low- to very low-income families, she said in a letter to City Council. More than 82% of the families have at least one adult working full-time, while most hold multiple jobs, she stated.
“Low-cost housing has got to be on the agenda for City Council,” she said. “They’ve got to start looking at options. It’s a problem, and it’s a continuing problem. And we’re not the only ones facing it.”
Gabriela Gomez, who lives at the Shady Oaks Mobile Home Park, said she was glad the apartment project was denied, but now that she knows the land could be sold and her family could be forced to move, she is concerned, she said through a translator.
Root Policy Research, a community planning and housing research firm, conducts studies of communities and provides strategies for fair housing. Its managing director, Mollie Fitzpatrick, said cities benefit from having a variety of housing options available.
“There are a lot of good reasons to have a balanced housing stock—just for the economic health of a community for people to work in the same place as well as providing life-cycle communities that work with people in all different phases of life,” Fitzpatrick said.
On Oct. 15, JPI Construction sought permission from the city to rezone the 15 acres at Scribner Street and Shady Oaks Drive in Grapevine. As part of its proposal, JPI partnered with GRACE to help relocate the mobile home park’s residents if the plan were approved. GRACE hired a case manager to work with residents and possibly to help them transition into new housing, according to city documents.
However, Schaefer said it became apparent that there were not many options that would be affordable for these people.
“The average cost of rentals is significantly higher in Grapevine, and of the limited trailer parks, vacancies are almost non-existent,” Schaefer wrote in a letter to City Council.
Grapevine Mayor William D. Tate abstained from the Oct. 15 council discussion because of a conflict of interest. However, he said in an email to Community Impact Newspaper that the city offers more affordable housing options than its neighbors. The city has several mobile home parks in addition to the public housing offered through the Grapevine Housing Authority, Tate said.
The Grapevine Housing Authority works closely with GRACE and was aware of the situation with the Shady Oaks residents, GHA Executive Director Jane Everett said.
But because so many people need public housing, the Grapevine Housing Authority opens its waitlist only once a year, Everett said. This year, it opened for three days in August; during that time, 1,269 people applied.
This increase is possibly due to more agencies tracking housing authorities and their waiting lists to let clients know when they open, Everett said.
“They’re watching when housing authorities open, and they are publishing out there when, which housing authority, and the date and time that they’re open,” Everett said.
“We have 98 units,” she continued. “And if there’s 1,000 people on the list, that’s a tough thing. We’ve never had that many people before.”
There are usually about 300 people on the waitlist each year, she said.
Scott C. Hudman, a public affairs specialist for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, said many HUD partners, including the GHA, have waitlists that “are literally years long.”
Hudman said one way to increase the supply of affordable housing could be to call for developers or investors to build housing through the state’s Low Income Housing Tax Credit Program, he said. This program helps buy down rents to make housing units more affordable.
“The best way for people to assist is to advocate for more affordable housing options,” Hudman said in an email.
Issues with affordable housing
GRACE Chief Program Officer Stacy Pacholick said while a few apartment options in Grapevine are more affordable, it is difficult to find an available unit. And if a resident or family were to find an available unit, they could still be passed over by the owner for someone else, she said.
Many apartment complexes require tenants to earn two-and-a-half to three times a unit’s monthly rent, she said. Tenants also typically have to pass reviews of their credit history, income and background.
With so many people waiting for an opening, renting does not provide a realistic option for many low-income residents, GRACE Client Services Manager Marcela Melendez said.
“There’s just an endless supply of people with demand for that type of housing,” said Melendez, who is also the case manager for the Shady Oaks Mobile Home Park.
The Oct. 15 rezoning case helped GRACE realize how much the housing options in Tarrant County had changed in just the last few years, she said.
“If you don’t already have the resources to be a buyer, and you’re renting, you’re looking at a market that is very, very expensive because that’s just the cost for an apartment,” Melendez said. “Supply and demand is really what’s driving it.”
Melendez pointed out that mobile home parks offer more housing options for larger families compared to apartments.
“Some of the mobile homes could accommodate bigger families and had multiple rooms,” she said. “A three-bedroom unit in an apartment would be exorbitant.”
Pacholick credited the city of Grapevine for being forward-thinking and implementing TEXRail to help people from other areas travel to work in Grapevine. However, she questioned whether that was a realistic long-term option.
“When a city is only using labor and the person has to go live in a bedroom community outside, they’re starting to ask the questions: ‘Is it worth it for me to make the transportation to that place of work when I’m only getting paid ‘X’ amount of dollars?’” Pacholick said.
Tate said TEXRail was designed to help encourage people living in other cities to use the train to get to their jobs in Grapevine. But the commuter rail service has not been used to its full potential, he said.
Pacholick said she would like to get people from outside the city together to brainstorm affordable housing options and ideas for Grapevine.
“There are experts in the field of housing that we need to bring in to talk to us about what that’s going to look like and what options we have,” Pacholick said.
City Manager Bruno Rumbelow said there are no immediate plans for assembling such a task force. The city also has no current plans to further discuss low-income housing options, he said.
The city is not aware of any other plans to redevelop the mobile home park site, Rumbelow said. JPI does not own the land, according to Pacholick, and because the city denied the rezoning proposal, the original owner maintains possession, Pacholick said. Multiple calls to JPI by Community Impact Newspaper were not returned.
JPI has already paid for assistance from a GRACE case manager for six months, so Melendez said she will continue to work with concerned Shady Oaks residents until the spring.
“What they had thought was a stable investment isn’t stable anymore,” she said.
Both Schaefer and Pacholick said if another development did come along for this site or any other site that could displace residents, they want GRACE to be involved.
“We’re hoping that the way this played out will be a model for future opportunities,” Pacholick said, “because now everybody has been made aware of how this affects the people that are already living in those units.”