Diana Fuentes, 57, a single mother of one, didn’t say a word as nearly everyone around her aired their concerns over the proposed Artisan at Thousand Oaks in District 10. This was two weeks ago. It wasn’t an angry mob, or anything like that, but many of the questions from the people who live around the five-acre parcel of land — a football field for giants — shot out toward the developer up front like knives.
“Is this Section 8?” asked one woman, standing in the back next to the trays of tortilla wraps and cookies courtesy of the developer.
From a younger couple: “How is this going to impact my property values?”
“Will you sell the property once you build the apartments?” asked an Air Force veteran.
The meeting was held in the community room of the Artisan at Judson Park apartment complex, out by Loop 1604 and Judson Road, where Fuentes lives. Franklin Companies built the Artisan last year.
As people began milling about, Fuentes had something to say to everyone in the room.
“I want to say thank you to him, because without this, we wouldn’t be living here,” Fuentes said in reference to Ryan Wilson, Franklin’s executive vice president of development. “We would probably be living on the South Side or something.”
The meeting was held in response to the new city rule regarding community engagement. The attendees, most from the Eden subdivision that abuts the vacant parcel in question, left with mixed feelings. Many were worried about how the apartments would impact their property values. Others worried about privacy. Wilson argued that the alternative to housing was retail — would you rather have dwellings or a bar or a McDonald’s on the other side of your fence?
Franklin Companies “made some very good points, and they’re going to try to listen and not try to force it on us,” said Eden resident Gene Townsend, 74. “We care deeply about people who are new school teachers or disabled. We care deeply. So somehow people are (saying) that we’re heartless just because we’re concerned what will happen when you juxtaposition apartments with single dwelling homes. We’re not heartless. We want people to have housing.
“I came in here 100 percent against it, but I’m almost like 50-50 — which is huge for me.
The next week, the Eden community voted roughly 80-40 to oppose the development. That night, Franklin spokeswoman Jacqueline Ortiz said, the company called Councilman Perry’s office to inform them they were pulling the Artisan at Thousand Oaks from consideration.
These conversations that have played out throughout the city in a volume that seems unprecedented.
Take the Piedmont Lofts, proposed for the current Moose Lodge #744 in Highland Park on the southeast side. There, NRP Group proposed a 90-unit development, but the neighbors opposed it.
“It’s not the low-income housing that we are concerned with,” said Gregory Ripps, president of the Highland Park Neighborhood Association. “It is the large number of apartment renters, which is different than the single-family homes we currently have.” Ripps continued, “We are not a bunch of rich, snooty people, but we are still proud of our heritage. We have a way of living and we don’t think multi-units is the way our neighborhood ought to be.”
In a recent interview, Jason Arechiga, development project manager with NRP Group, said the company will reduce the total number of units.
On the near West Side, a partnership between Atlantic Pacific and Madhouse has proposed The Legacy at Buena Vista, 96 units at Buena Vista and Las Moras streets, next to Alazan Creek. At that community meeting, many residents opposed the project, including Jason Mata, past president of Prospect Hill Neighborhood Association. He believes the near West Side doesn’t need is more affordable housing.
“Prospect Hill is, in a way, kind of a social service center,” Mata said. “It’s a low-income area and a lot of what we do is connect people with resources.” People “want to see some better development come in the area,” he continued. “It’s a tough pill to swallow, on one hand you can understand the business side, but on the other these people need help.”
Representatives from Atlantic Pacific and Madhouse could not be reached for comment.
Downtown’s a different story. It’s the only area of town where a developer can propose affordable housing and receive incentives from the city. This is because of the CCHIP policy, which grants a bundle of incentives toward housing — market rate or affordable. But it’s usually market rate. Why would anyone want to build affordable housing when you can receive incentives in the millions of dollars, asks Jennifer Gonzalez, executive director of Alamo Community Group.
