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Tarrant proposes giving federal funds for housing, public health to law enforcement, inmate housing

Three people sit at a desk.
Emily Wolf
Fort Worth Report
Tarrant County Commissioners Court will vote on amending its American Rescue Plan Act budget to divert funding from housing, public health and child care and increase funding for law enforcement.

The Tarrant County Commissioners Court is looking to reallocate millions in American Rescue Plan Act funds previously allocated for social programs while boosting law enforcement.

County commissioners will vote Tuesday on a proposal to move $14.6 million in federal funds committed to permanent supportive housing, along with $6.3 million for public health and nearly $10 million for child care.

Those reallocated funds will instead go to improving Tarrant County’s facilities and staffing. About $20.4 million will be spent on law enforcement facilities — $11 million to a law enforcement training center and $22.5 million to house Tarrant County jail inmates elsewhere. The new budget also includes several smaller adjustments to allocations ranging from reducing funding for small business grants and adding funds to reduce health disparities.

The American Rescue Plan Act is a federal relief package aimed at helping communities recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. Tarrant County received about $408 million from the federal government. So far, the county has spent or pledged about $307.9 million of its federal dollars, with about $98.4 million left to be spent.

Federal law requires the county to have the ARPA funds allocated by Dec. 31, 2024, and spent by Dec. 31, 2026. After the county received the first round of ARPA funding, it conducted a COVID-19 needs assessmentin January 2022 to determine the highest priority issues facing the county. That assessment resulted in a spending framework centered around four goals: Improve public health, revitalize the economy, strengthen the community and prepare for the future.

“Remember, in the early days, whenever those funds were being allocated, nobody was really oriented to what the next couple of years were going to look like,” Commissioner Manny Ramirez said. “So as the landscape has changed, as the economy has changed, obviously, the roadmap has to change.”

The reduction in housing spending comes at a time when family homelessness is at an all-time high across Tarrant County and the majority of the shelters are full.

“For the first time, we have families living outside,” said Lauren King, executive director of the Tarrant County Homeless Coalition. “We did a count of families that outreach teams had served in cars and, at this point, it’s about 45.”

The reduction in public health funding also coincides with a new variant of COVID-19 that is also surging around the country and North Texas.

Supportive housing funding lowered, reallocated

In August 2022, the Tarrant County Commissioners Court, led by longtime County Judge Glen Whitley, agreed to spend $32.5 million to provide more affordable housing. The county planned to spend the money in two parts.

Alongside the county’s commitment, the city of Fort Worth had also pledged almost $15 millionin federal funds to fund permanent supportive housing.

Of that original $32.5 million for housing, only $16.3 million has been allocated to four housing projects: Hughes House on East Rosedale Street, Casa de Suenos in the Las Vegas Trail area, Tobias Place on West Biddison Street and Journey Home Housing on Crowley Road.

The county issued another request for proposals in May to spend the second part of that money. The county stated it received only nine proposals. Of those, three were eligible for funding.

“We didn’t receive that many requests [for eligible projects],” Ramirez said. “So we funded every one that we got.”

Fort Worth District 8 council member Chris Nettles said he had previously met with County Judge Tim O’Hare when he first learned that some funds might be diverted from housing and asked him not to do so.

He said he left that meeting with the understanding that the money would not be diverted.

“Now seeing this is very mind-boggling,” Nettles said. “I’m disappointed, and I think it’s a huge mistake for a county such as ours and detrimental to the city of Fort Worth, who’s trying to increase our housing market.”

The Report reached out to O’Hare for comment but did not hear back by the time of publication.

King said the homeless coalition was not involved in the second round of project selection, unlike the first time.

Tarrant County will consider three housing projects Tuesday. Just one project, Justin’s Place, will use money from the county’s primary pool of ARPA dollars. The other projects, Renaissance Heights Phase III and WestCare Texas, Inc.’s Casa Mia, will use federal rental assistance dollars.

The city of Fort Worth will commit $3 million from its ARPA funds toward two of the projects.

In total, this allocation of funds will create 61 supportive housing units. In all, the county will have spent $17.8 million in ARPA funding toward expanding supportive housing.

