Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
The San Antonio Housing Authority’s board approved on Thursday future transactions, tax credits, and bond applications that will be part of $486 million in affordable housing projects.
The nearly unanimous approval marks one of the largest amounts of financing authorized in a single day, said SAHA President and CEO David Nisivoccia. The funding will assist 14 different projects (nearly 3,500 housing units) across Bexar County that will have a portion reserved for residents who earn less than the area median income (AMI), ranging from 30 to 80 percent of AMI. These projects could come open in two to five years.
“This is not a normal Thursday,” Nisivoccia told the Rivard Report. “It’s a seminal day for the agency. I think staff here at San Antonio Housing Authority heard an action call; we heard that from the [Mayor’s Housing Policy] Task Force, the mayor, my board, and more importantly the residents of San Antonio saying, ‘Hey, we need more affordable housing.'”
City Council approved a policy framework last year, produced by the task force, that calls for increased spending and better procedures surrounding the affordable housing market.
Several of the items approved on Thursday have been years in the making, Nisivoccia said. “It’s not like it happened overnight. A lot of people might ask [what did SAHA do] for the last two years. Well, this is what we’ve been doing.”
Gone are the days of large, so-called “housing projects” that place low-income families in apartment buildings en masse, he said. The current model is to work with an affordable housing developer on public-private partnerships that have a mix of market-rate and subsidized units, and “I think you’re going to see more of it. … The market is good.”
Most of the projects will still need to come before the board again for final approval, including the tax credits and tax-exempt bond applications.
These are in preliminary stages, said Timothy Alcott, SAHA real estate and legal services officer, but the deadline to apply for those through the State is Aug. 15. These “volume caps” are first-come, first-serve.
These projects are just coming to fruition at the same time, Alcott said, hence the meeting’s large price tag. “We’re getting more players in and [that] gives us the ability to do more affordable units.”
SAHA is seeking volume caps for Alazán Courts (adjacent to the Alazán Lofts project in the West Side), 1604 Flats, Old Pearsall Flats, Traders Flats, Kitty Hawk Flats, and Mira Vista Apartments. SAHA has yet to identify partners for some of those projects, such as Alazán Courts.
The board also gave the go-ahead to pursue proposals from four companies to build seven different projects:
- The Lynd Co. wants to construct Culebra Crossing, a $47 million 325-unit apartment complex near Loop 1604;
- ARDC Ruiz proposes a $21 million, 102-unit that will rent almost exclusively to families earning 60 percent of AMI;
- Real estate developer JMJ wants a one of two 24-story towers near La Villita on South St. Mary’s Street to include affordable units;
- Weal Development proposes a $65 million, eight-story, 252-unit apartment complex at South St. Mary’s Street and East Nueva Street. Half of the units in the St. John Square project will be for families earning 50 percent of AMI;
- Vesta Corp. is seeking to acquire three existing low-income housing projects in the South and Southwest sides;
SAHA also is pursuing $20 million in bonds to develop Charity at Springview Apartments. Charity, a working title, is a 250-unit project on the East Side.
Alcott and Nisivoccia said they were confident that almost all – if not all – projects initiated Thursday would come to fruition.
SAHA Commissioner Sofia Lopez cast the lone vote against the deals related to St. Mary’s Towers and Culebra Commons.
In the case of Culebra, Lopez said 80 percent of AMI isn’t affordable enough for many San Antonians. In both cases, Lopez said she wanted more details about the cost-benefit analysis and how such projects fit into the broader picture of housing stock in San Antonio.
She wants to make sure “we really are getting the best bang for our buck,” Lopez said.
Board Chair Jessica Weaver agreed that the board needs a kind of “retreat” in which staff provides an overview of SAHA’s strategies.
“Staff stands ready to have that retreat at any time,” Nisivoccia said.
Several residents spoke out about Alazán Lofts, a SAHA-NRP Group project that recently received a competitive 9 percent tax credit from the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs. Forty-eight of the 88 units will be public housing, eight will be market-rate apartments, and the rest will be allocated for renters making 60 percent of AMI.
To build the four-story complex, however, requires a change in zoning. The area community plan calls for two-story homes there. City Council is slated to consider the zoning change Aug. 22. The Zoning Commission recommended approval this month.
“It’s not OK to dismiss community members,” Yaneth Flores, a West Side community organizer with the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center, said during the public comment period of the meeting.
Alazán Lofts is a separate project from Alazán Courts. The latter is a proposal to demolish the oldest public housing project in the United States and build a more modern facility with 328 units.
“Demolition of this development would be disastrous for this community,” Flores said, because it would separate residents from their support network.
Those residents would have first dibs on temporary units elsewhere while construction proceeds at Alazán Courts, Nisivoccia said after the meeting, and have the option of moving back once completed.
The proposal would allow SAHA to update the facility and provide more of the “deep-dive” subsidies for those making less than half of AMI, he said. “That’s how I want to honor the past, is to provide people presently the opportunity to see a good life for themselves and most importantly their children.”