Gonzalez mentioned the Arts Residences project, a development that’s an amalgamation of hotel, condo and retail near the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts. Under CCHIP, the project will receive $10 million in incentives, the bulk of that package in tax reimbursements.
“If you think about it, if you can go to the city and get those same incentives, why would you make it affordable?” Gonzalez said. “If you could get those incentives for your $3-a-square-foot rent, and pocket that money, why are you encouraged to make that an affordable project?”
John Jacks, director of the Center City Development Office, defended the package.
“The Arts Residences project is a positive example of how the CCHIP program is working to benefit the community,” Jacks said in a statement. “By the City foregoing approximately $9.5 million in property taxes over 15 years, the school district stands to gain $26.5 million in the same period of time as a result of this property’s development. As a surface lot, SAISD would only receive $240,870 over a 15 year period.”
The Arts Residences is also one of the last projects getting incentives through CCHIP, at least until May. In December, Nirenberg put the brakes on CCHIP, saying that the incentives program was attracting too many market rate — or luxury apartment — projects, which are out of range for most San Antonians. There needs to be more affordable housing in the inner city, he said. Not only that, he said, but the luxury apartments are jacking up property values and leading to rapidly changing neighborhoods on the edges of downtown, and in a few cases, outright uprooting of whole communities like the Mission Trials south of downtown along the San Antonio River, where more than 300 people were removed.
Other communities are in jeopardy, like the long-affordable Soap Works and Towne Center apartments alongside San Pedro Creek.
This is why Alamo Community Group wants to build affordable housing units downtown, near the Museum Reach portion of the river, an area where all of the luxury apartments are going. This type of housing would provide options for many people who have service industry jobs at downtown’s hotels and tourist attractions.
“That’s our mission,” Gonzalez said. “This is what we do.”
In May, the Mayor’s Housing Task Force is expected to deliver some policy solutions on housing issues throughout the city. Currently, the city has no incentives policy for affordable housing throughout the city.
The community meetings spurred by Sandoval’s initiative produced many moments where one group of people talked pejoratively about another. This discourse definitely begged the question: Who are the people in need of affordable housing?
According to the rules of the tax credit program, developers must provide the bulk of the units at 60 percent of the area median income. What does that mean? In San Antonio, that’s $38,100 a year for a family of four. For a couple, that’s $30,480. For a single person, it’s $26,700.
Many developers like to characterize this as “workforce housing,” meaning teachers, firefighters, and journalists. And projects like the Museum Reach Lofts and the Artisan at Thousand Oaks planned to price 100 percent of its units at this rate.
But the more diverse the rents are, the more points developers get from TDHCA. The Village at Roosevelt, on the South Side by Prospera Housing Community Services, plans to offer rents as low as 30 percent AMI — $13,350 for a one person, $15,420 for a couple, and $19,050 for a household of four.
Enough numbers. Such housing is for people like Diana Fuentes, who receives a monthly disability check.
Last year, she was paying nearly $1,000 to rent a complex on Thousand Oaks, where she raised her daughter through high school (her daughter is currently a freshman at Texas State). But, every year, the rent went up. Now, her rent is in the $600 range.
“For being on a set income, it’s very hard for all of us,” Fuentes said of herself and her neighbors. “It doesn’t mean we’re all on Section 8. It’s very hard to find an apartment that’s affordable, and that is nice — like these ones are very nice.”
Other cost of living factors played a role, too. In her former apartments, she paid between $30 to $40 a month for utilities. At the Artisan at Judson Park, she pays $3. Built into the TDHCA’s scoring system are points for projects that provide support and outreach services.
“For Thanksgiving, they brought the Food Bank, and they gave out turkeys, they helped a lot,” Fuentes said. “Let me put in this way: I’ve never seen a complex that does a lot of things for us, for the community here.”
Folo Media reporter Darcy Sprague contributed to this report.
This article was originally published by the H.E. Butt Foundation’s Folo Media initiative.