The door to the Calcasieu Apartments leasing office.
The door to the Calcasieu Apartments leasing office advertises the Alamo Community Group. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

From the windows of Dominick Williams’ sixth-floor apartment downtown, he has views of Travis Park, the St. Anthony Hotel, and further out, the rising Frost Tower. “Especially when the lights go on at night, it’s really gorgeous,” he said.

Williams, a 19-year-old college student and artist, moved into the Calcasieu Apartments at Broadway and Travis streets in May – his first place since leaving home. Like many at the Calcasieu, he works in the service industry downtown and wanted to be close to his part-time job at the Mirror Maze at Alamo Plaza, Herweck’s Art Supply store, and his connections in the area.

Renovated in recent years, the Calcasieu Apartments reside in a historic building built by architect Atlee B. Ayres in 1914. Alamo Community Group (ACG), one of only a few nonprofit affordable housing organizations in the city, purchased the Calcasieu in 2014. The City of San Antonio Neighborhood and Housing Services provided $812,500 toward the purchase, allowing ACG to preserve the building’s status as “affordable,” and adding to its portfolio of 10 affordable housing developments in San Antonio.

The exterior of Calcasieu Apartments.
The exterior of the Calcasieu Apartments. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Since then, ACG has stabilized the property, removed “squatters” or tenants engaging in illicit activities, and completed $1.85 million in needed repairs and updates. Still to come is replacement of the original windows, a project the Historic and Design Review Commission approved last December to improve the building’s safety and efficiency.

The 64 Calcasieu apartments, nearly all efficiency and one-bedroom units, are fully occupied by residents who earn $38,100, or 60 percent of the area median income (AMI) which is $63,500 for a family of four as set by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Williams said he was on a waiting list for his apartment for about one month and now pays $600 a month in rent. The Calcasieu and the Robert E. Lee Apartments buildings are the only two high-rise affordable housing developments located in the center city. Plans to turn the long-vacant Hedrick Building into housing were recently scrapped in favor of a hotel development that would be easier and more profitable.

“[Calcasieu] has probably been one of the hardest renovations and refinances we’ve done even though it’s the smallest property in our portfolio,” said Jennifer Gonzalez, ACG executive director. The nonprofit community housing development organization, commonly referred to as CHDO, got its start as the Alamo Area Regional Housing Association in 1990 and currently owns and manages 10 properties throughout the city. “And we are looking for more,” Gonzalez said.

Western Hills, a garden-style apartment community that once served as military family housing for Lackland Air Force Base, was ACG’s first investment in San Antonio. The Meadows at Bentley Drive apartments, a 208-unit complex located just off Walzem Road, is ACG’s most affordable development, providing one-, two-, and three-bedroom units for families who make 30 percent of the AMI ($19,050). “That 30-percent resident is someone making minimum wage,” Gonzalez said.

But there’s more to come. ACG is currently planning a 94-unit residential complex near the Pearl: Museum Reach Lofts will be the first affordable, workforce rental apartments to be developed in the midtown area. The organization is seeking Center City Housing Incentive Policy (CCHIP) and the Inner City Reinvestment/Infill Policy (ICRIP) incentives to support the plan.

CCHIP was put on hold in January after some criticized the affordability of the housing the City was incentivizing. But ACG has spoken in favor of the proposed changes to both incentive programs, and Council will vote on those changes in September.

Most units at Museum Reach Lofts also will be for families making 30 to 60 percent of AMI, with none paying more than 30 percent of their income for housing. Eight units will be priced at market rates.

The Midtown Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone (TIRZ) funded the cost of the land for Museum Reach Lofts, making it possible to provide affordable rental housing in this fast-growing part of town. It’s one of few instances in which a City-initiated TIRZ has assisted a developer in acquiring land.

ACG is petitioning for another TIRZ to be established on the far West Side of San Antonio, this time to fund public improvements on 12 acres of land for Tarasco Gardens, a neighborhood composed of 60 single-family, for-sale homes. The development would sit adjacent ACG’s multi-family rental community, Western Hills, and provide neighborhood residents with access to a learning center and two playgrounds.

Half of the homes will be available for buyers who make 80 percent of AMI, the other half for those at 120 percent. Potential buyers will be guided through the process with Homeward, a home-buying program established by ACG.

“Today, a family at 80 percent AMI [$50,800] cannot afford the cost of a median-priced house,” Gonzalez said. The Tarasco Gardens development aims to fill that void.

“This is where housing product is missing in our city,” she said. “You can find affordable product, but you need to invest more money to make it habitable. We have really old housing stock. This is a new product in a stable school district, and it allows families to build wealth in the family.”

Alamo Community Group Executive Director Jennifer Gonzalez.
Alamo Community Group Executive Director Jennifer Gonzalez. Credit: Shari Biediger / San Antonio Report

City Council designated a similar City-initiated TIRZ in 1998 for the Rosedale community, Villas de San Antonio, at West Commerce and General McMullen streets on the West Side. That project, developed by the nonprofit San Antonio Alternative Housing Corporation, involved $1.7 million in public improvements.

But the TIRZ that ACG has proposed, which would cover $2 million in public improvement and infrastructure costs for Tarasco Gardens, would be the first petition-initiated zone approved since 2006. Nancy Sheppard, economic development manager for the City’s tax increment financing program, said Council is expected to vote on the TIRZ before the end of the year.

At the heart of the Meadows at Bentley community, like most ACG properties, is a clubhouse with a community activity room, tech lab, and meeting space where ACG offers after-school care and other educational programming for residents’ children year-round.

“This is something we do at all of our properties, whether it’s a tax-credit property or not,” she said. “But this activity and the computers and the level of program we do is not something that is covered by the fee that is allowed in a tax-credit structure.”

Federal low-income housing tax-credit properties are required to provide some community space and activities for residents. The financing structure for a place like the Meadows would typically allow for about $30,000 in services, Gonzalez said, but that would not fully cover the two full-time staffers, children’s activities, veteran case management, and the programming ACG provides, such as the STEM program Snapology, funded by a grant from Rackspace.

The Meadows at Bentley Dr. Apartments.
The Meadows at Bentley Drive Apartments. Credit: Shari Biediger / San Antonio Report

ACG makes up the difference through such grants and by financing its properties in a variety of ways. That practice allows the organization to evenly divide the costs and revenues among the communities and to support its operations.

“We are a 501(c)3, but we are very business focused – we have to be,” Gonzalez said. “I can’t do this if we’re not. So we are probably more aggressive in rent collections … whether you’re at market rate or not. We feel very strongly that we have a contract on our end, and residents have one on their end. We have a commitment to provide for this property.”

ACG’s eviction rate is less than 1 percent, due in part to an eviction prevention program. “We try really hard to work with residents,” Gonzalez said. “We know if we can get them early, we can work with them to solve that problem from the very beginning. We do not want residents to get behind because we know they are not going to be able to get out of that hole.”

Shari Biediger

Shari Biediger is the business beat reporter at the San Antonio Report.