“How do we help people, because we have a limited amount of resources, both for rental assistance and as far as units go?” King said. “This is unfortunate news.”

King said $14.6 million could help fund the construction of an additional 75 to 100 units.

Ramirez said there weren’t any cuts from approved projects that needed funding. Area municipalities, including Fort Worth and Arlington, worked hard with the county over the past several years, he said, and that’s reflected in the volume of affordable housing approved for funding.

“There is a timeline on the money. it does expire in a couple of years,” he said. “So, eligibility for these projects, they had to be ready to move quickly.”

Given that timeline, Ramirez said, it didn’t make sense for the county to sit on the remaining funds when they could be reallocated to other faster-moving projects.

The Commissioners Court previously attempted to divert already-promised ARPA funding for an affordable housing project in the Las Vegas Trail neighborhood, Casa de Suenos. Ultimately, the county agreed on a co-funding agreement with the city of Fort Worth to make the affordable housing project a reality, lowering the amount of money the county planned to invest.

“The city of Fort Worth can’t talk about homelessness without including Tarrant County. We can’t address affordable housing needs without the partnership with the county,” Nettles said. “We need the county to give their fair share.”

Federal funds reallocated toward law enforcement initiatives

Commissioners first floated the idea of spending money from the American Rescue Plan Act on a new law enforcement training facility in March 2023. At the time, the county estimated a new law enforcement training facility would cost about $50 million.

Those plans changed in July after the county learned that the nearly $50 million facility would not include a gun range or driving track. Instead, the county is now considering partnering with an existing training facility to reduce costs, Ramirez previously told the Report.

Ramirez and the other Republican commissioners Gary Fickes and O’Hare believe while the county continues to face a shortage of detention officers, the new law enforcement facility will boost lagging recruitment numbers. Democratic commissioners Alissa Simmons and Roy Brooks disagree.

Under the new reallocation plan, $11 million in federal funds will go toward the training facility.

Tarrant County jails have suffered from a shortage of detention officers and overcrowding. The county plans to reallocate about $22.5 million more to an “alternative inmate housing program.”

The county previously spent $18 million in American Rescue Plan Act dollars for the alternative inmate housing program, which sent 432 inmates to a private prison270 miles from Fort Worth, the Giles W. Dalby Correctional Facility in Post, Texas.

Early child care, public health also seeing cuts

The county agreed in May 2022 to invest $45 million to support early childhood education. The city also invested $2 million of its own ARPA dollars, approved by the Fort Worth City Council. The investment was set to fund a new program aimed at supporting child care providers and increasing access to quality child care.

The county, city of Fort Worth and Arlington also formed aBlue Ribbon Action Committee on Child Care to implement the multi-million dollar investment. The money will be pulled from the county’s plan to expand Child Care Associate’s Early Head Start program. Now, the county will partially, rather than completely, fund the expansion, with a $35 million investment.

“It’s kind of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for us to use one-time funding in this way to really benefit our lowest-income children and families,” said Kara Waddell, president and CEO of Child Care Associates. “We’ll be grateful for the maximum investment the court is able to make.”

Previously, public health was slated to receive over $125 million in July 2022. That number will shrink to $101.4 million under the proposed budget changes. The new budget pulls about $6.3 million from the goal of “improving the public health department” and $4.6 million from “mitigating COVID-19.”

The county spent the bulk of its public health funding early on to immediately respond to COVID-19 and fund a mental health diversion center.

The cuts will pull about $5.8 million in funding from a public health data system and about $4.4 million from COVID-19 testing and vaccination.

“Those funds are going to be available to us to kind of get us to that next level, if you will, in improving services available to the community,” said Vinny Taneja, the county’s public health director previously told the Report.

At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

Emily Wolf is a local government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report. She grew up in Round Rock, Texas, and graduated from the University of Missouri-Columbia with a degree in investigative journalism. Reach her at for more stories by Emily Wolf click here.
Miranda Suarez is KERA’s Tarrant County accountability reporter. Before coming to North Texas, she was the Lee Ester News Fellow at Wisconsin Public Radio, where she covered statewide news from the capital city of Madison. Miranda is originally from Massachusetts and started her public radio career at WBUR in Boston.