Post From Community Close Ups
Sponsored by Purpose Built Communities, this case study is part of a series that highlights Purpose Built Communities’ members and their health partnerships.
Renaissance Heights United (RHU) is a 200-acre site in the Mason Heights area, located in the southeast portion of Fort Worth, Texas. Before the 2006 purchase by Fort Worth Mason Heights, this site was home to the Masonic Home and School of Texas (a home for widows and orphans). Grounded in a range of valuable partnerships, RHU and its partners crafted a shared vision to transform the vacant 200-acre site into an area providing family, education, and community health services as well as economic development opportunities. Through a joint effort to change the state’s allocation of low-income housing tax credits, these partners also collectively rallied behind a common goal to ensure the residents they served had access to stable and affordable housing.
After the closing of the Masonic Home and School of Texas in 2005, a group of real estate investors purchased the Masonic Home site kicking off a redevelopment effort aimed at establishing a master planned community (Renaissance Square) that supports healthy families and children. This required a holistic approach to development that brought together critical services and other partners already working in the area under one collaborative partnership.
The first of many partners, ACH Child and Family Services, began to renovate the Masonic Home and School to house their facilities.
Other nonprofits, as well as established retailers offering essential goods and services, established a presence on site. This includes Uplift Mighty Preparatory, a public charter school operated by Uplift Education, the largest public charter school network in North Texas. Walmart became a tenant in what was previously considered a food desert. By 2014, North Texas Area Community Health Centers, Inc., a federally qualified health center, opened their Southeast Center just north of the area, and the YMCA dedicated land for a full service facility with an early learning and aquatic center on site. Cook Children’s Health Care system opened Cook Children’s Neighborhood Clinic Renaissance, a clinic that provides both pediatric care and dental care to residents.
Soon after, RHU was formed as the community quarterback to convene all partners and execute the organizations’ shared vision of improving the quality of life for residents, community members, and businesses in Southwest Fort Worth. All partners are committed to an inclusive and holistic approach to community revitalization and development using the three pillars of the model developed by Purpose Built Communities: Mixed Income Housing, Cradle to College Education Pipeline, and Community Health and Wellness.
By actively engaging with diverse partners, RHU addresses the following social determinants of health that align with the Purpose Built Communities’ pillars:
Before RHU, the partner organizations worked in the same areas and often with the same populations, but never intentionally collaborated under one framework. Mark & Shauna Trieb and Bill & Amy Savage, the initial investors, hired Happy Baggett, a longtime Fort Worth resident and real estate developer who had established relationships with the initial partners. He used his social capital to bring together the partner organizations in the same room for the first time, to work together using the Purpose Built Communities Model as a framework for cooperation.
This garnered the support of Larry Tubb, Senior Vice President of the Center for Children’s Health, the community-facing arm of Cook’s Children Health Care System. Yet even with buy-in from a senior leader, Mr. Tubb had to make the case internally that the organization should build a clinic directly on the 200-acre site despite Cook’s Children already operating a clinic only two miles away from the property. These clinics were also heavily subsidized making the financial case for a new building more challenging.
The case-making strategy included the use of data on emergency room utilization. The information revealed that highest users of emergency department care for non-urgent primary care diagnosis were residents located near the existing clinic and residents near the area of the proposed 200-acre site. This made a compelling financial incentive for the healthcare system to bring down these numbers. Likewise, population growth data indicated the proposed new clinic area had both a high birth rate and at the same time the highest infant mortality rate in the county, further exposing unmet needs for healthcare access and critical primary care services.
Through strategic alignment with existing initiatives at the healthcare system, Tubb and advocates also identified a source of funding. During this time, John Peter Smith County Hospital partnered with several service providers, including Cook Children’s Medical Center, to build a new primary care and dental clinic as part of the requirements of the State’s Medicaid Section 1115 Waiver. The location of this proposed community health clinic, however, had not been identified. Recognizing this as an opportunity, Mr. Tubb suggested combining these initiatives by choosing the Renaissance site as the location for the new pediatric and dental clinic required by the State. By linking these two efforts, this ultimately provided the initial capital needed for the Cook Children’s Neighborhood Clinic Renaissance to come to fruition.
In June 2015, Cook Children’s Hospital joined RHU and its other partners to support Texas House Bill 3535. This bill would allocate tax-credit financing for inner-city revitalization initiatives in large urban centers in the state of Texas and specifically the Renaissance Heights Initiative in Fort Worth.
Before this advocacy effort, RHU had lacked a key component of the Purpose Built Communities Model, mixed-income housing. In 2013, Columbia Residential, an award-winning affordable housing developer, joined the RHU team to develop 400 mixed-income apartment homes on-site. To build mixed-income housing on the 200-acre area, however, Columbia Residential would need tax credits to make the project economically feasible. In 2014, the Texas Department of Housing & Community Affairs (TDHCA) denied Columbia’s initial application for the 9% low-income housing tax credit (LIHTC).
