James Walker believes a renaissance is occurring in south Fort Worth — one rooftop at a time.
Walker is a real estate broker, and he is among a handful of developers buying up empty lots in the Hillside-Morningside neighborhood just east of Interstate 35W, and building new homes that sell mostly in the $175,000 to $225,000 range.
At a time when many prospective buyers are unable to find homes in their price range in better-known residential areas of Fort Worth — where the median home value is now higher than $300,000 — the home-building activity in this historically Black neighborhood shows its potential to fill a need in the city and once again become a thriving, self-sustaining neighborhood.
“I grew up here. I am partial to the area,” Walker said as he showed visitors one of the homes he is building in the area. ”This area is kind of a food desert compared to the west part of the city, and we’re trying to get a grocery store and some more restaurants and other businesses to come here, but to do that we need as many rooftops as we can get.”
Anyone who hasn’t visited this part of south Fort Worth east of I-35W in recent years might be surprised at how much new home construction has taken place.
On East Arlington Avenue, for example, as one travels eastbound from I-35W the noise of the freeway begins to dissipate and several new single-level and two-story homes come into view. Many older homes and empty lots remain, but there are also several newly built houses made of brick and stone with grassy, manicured yards.
At least two new homes on Arlington Avenue are under construction.
And on nearby East Magnolia Avenue, as one travels eastbound past Evans Avenue both sides of the street are bedecked by small, single-story homes — all freshly painted and landscaped. The area is only a mile or so as the crow flies from the more popular and trendy Magnolia neighborhood in west Fort Worth — but, because the two neighborhoods are cut off from each other by an interstate highway and a busy rail yard, they seem like different worlds.
East Arlington Avenue, East Magnolia Avenue and surrounding streets are part of Fort Worth’s 76104 ZIP code, an area that the Fort Worth Star-Telegram has highlighted as in need of tremendous repairs to improve the quality of life for residents who have the lowest life expectancies in Texas.
Homes ‘not for the wealthy’
Fort Worth City Councilman Chris Nettles, who won election in June and whose district includes the residential areas wedged between I-35W and U.S. 287 southeast of downtown, said he is a supporter of the new home construction.
Nettles said he isn’t overly concerned that long-time area residents will become displaced by the new home construction, a trend that can lead to higher property values — and thus, higher property taxes — for all the houses in the same vicinity. But he wants the city to look into what can be done to freeze more property taxes for long-time residents, particularly seniors, so they aren’t forced to leave the area as wealthier people move in.
“These are younger families buying these homes,” Nettles said in an interview. “These homes are not for the wealthy. These homes are for the residents who live and work in District 8. It’s going to bring life back to a community that probably was dying off.”
Homes with modern amenities
Walker and his business partner, Thomas Oliver, created a company known as Alpha Family Group LLC., and part of their mission is to help residents with modest incomes quality for homes, many of them in south Fort Worth. On a recent late-morning, Walker and Oliver showed visitors a home under construction in the 1400 block of Missouri Avenue, fewer than two miles southeast of downtown.
The home, which had its roof and exterior walls completed, is strikingly modern, especially in contrast to the smattering of 1920s structures down the street. When finished, the three-bedroom, two-bathroom structure will feature a steeply pitched roof, and a one-car garage with tinted glass doors.
Walker said a single father of two daughters is buying the home, which should be ready in about two months. The buyer works for the city, and wanted a place with good access to downtown.
The home is expected to sell for $175,000, they said. Another home with the same modern design but slightly larger at 1,300 square feet is expected to be built in the area for about $205,000.
Alpha Family Group has bought eight or nine properties in the area in the past three or four years, and plans to buy about 10 more, they said.
Tarrant Appraisal District records show that Alpha Family Group owns four vacant lots — two in the 1400 block of Missouri Avenue, one in the 1000 block of East Allen Avenue and one in the 1100 block of East Pulaski Street.
“A lot of our clients are first-time buyers,” Oliver said, “with one or two kids, 5 to 10 years old or younger.”