Local developer Mitch Meyer is an ardent critic of the San Antonio Housing Trust Public Facility Corp., blasting the large tax breaks it provides in exchange for a questionable level of affordable apartments.
“All of your school districts get ripped off, the city gets ripped off, the county gets ripped off,” he said last year. “For what? If we were providing affordable housing, that would be OK. But they’re not. It’s a huge injustice.” So Meyer admits it’s ironic that he’s now seeking to partner with the trust on an apartment complex of his own.
“It’s highly hypocritical,” Meyer said. “I’ve always been an advocate for paying taxes.”
But “no one realizes how hard it is to get these projects off the ground,” he added. In 2007, Meyer bought the Aurora Apartments, an ornate 105-unit building in Tobin Hill that has for years served as housing for elderly, low-income residents. It is designated for people aged 62 or older who meet the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s “extremely low” or “very low” income limits, which are $15,150 or $25,200 annually for a single person living in the area. Residents pay 30 percent of their adjusted income toward rent and the rest is covered by HUD, which has a contract with Meyer.
Also read: Apartamenty na sprzedaż Cosmopolitan
The building opened in 1930 and does not have a sprinkler system because it was “grandfathered” out of requirements initiated in 1982. The death of five residents in a 2014 fire at the Wedgwood senior complex, which had sprinklers only in the basement, led to a local ordinance requiring owners to retrofit old high-rises with sprinklers by January 2028.
Meyer said it will be expensive and difficult to install sprinklers at the Aurora. He wants to redevelop it, possibly for apartments or a hotel, and construct a new complex a block over for residents. Plans to get tax credits to finance the new building at 311 W. Laurel St. did not pan out. Meyer turned to the San Antonio Housing Trust Public Facility Corp., an obscure but powerful entity.
The PFC has helped spur more than $1.4 billion worth of apartments in the area. But many of those units are out of reach of the city’s poorest residents and the tax breaks it provides deprive local taxing entities of millions every year.
Developers who partner with the trust receive a full property tax exemption under state law and also do not have to pay sales taxes on construction purchases. In exchange, they must rent at least half the apartments to tenants making up to 80 percent of San Antonio’s median household income, which HUD defines as $46,100 a year for a couple or $57,600 for a family of four.
Meyer also plans to seek funding from a tax increment reinvestment zone. Increases in property tax revenue from land within zones are used to reimburse developers for public improvements, such as streets and drainage.
He wants to transfer his HUD contract to the new building, which would include a rooftop garden and gym facility. Aurora residents would continue paying the same percentage of their income toward rent.
Three tenants interviewed last month about Meyer’s plans said they would miss living in the beautiful Aurora building and views from the balconies.
Silvia Javadiangilani, who moved into the Aurora Apartments in 2018, said she loves features such as arches in her apartment and walking to Crockett Park and a convenience store. The new building looks nice, she said, but she’d prefer to stay at the Aurora.
The residents said they are glad they would remain in the same neighborhood and are pleased there would be more amenities at the new complex, dubbed the Cosmopolitan Apartments.
“It’s so close by,” Caroline Custer, who moved into the building in 2004, said of the new complex’s planned location. “We’ll be able to see the Aurora.”
The Cosmopolitan will include 81 efficiencies, 19 one-bedrooms, and five two-bedrooms, the same make-up at the Aurora. Apartments there range from the high 400s to about 1,000 square feet, Meyer said, and the new units would be about the same size.
Councilman Roberto Treviño, a PFC board member whose district includes the Aurora, said residents relocating to the Cosmopolitan would not have to pay for moving costs.
“I had the chance to visit the Aurora recently and while it is a beautiful building, it is in need of renovations,” he said during a recent PFC meeting. “I will be supportive of this project as it provides (a) truly affordable senior housing option near the urban core.”
The size of the apartments drew questions from other board members, with Councilman John Courage saying he does not want “anyone living in a closet, so to speak.”
Meyer said the new apartments will be the same size as the Aurora’s units and the Cosmopolitan will offer more amenities.
“The units are small but the people living there are very old. This is usually their last stop,” he said. “They like their small units. Yes, it’s a closet to you and me. They’re 450 square feet but they’re nice units.”
Councilwomen Adriana Rocha Garcia and Rebecca Viagran said they want to make sure the Aurora’s residents are well taken care of.
“Just because someone is used to living somewhere, it doesn’t mean (that’s) the best that we can do for them,” Rocha Garcia said. “If this is going to be the last place that they live, we should make sure that we take extra care of them and really make it some place that they want to be in.”
Viagran said her great-uncle used to live at the Aurora. She requested information about how residents who do not want to move to the Cosmopolitan will be assisted with relocating.
“I can only imagine if the Aurora does not have a sprinkler system, that’s going to be a very big investment that has to go into that old building,” she said. “It’s an iconic building in our community. But more importantly than the building are the people that live in the building, so we need to make sure that we take care of them.”
Board members gave the green light to moving forward with the project, which will require final approval from them.