The Phase 1 application was rejected because of a scoring process outlined in the Qualified Allocation Plan that awarded developers for building in high opportunity areas. These areas were defined by census tracts that had no more than a 20 % poverty rate and included above-average performing schools.
Consequently community wide revitalization efforts, like the one in the Mason Heights area in southeast Fort Worth, faced a significant challenge in accessing these crucial tax credits.
RHU knew that mixed income housing was essential for residents to have access to affordable options at all stages of their lives. In response to this challenge, RHU and its partners banded together to work alongside state representative Nicole Collier, Councilwoman Kelly Allen Gray, and others in a two-year long advocacy effort. The group aimed to persuade the board that with the Purpose Built Communities model their work is ultimately a community revitalization effort leading to sustained neighborhood-wide change that connects residents with opportunities to thrive. This included presenting at a TDHCA meeting where partners demonstrated that their efforts enhanced the quality of life for residents through access to services, better opportunities through excellent schools, improved healthcare access, and neighborhood-serving retail, including a local grocery store.
Following persistent advocacy, HB 3535, authored by Representative Collier, was signed into law in 2015, and TDHCA awarded a 9% tax credit to Columbia at Renaissance for Phases 1 and 2. The new law establishes annual funding for Texas’ most populous regions with revitalization efforts that are supported by local municipalities, ensuring additional phases at Renaissance Heights will remain competitive for 9% LIHTC awards in the future.
Throughout this effort, RHU utilized the specific abilities of each partner while leading the campaign as the community quarterback. This includes partnering and recognizing the strength that a hospital system brings. Cook Children’s Health Care System, for example, vigorously advocated for the need for housing for their patients. Additionally, the Senior V.P. of the hospital system, in a letter to the Governor of Texas, stated that mixed-income housing was the only missing piece for RHU’s development.
For Cook Children’s, this effort helped crystallize the importance of the Purpose Built Communities’ holistic approach to development. Veronica Tolley, Assistant Vice President of Cook Children’s Physician Network, shared, “Here I was, director of the neighborhood clinics, hiring staff, doing my thing, but I didn’t quite realize that this was part of something bigger. When we went to the Capitol, we had to demonstrate that the developer was truly in partnership with other entities and not doing it for a tax credit. But in fact, all of these partners were invested in the community for the long haul.”
Completed in 2018, the first phase of housing Columbia at Renaissance Square provided 119 affordable rental units and 21 market-rate apartments. Columbia at Renaissance Square consists of one-, two-, and three-bedroom units in 5 three-story buildings with a fitness center, playground, green space, and a computer center and library.
The sale of low-income housing tax credits (LIHTCs) was the primary financing vehicle for Columbia at Renaissance Square (Table 1). The LIHTC financing caps income eligibility at 60 percent of the area median income (AMI) for 52 units and 50 percent of AMI for 13 units. Other public funding sources included mortgages from the Fort Worth HOME Investment Partnerships Program (HOME) and the Fort Worth Housing Finance Corporation, the city’s low- and moderate-income housing development arm.
|First mortgage: Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria/Compass Bank||$5,700,000|
|Second mortgage: Fort Worth Housing Finance Corporation||700,000|
|Third mortgage: City of Fort Worth (HOME)||1,200,000|
|LIHTC equity (9% credits)||16,300,000|
|Deferred development fee||400,000|
In 2021, Columbia Renaissance Square Senior Residences opened, marking the end of phase 2 that includes 140 additional rental units for mixed income senior residents.
As RHU began to engage potential partners and develop their organization, critical lessons were learned.
Align vision and mission across partners: At the outset, partner engagement was instrumental in RHU’s success. When organizations are mission and vision aligned and understand that the process will benefit the community (both short- and long-term), partners are more understanding of changing timelines.
Leverage unique partnerships when they count the most: RHU benefited from engaging their healthcare partner to support making the case for the need for mixed-income housing. Though TDHCA denied the initial application for the 9% LIHTC, Cook Children’s Healthcare System’s Senior Vice President wrote a strong letter of support noting how critical stable housing is to the health of their patient population. This also allowed partners to collectively come together and work towards a mutual goal; safe and affordable housing for the residents they serve.
Be creative about using existing resources to build partnerships: Cook’s Children’s looked to add a neighborhood clinic on site but needed internal justification and funding for the project. By using available data to make the case and dovetailing the RHU partnership with an existing program, the healthcare system was able to successfully build Cook Children’s Neighborhood Clinic Renaissance.
Form partnerships and let the data lead the conversation: Ensure that partners can help address the issues that the data points to. Create partnerships with a mutual commitment to both educating and growing with the community. Maintain transparency and be sure that outcomes delivered address the issues identified by the data. Residents know and respond when their best interests are included.
Today, RHU is now an initiative of Renaissance Heights Foundation, an independent non-profit committed to the ongoing revitalization of the Renaissance Heights neighborhood into a healthy and vibrant mixed-income community. The organization recently hired a new Executive Director, Kenny Mosley Jr. Under his leadership, the foundation aims to leverage the existing partnerships and explore innovative strategies that are embedded in the community’s vision and support a healthier southeast Fort Worth neighborhood.