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Museum Reach Lofts to offer true affordability

by Ben OlivoJun 27, 2018
Courtesy Alamo Community Group
The Museum Reach Lofts, a project near the Pearl that's currently in the works, may sound like downtown’s latest luxury apartments. Look closer and you’ll find these envisioned dwellings are an anomaly of sorts for the center city: they're affordable.

Like, for real.

Alamo Community Group, a local nonprofit developer and operator of affordable housing across the city, is currently gathering up financing for the $17.5 million project. The project consists of 94 units that will sit on a .6-acre patch of land on the southeast corner of North St. Mary’s Street and Jones Avenue, a hop away from the San Antonio Current, and just down the street from the San Antonio Museum of Art.

The group hopes to begin construction in January and complete the apartments in 2020.

Only eight units will be rented at market rate — between $830 (studio) and $1455 (two bedroom).

The remaining units, 86, will serve households making between 30 and 60 percent of the area median income (AMI) — which is $63,500 for a family of four. Those rents will range between $333 and $858, depending on the size of the household and its annual income.

For example, a family of four making 50 percent AMI ($31,500) could rent a two-bedroom apartment for $715. Or, a single person making 30 percent AMI ($13,350) could rent a studio for $333 a month.

The Alamo Community Group, which also owns the low-income Calcasieu Apartments at 214 Broadway, will eventually market the Museum Reach Lofts to downtown workers in the service industry, or those in lower-paying office jobs.

So how is the nonprofit able to produce affordable units when the majority of for-profit developers only build market rate — another term for “luxury” in San Antonio?

Jennifer Gonzalez, ACG executive director, said the group first determines the maximum rents it can demand given the site’s proximity to amenities such as the Pearl, the Museum Reach, and SAMA.

“When you start to apply affordability to it, that reduces your profit significantly,” Gonzalez said. “That's your answer right there, that's the reason why. We're motivated to try to find a way to put these affordable units here. For us, that's a huge win, that is a successful day. For them (for-profit developers) a win is to maximize their profits.

“We are dealing with trying to find creative ways to really put affordable units on the ground. We’re not trying to maximize those profits. At the end of the day, we're just trying to figure out how to drive down those rents.”

Incentives help, too.

To purchase the land — two properties which are selling for a combined $2.8 million — ACG is seeking an award from the Midtown Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone, which is designed to reinvest revenue from the rise in property taxes into projects within its boundaries.

Also, on Thursday, the group will travel to Austin to attend a hearing by the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs (TDHCA), the state agency that doles out federal low-income housing tax credits. The ACG is requesting $1.2 million on tax credits, which is a complex process all its own. They are highly-competitive credits developers sell to help fund their projects. Currently, nine affordable housing developments in the San Antonio area are vying for the credits, but only two, maybe three, will actually get funding. Of those nine projects, the TDHCA has ranked the Museum Reach Lofts first.

The funds will be awarded in July.

ACG also is in preliminary talks with the city regarding a $564,000 development loan from the Center City Housing Incentives Policy (CCHIP), which Mayor Ron Nirenberg suspended in December. Nirenberg, who has made housing affordability a top priority, saw the CCHIP program was funding more luxury than affordable apartments. When he put the program on ice, he also asked city officials to revamp it to encourage more affordable housing in the downtown area.

When that program resurfaces, ACG will seek the same tax rebates that have saved developers millions of dollars. To give you an idea, the Arts Residences — a hotel, condo and retail combo, a half-mile south near the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts — will receive a CCHIP incentive worth $10 million, the bulk of which is tax reimbursements.

City officials are working on the revised CCHIP now, said John Jacks, director of the Center City Development and Operations department. He hopes to present the revisions to the City Council in August.

Featured photo by Ben Olivo / SA Heron; rendering courtesy Alamo Community Group


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