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Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Converted hotel provides apartments to chronically homeless

Fort Worth Housing Solutions, development partner Ojala Partners LP of Dallas, the City of Fort Worth and a coalition of agencies that care for the homeless are celebrating the opening of Casa de Esperanza, the city’s largest permanent supportive housing effort to date.

Fort Worth Housing Solutions said Dec. 30 that it had met its self-imposed deadline to lease the majority of Casa de Esperanza, a 119-unit property in a renovate extended-stay hotel on Tanacross Drive in far northeast Fort Worth.

This is the largest permanent supportive housing effort in Fort Worth to date. The model wraps case management, mental and physical health services around residents so they have the best chance of getting back to self-sufficiency. Some of the new residents had been camping in open areas for years.

Qualifying residents were previously chronically homeless and at risk of COVID-19.

The fast-tracked project is the result of collaboration among the public housing authority, social service agencies and the city, which provided $9.3 million in CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act funding in September to convert an extended-stay hotel into an assisted housing community.

“It’s just fantastic,” said Greg Gibson, 59, who had been camping outdoors in various Fort Worth locations for the past eight years before he signed his lease Dec. 3.

“Being able to come in and lock the door definitely puts my mind at ease. … It looks like this is going to be really good for the homeless community to have something like this. I’ve never heard of it happening before, especially not this quickly,” Gibson said.

Casa’s single-occupancy units are available to residents who have been homeless for 12 consecutive months or more, are disabled, and either 65 years or older or who have health conditions making them vulnerable to COVID-19.

Prospective residents are referred from a coordinated list managed by Tarrant County Homeless Coalition. Units include full-size beds, TVs, wi-fi service, baths and kitchenettes stocked with microwaves, cookware and a refrigerator.

“Our city, and members of the Fort Worth City Council, have been focused on increasing access to permanent supportive housing for our homeless neighbors and other vulnerable people for the past several years,” Mayor Betsy Price said. “It’s wonderful to see this most recent investment so rapidly provide homes to those in need, especially during 2020 and this holiday season.”

Fort Worth Housing Solutions President Mary-Margaret Lemons said the agency is proud to have played a role in the development.

“It really took a village to get the project done on time and would not have happened without the City of Fort Worth, Ojala, Presbyterian Night Shelter, MHMR, JPS Health Network, DRC Solutions, Union Gospel Mission, Tarrant County Homeless Coalition and many others,” Lemons said.

Fort Worth awarded the housing authority funding for the development in late September. The agency closed on the property, near Northeast Loop 820 and North Beach Street, Oct. 1. That left roughly eight weeks for Ojala Holdings to remodel units and gut and upgrade offices and common meeting areas.

“This property conversion required effective teamwork across all organizations – from the City of Fort Worth to Fort Worth Housing Solutions and the agencies that serve the homeless – to deliver quality homes to our residents on deadline,” said Matthew Vruggink, Ojala principal. “It has been incredibly rewarding to rehabilitate this property and know that we have played a role in helping people get their lives back on track.”

City officials have estimated that there are about 1,800 homeless persons in Fort Worth and that as many as a third are chronically homeless.

Casa de Esperanza’s 119 units make it Fort Worth’s largest permanent supportive housing community to date, said Tara Perez, manager of the city’s Directions Home program.

Other smaller properties that provide similar services are the Palm Tree Apartments off Race Street; Samaritan House in the Near Southside; and the future New Leaf community to open in Spring 2021 off River Oaks Boulevard.

Gibson, 59, said he struggled with a lack of nutrition and mental health issues and did not think he would make it through another winter – until he heard that he had been approved to move to Casa de Esperanza.

“As I got older, it was just so much more difficult to bear the heat and the cold weather and the outdoor environment,” he said. “But this seems to take care of most of the issues I was having… It’s definitely going to add years to my life and improve my mental health, physical health.”

Fort Worth Housing Solutions, established by the City of Fort Worth in 1938, now operates 40 properties with almost 7,000 units and manages about 7,000 vouchers that help families and individuals cover rental costs.

Ojala Partners is a privately-owned, Texas-based, Texas-focused real estate development firm dedicated to acquiring, developing and redeveloping mission-driven, multifamily residential and very select commercial assets, using best-in-class practices in markets or sectors that typically draw lesser competition.

The company defines mission-driven housing as safe, sustainable housing that integrates itself seamlessly within a community and is affordable to a diverse mix of individuals and families. Currently, Ojala’s portfolio consists of nearly 4,000 homes, of which nearly 2,100 are affordable at various income levels.

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