The Leigh Street lots are located within the historic Lavaca Neighborhood, just minutes away from the transforming Hemisfair Park, Southtown and The Tower of the Americas. Photo by Lea Thompson.
The Leigh Street lots are located within the historic Lavaca Neighborhood, just minutes away from the transforming Hemisfair Park, Southtown and The Tower of the Americas. Photo by Lea Thompson.

The continuing transformation of downtown San Antonio has made Lavaca just south of downtown one of the most desirable neighborhoods in the urban core. The historic neighborhood named for cattle-grazing range just beyond the original 18th century townsite is home to  a  diverse residential mix, a thriving arts and culinary scene, all of it a short walk from Hemisfair and Southtown. It’s a mix that is drawing more young professionals and families to the area.

Amid the continuing neighborhood evolution, the San Antonio Housing Authority (SAHA) is determined to keep the neighborhood diverse, through mixed-income housing options in Lavaca, and right now that means the 26 lots located on Leigh Street, now up for sale after months of anticipation.

SAHA has earmarked five of the 26 Leigh Street lots for affordable single-family units, while 21 lots will sell for market value. According to Kuper Sotheby’s International Realty, Lavaca home sales in 2014 ranged from $140,000 on the low-end to a $575,000 on the high-end. The average bids for the lots start at $46,000 and go up to $66,000, depending on the lot size. However, the lot prices do not account for the additional design and construction costs.

“The neighborhood hasn’t seen anything like this in many years,” said Tim Alcott, the development services and neighborhood revitalization officer at SAHA. “There hasn’t been this many development lots on sale at the same time in years, and until recently, there hadn’t been a big revitalization in Lavaca for many, many years.”

Five of the 26 lots have been designated for affordable-income single-family units, and the remaining 21 will sell at market price. Photo by Lea Thompson.
Five of the 26 lots have been designated for affordable-income single-family units, and the remaining 21 will sell at market price. Photo by Lea Thompson.

The neighborhood was once home to the Victoria Commons, a near-downtown housing project synonymous with poverty, high crime rates and low quality housing. The complex was demolished in 1999. In 2002, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) awarded SAHA a HOPE Grant of nearly $19 million, which led to development of several mixed-income housing projects, including the 28 townhomes at Artisan Park, and the multi-family apartment complexes Hemisview Village and Refugio Place.

Though that period, SAHA went through its own transition to better board governance, more professional management practices and greater transparency as a taxpayer-supported agency. SAHA officials have worked with local and national partners to improve the appearance, amenities and quality of life in the housing developments, including covered parking for residents and green spaces.

That makes the newly available residential lots far more desirable than they might have been a decade ago.

“My impression is that they will go for appraisal value. The reason is the Lavaca Neighborhood is booming; it may be the hottest property for sale in San Antonio right now,” Alcott added.

SAHA is partnering with Franklin Development to facilitate lot sales, while Franklin’s broker, Kuper Sotheby’s Realty, is responsible for listings. According to HUD guidelines, the 26 lots must remain listed on the San Antonio Board of Realtors’ Multiple Listing Service (MLS) for 30 days.

Realty agents Debra Maltz and John Barrera will be accepting sealed bids for the lots between Sept. 12 and Oct. 11.

Homes in the revitalized Lavaca Neighborhood have come into high demand. According to Kuper Sotheby's Realty, one house across the street from the lots sold for $75,000 last week. Photo by Lea Thompson.
According to Kuper Sotheby’s Realty, one house across the street from the Leigh Street lots sold for $75,000 last week. Photo by Lea Thompson.

“We are all very excited about this opportunity to add to the community of Lavaca,” Maltz said. “We have had lots of interest from many people so I suspect it will be a very diverse and interesting group of homes.”

Potential buyers are required to submit several documents, including a lender’s pre-approval for four times the amount of the offer. Upon acceptance, buyers have three months to submit their single-family house plans or designs to the Leigh Street Design Committee. All successful buyers are required to close on the lot within a nine-month period. Many people will find these terms difficult or impossible to meet, and hat is seen as an inner city program to promote a diverse residential housing initiative is bound to result in some complaints and blowback.

In 2014, SAHA submitted a Revised Revitalization Plan to HUD that included the Leigh Street lots development as well as requests for 91 market rate townhomes and a development on the corner of Labor Street and Cesar Chavez Boulevard, which would include 26 affordable units. The plan for the Leigh Street lots was eventually approved in July, but SAHA must have approval on all development aspects before any construction can begin.

The average median income for a family of four in San Antonio is $62,187.50. According to Alcott, a family of four can qualify to buy the lots if their income meets or is less than 125% of the area median income (AMI), or $74,625.

Kuper Sotheby's Realty is taking sealed bids for the 26 on Leigh Street from Sept. 12 to Oct. 11. Photo by Lea Thompson.
Kuper Sotheby’s Realty is taking sealed bids for the 26 on Leigh Street from Sept. 12 to Oct. 11. Photo by Lea Thompson.

SAHA usually requires 100% of AMI from buyers, but the AMI rates are ultimately determined by HUD guidelines for each project. The higher rates for properties on Leigh Street can be explained by the depth of the developments, which require families to buy the lot, then design and construct homes.

“The Lavaca area is in high demand and these homes have higher thresholds. If you put low-income family there, with high property taxes, it would be irresponsible,” Alcott said. 

SAHA has already secured support from the community and the neighborhood association. Once the submissions close on Oct. 12, SAHA will immediately review bids and announce their choice for best offers. However, SAHA will remain in a holding pattern until HUD approves the entire Revised Revitalization Plan.

“At the end of the day, I want to communicate that five of the lots are absolutely going to be specified for affordable home ownership; how we accomplish that we don’t know yet,” said Ryan Wilson, the executive vice president at Franklin Development. “The intent is for SAHA to sell these lots to individuals who want to build homes and start that construction as soon as possible.”

According to Selsa Gonzalez, Vice President of the Lavaca Neighborhood Association, the majority of the neighborhood is optimistic about the progress made by SAHA, even if it has taken a long time.

“We’re happy it’s going to be mixed-income, it’s really going to add to the diversity and vibrancy of the community,” Gonzalez said. “It will be great for the new families to be just a stone’s throw from Hemisfair Park.”

The Lavaca Neighborhood Association will meet with SAHA representatives on Tuesday to discuss progress of the overall market and revitalization plans. SAHA officials hope the pending Revised Revitalization Plan will be approved by HUD soon; until then construction will remain on-hold.

The SAHA guidelines and process are complicated. Readers can submit questions to the Rivard Report and we will work to get those questions answered in a timely manner so potential applicants can better understand whether they will financially qualify to make a sealed bid. Post your questions as a comment to this story or send them to hell0@rivardreport.com.

*Top image: The Leigh Street lots are located within the historic Lavaca Neighborhood, just minutes away from the transforming Hemisfair Park, Southtown and The Tower of the Americas. Photo by Lea Thompson. 

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Lea Thompson

Lea Thompson is a Texas native who has lived in Houston, Austin and San Antonio. She enjoys exploring new food and culture events. Follow her adventures on Instagram, Twitter or Culture Spoon.