The design for a 220-unit mixed-income, mixed-used development in the Lavaca neighborhood, which will add roughly 44 public housing units to the Southtown area, received final approval from the Historic and Design Review Commission (HDRC) on Wednesday.
The $45.6 million project is part of the San Antonio Housing Authority’s (SAHA) multi-phased effort to develop the old Victoria Courts site just south of Hemisfair.
For this development, SAHA has partnered with Franklin Companies, a San Antonio-based for-profit affordable housing developer. It’s unknown what other entities are involved in the partnership—Ryan Wilson, Franklin’s executive vice president of development, deflected questions about the partnership structure and financial details to SAHA; SAHA did not respond to the Heron’s inquiries on these matters.
Wilson did say he expected construction on this unnamed project at the corner of East César E. Chávez Boulevard and Labor Street to begin in the first quarter of 2020.
Twenty percent of the units will be public housing, reserved for people making 30 percent of the area median income (AMI) or less—which, in the greater San Antonio area, is $21,300 for a family of four. The other 80 percent of units will be market-rate priced.
The area median income (AMI) for a family of four in the greater San Antonio area (Bandera, Bexar, Comal, Guadalupe and Wilson counties) is $71,000, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Here’s how it breaks down for lower-income households:
» 80% – $56,800
» 70% – $49,700
» 60% – $42,600
» 50% – $35,500
» 40% – $28,400
» 30% – $21,300
Under state law, because SAHA owns the land through one of its nonprofit entities, the SAHA-Franklin partnership will receive a full property tax exemption, in exchange for 20 percent of units reserved for public housing. It’s unknown how long SAHA’s ground lease to the partnership is for, because SAHA did not respond to our questions.
SAHA’s strategy to build mixed-income development, with a high percentage of higher-income housing, is one that has drawn some attention of late.
SAHA’s new development strategy
At the board meeting last week, after being pressed by SAHA Commissioner Sofia Lopez, SAHA President and CEO David Nisivoccia articulated more than once the housing agency’s strategy going forward, which is to build as much affordable housing as possible for different income levels.
The plan, he said, is to take revenue from these higher-income units, and funnel those funds into SAHA’s reserves, which can then be used to offer deeper subsidized rents in future developments.
“We’re expanding our toolkit, we’re expanding the options to go get more affordable housing, to be a wealthier housing authority so we can offer a deeper subsidy dive,” Nisivoccia said during the meeting. “We’ve heard that from the board.”
After the meeting, Nisivoccia said the new direction is one the board of commissioners gave to the staff recently, but, when asked, he didn’t give specifics as to when that edict was given.
In pursuit of this new development approach, SAHA has become one of the most active developers in the downtown area—not just for affordable housing, but for any housing.
For a project it’s calling St. Mary’s Tower, SAHA has partnered with Dallas developer JMJ Development on a 24-story, mixed-income apartment tower at 126 Villita St. That partnership, like the SAHA-Franklin deal, will also receive a full property tax exemption. However the rent breakdowns differ.
At St. Mary’s Tower, half the units will be priced for people making 80 percent AMI or less, and the other half-market rate, which, in the downtown core, could also be described as luxury housing because of the high demand they’re likely to draw.
Lopez chided SAHA officials for not providing the financial details of the SAHA-JMJ deal, especially the amount of profit JMJ is due to receive—either by rent revenue or savings from the tax exemption.
“If SAHA has really become the No. 1 partner for developers, are we really asking for everything we can possibly get from them?” Lopez said.
Back to Labor Street apartments
The section of the project facing Chavez Boulevard will rise five stories. The project as a whole will lower in height closer to Lavaca.
The project, which is being built on nearly 3.5 acres across two parcels, includes roughly 5,500 square feet of retail and commercial space along Labor Street. In previous interviews, SAHA officials described the spaces and future tenants as a sort of gateway into the Lavaca neighborhood that includes a public courtyard. Drawings submitted to the HDRC show four spaces.
The project includes 258 parking spaces, most of which will be tucked inside a parking garage, and 11,000 square feet of amenity space. It also includes four two-story townhomes that border Garfield Alley.
For SAHA, this is the fourth development in the former Victoria Courts location.
Previous developments include the 245-unit Hemisview Village and 210-unit Refugio Place, both of which offer a mix of rents. There’s also the 28-townhouse Artisan Park.
In a previous interview, Nisivoccia said a fifth development is being planned in the area.
Some other SAHA developments the authority is planning for the downtown area:
» St. John’s Square on Nueva Street with Austin developer Dennis McDaniel
» Tampico Lofts along Alazan Creek with 210 Development Group
» Alazan Lofts on the West Side with NRP Group