As board chairman of the Near Southeast Community Development Corporation, I appreciated Fort Worth Weekly‘s recent article about the city housing department (“Falling Down, Getting Back Up,” Oct. 21, 2009). But I think a few corrections and observations are in order, both to the article and to the Rev. Wendell Cass’ letter of response (Nov. 18, 2009).

The NSCDC is not run by one person. It is directed by a board that makes major decisions beyond day-to-day operations. We hired Shirley Lewis because she is the most capable and dedicated person we know. Neither Shirley nor her husband Johnny own any of the property in question and do not profit from any NSCDC activities, unless the definition of “profit” is reaching into your own pocket to fund the efforts you believe in. From the beginning, NSCDC was a combined effort of neighborhood residents and supporters. Community support is our strength. Our current board consists of folks of great integrity, if not rich or well connected.

Have we made mistakes? Sure But for intent and integrity, we will put our record up against that of the City of Fort Worth and any naysayers. Our concrete achievements include:

  • Securing city funding for the renovation of 24 owner-occupied homes.
  • Renovating and selling 10 existing homes and one new one.
  • Coordinating neighborhood input and marketing Evans Avenue redevelopment efforts.
  • Partnering with commercial developers to bring projects to Evans Avenue.
  • Building a multi-neighborhood coalition that secured U.S. Department of Justice funding that helped reduce crime by 68 percent in the target area, increased ticketing for illegal dumping, funded the city’s intensified police and code enforcement (ironic, huh?), and created Fort Worth’s first community prosecution court (a tool since moved from the target area into the homeless shelter district).
  • Creating a joint community/school computer lab at Our Mother of Mercy School.
  • Securing state funding for taking area youth to state parks facilities.
  • Operating a photography enrichment program for our area youth.

The NSCDC will continue to move forward. But our situation is not unique. There have been at least 10 similar efforts. Most if not all encountered similar problems and are no longer in existence.

This indicates a pattern. These organizations were also largely run by well-intentioned, capable folks who could not navigate the hurdles thrown up by the city. The only logical conclusion is either unanimous incompetence on the part of residents of every depressed area of the city or powers-that-be that are at best unsupportive and at worst in opposition to true neighborhood empowerment. I suspect the latter.

The city can be credited for its own (check that, our own) capital investments in a new library and new office building. Evans Avenue redevelopment, though actually paid for with federal funds, is a beautiful piece of un-utilized work. The city appears incapable of achieving the subtle balance of issues required in neighborhood redevelopment unless there is mass demolition of an area (by bulldozer or tornado) or overwhelming amounts of economic momentum (areas that really don’t need much stimulation to blossom).

Why should residents of other areas even care? It’s a question of what you get for your money. Despite having the highest tax rate of any large Texas city, a crime tax, and a gas well kitty, we have a pitiful set of results to show for it. Even something as simple as fixing or installing sidewalks is affected. Perhaps that starts with opposing grassroots efforts like ours that are trying to increase property values in the most depressed areas of the city and ends with the corporate tax exemptions, TIFs, and the like that have no apparent payback and are often convenient to the outlying suburbs while not benefiting Fort Worth residents as much as they should.

This is home. I was born and raised here and, in my own way, love it, but not because of the performance of local government. I understand that we citizens bear some of the responsibility in how we select our leaders and our general belief that “peace” is preferable to competency.

Wake up, Fort Worth. Something doesn’t add up.