July 30, 2015
By JULIETA CHIQUILLO
McKINNEY — They’re fast-food cooks, house painters and grandmas on disability benefits. They’re yard workers, bank tellers and school bus drivers.
Some grew up in Collin County. Others came chasing the economic boom. Many find jobs here but come up short on something else: homes their families can afford.
At Millennium, a new apartment complex in McKinney where 130 of 164 units are reserved for low-income residents, about 5,000 people have applied for a spot.
Millennium opened this spring west of U.S. Highway 75. It’s the fruit of a settlement between the city’s housing authority and a nonprofit that said the community was segregating minorities to the east. A similar complex, also on the west side, will come online less than 3 miles down the road.
But even then, it’s not enough to keep up with people streaming into the county.
“All of these employers certainly have to have people to work in their businesses,” said Roslyn Miller, executive director of the McKinney Housing Authority. “We believe that people should be able to live in the communities where they work.”
Shortage of housing
Debra Cavett is one of the new arrivals to McKinney.
The 55-year-old machine operator at a Garland plastics warehouse snagged a two-bedroom apartment in Millennium, where she lives with her 30-year-old son on a street lined with crape myrtles. For three years, she had tried to move out of her North Dallas apartment complex after it got too loud and the rent ballooned.
Cavett called and visited rentals from Mesquite to Frisco. She said they were too expensive.
“It’s real hard because so many people out here is looking,” said Cavett, who relies on federal assistance to pay her rent.
In McKinney, more than 800 people are on a waiting list for 201 units in public housing that is half-a-century old. Miller said the waiting list for Section 8 vouchers, a type of federal aid that allows low-income families to live in private homes, has been closed for years.
The Urban Institute, a nonprofit in Washington, D.C., reported that for every 100 extremely low-income families that rent nationwide, there are only 28 units that are adequate, affordable and available. In Collin County, that number sinks to 15 units.
Most low-income rentals nowadays are not barrack-style public housing. They’re apartments set up by private developers with the help of federal tax credits.
McKinney, home to 155,000 people, actually has more of these units than any of its neighbors in wealthy Collin County.
State records show Allen has 94, Frisco 394 and Plano 921. McKinney has more than 1,600 apartments, and most are full, leasing agents said recently.
Crowned by a magazine last year as the “Best Place to Live in America,” McKinney got in trouble not because it lacks affordable housing but because of where it’s found.
The Inclusive Communities Project, a Dallas nonprofit, pointed out that McKinney’s public housing and most of its low-income apartments are east of U.S. 75. It sued McKinney and its housing authority in 2008, accusing them of relegating minorities to the city’s poorer areas.
A settlement was signed in 2010. The agreement will result in 260 subsidized units in two complexes.
Families can get reduced rates at Millennium if they make 60 percent or less of the area median income, $70,400. The complex also accepts Section 8 vouchers. A leasing agent said the waiting list — capped at 25 — is full.
Ten apartments come with vouchers that can only be used at Millennium. Five thousand people are in line for those, Miller said.
Worries about crime
Tensions linger around affordable housing.
The notorious Manor House Apartments — known as Sugar Hill — became a symbol of crime and blight in the 2000s. After four murders nearby, federal and state officials forced the property to clean up.
Last year, neighbors stormed City Hall with concerns that Millennium would bring crime. Then this summer, the host of a pool party that went viral said a fight broke out after a woman told black party guests they belonged in Section 8 homes. A neighbor disputes that account.
Though McKinney all around has gotten more diverse, an economic and racial chasm can be traced along the U.S. 75 corridor, government statistics show. It’s a divide familiar to other cities in North Texas.
Minorities cluster in the eastern portion of the city, according to figures from the U.S. Census Bureau. Households on that side tend to make between $30,000 and $50,000 a year.
On the sprawling west side, where new brick homes grow in neat rows, many families earn upward of $70,000. The wealthiest census tracts boast incomes in the neighborhood of $100,000.
To the east, past the historic courthouse and the boutiques in its postcard downtown, McKinney is less shiny. Neighborhood parks are smaller; some look worn. Blue-collar clapboard bungalows share a grid of streets with modest brick houses.
McKinney’s next subsidized complex will be on the east side.
Through a new federal program, the housing authority has partnered with a developer to tear down Newsome Homes, one of the city’s four public housing sites. The decaying brick homes date back to the 1950s and ’60s.
Newsome will become an apartment complex with 180 low-income units. Most will go to senior residents.
Miller said now the housing authority’s priority is to restore its public housing.
“A thing that really helps me continue with the process is that some [residents] express, ‘I’ve never had a place of my own or been the first person,’” Miller said. “You know when you’re the middle child and you always get the hand-me-downs?”
Leonard Evans Jr.’s wooden home sits across from a public housing project on Throckmorton Street. He remembers when it opened.
“At the time, it was the greatest thing that ever happened to this area,” said Evans, a former teacher in McKinney ISD and its first black school board member. “There were no brick houses out here.”
The 91-year-old likes his neighborhood. He likes the shade of the cedar tree that he planted on his front yard. He likes how people wave when they drive by his house.
“When the sun go down, it doesn’t make a difference what side of town you live on,” Evans said, sitting under his tree. “If you got a good place to stay and it’s warm in the winter and it’s cool in the summer, then you’re happy. That’s all you can get out of life.”
Large counties with biggest gap in affordable housing for extremely low-income families
(Units per 100 renters)
Denton — 8
Gwinnett, Ga. — 9
Cobb, Ga. — 9
Orange, Fla. — 10
Clark, Nev. — 12
Lee, Fla. — 13
DeKalb, Ga. — 14
San Joaquin, Calif. — 14
Travis — 15
Collin — 15
SOURCE: Urban Institute
One-bedroom, 750-square-foot apartments start at $623
Two-bedroom, 950-square-foot apartments start at $744
Three-bedroom, 1,300-square-foot apartments start at $858