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Denton housing board heads back to drawing table

The Denton City Council and the Denton Housing Authority board tried to find some common ground Monday — only time will tell if they did.   

Mayor Chris Watts invited everyone to speak frankly during the special joint meeting over lunch so the two groups, which have clashed in recent months, could work together.

“The city wants the partnership,” Watts said. “We do obtain a benefit.”

The Denton Housing Authority is not a city government agency, but its board of commissioners is appointed by the mayor. The authority was formed in 1970 to help build affordable housing in the city. Its first director, Jim Carter, was a Presbyterian minister and worked with city leaders to establish the authority. The Heritage Oaks senior apartments on North Bell Avenue was the group's first affordable housing project.

The housing authority must follow its own charter and federal rules in administering its federal grants, which includes rent subsidies known as Section 8 vouchers. But certain affordable housing projects also require the city government to give up developer fees and property tax revenue. As a result, city leaders have been seeking reassurance that when the city gives up revenue, the money is being well spent and not simply making up for continuing cuts in federal grants.

And that’s where the two bodies have been stuck. After its success with The Veranda (new, affordable apartments on East McKinney Street), the housing authority came forward with several other projects earlier this year. The projects would have increased the number of affordable apartments for low-income families and seniors. The projects also would have increased the housing authority’s revenue — money needed to make repairs to current units and to purchase other units.

Given the state and federal deadlines for the programs, the housing authority  had to move fast, but the City Council balked, only offering partial approval of one of the projects. Since then, the city staff tried to set up a better way to gather the information the City Council needs to move quickly for the next opportunity.

This time, the housing authority balked. 

The city staff drafted an application, but it looked more like another layer of work for the housing authority and property developers, and one that would deter future projects, said DHA executive director Sherri McDade.  

“We want to know what is it?” McDade said. “Are you open to affordable housing being built?”

Watts bristled.

“I’m surprised the question is even being asked,” he said.

Council member Sara Bagheri stepped in and said the staff’s proposed application came in response to City Council members’ frustrations.

“We felt rushed and we didn’t have enough information that we wanted to do our job as council members,” Bagheri said.

After about 90 minutes of discussion, Watts pressed the board of commissioners for specific feedback on the proposed application form. He insisted that the city didn’t give it to the housing authority with a take-it-or-leave-it attitude.

Commissioner Kathryn Stream thanked the City Council for the joint meeting and the conversation. She pledged that the board would meet to discuss the proposed form.

“We agree we will discuss it and get feedback to you,” Stream said.

PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881. 

FEATURED PHOTO: Construction of Renaissance Court, a 150-unit townhouse rental complex for low-income residents at the corner of Hickory and Ruddell streets operated by Lincoln Property Management for the Denton Housing Authority.