A perspective of 100 Labor Street from Labor Street looking north.
A rendering of the 100 Labor Street project from Labor Street looking north. Credit: Courtesy / Alamo Architects

The San Antonio Housing Authority (SAHA) is partnering with a private developer to build a $45 million, 215-unit apartment complex in the Lavaca neighborhood south of downtown. Twenty percent, or about 43, of the units at 100 Labor Street will be reserved for affordable housing at far below market rate, SAHA officials said.

Families or individuals that apply through the housing authority who make 50 percent or less of the area median income will qualify for those units, SAHA President and CEO David Nisivoccia told the Rivard Report after a neighborhood meeting last week.

Financing for the project – how much SAHA and its partner, Franklin Development, will contribute – is awaiting a final design, Nisivoccia said.

SAHA developed nearby Hemisview Village, Refugio Place, and 28 townhomes at Artisan Park under a similar public-private partnership model and is still finalizing new plans for future single-family plots nearby. These projects replace the former Victoria Courts, federally funded Section 8 housing that spanned 36 acres and became a hotbed for crime before being demolished in 1999.

The new complex would be constructed on either side of Labor Street, where a vacant lot and Victoria Park currently sit, and would act as a gateway from the bustling East Cesár E. Chávez Boulevard into the historic Lavaca neighborhood, said Jim Bailey, associate principal of Alamo Architects, which is designing the complex.

The tallest portion of the building on Cesár E. Chávez would be four-and-a-half to five stories tall, Bailey said, and would step down to three and two stories as it approaches the neighborhood that is largely one- and two-story single-family homes.

There’s a private courtyard and rooftop spaces proposed for residents, many of whom would have views of the Tower of the Americas and downtown, as well as public walkways that surround two ground-floor commercial spaces.

“We’ve gone through a lot of effort to carve out public spaces,” Alamo Architects Founding Principal Billy Lawrence told the group of about 15 Lavaca residents. Lawrence lives in the neighborhood and serves on the Lavaca Neighborhood Association board.

Pedestrian mobility and building heights that respect the neighborhood are important elements to any project in the area, Lavaca Neighborhood Association President Cherise Rohr-Allegrini told the Rivard Report on Monday.

“[The developers and architects] came to the neighborhood really early on in the process to present their ideas and get feedback to make sure they’re keeping in mind what the neighborhood really wants,” Rohr-Allegrini said. “That’s the model that all developers should use.”

The designs presented to the neighborhood last week will go before the Historic and Design Review Commission soon for conceptual approval. The final design will take in commission and neighborhood feedback, Bailey said. The deal structure with Franklin requires approval from SAHA’s board of directors.

At least two of the 15 attendees said they were concerned about increased traffic and rising property values the project would likely bring to the rapidly changing area.

The complex would provide more than 250 parking spaces; most would be in a garage that is largely hidden by apartment units, with some in a surface lot and beneath apartment units, Bailey said. “What we’re providing is actually significantly higher [than is needed]. … The developers downtown all say they’re building too much parking.”

The building and parking garage elevation of the 100 Labor Street property.
The building and parking garage elevation of the 100 Labor Street property. Credit: Courtesy / Alamo Architects

As for the area’s property values, it may be too late.

In October 2013, the average listing price for a home in Lavaca was $160,000, according to Zillow. In October 2018, that more than doubled to $333,000.

“We want rentals in the neighborhood,” Rohr-Allegrini said, “for a lot of people [who] aren’t ready to purchase a house but want to live in the neighborhood. … We welcome density, provided it’s an appropriate context.”

Nisivoccia pledged to work with Franklin Development to bring in local, low-cost businesses to the commercial space that would best serve the neighborhood.

Gentrification is a citywide issue, said Ryan Wilson, vice president of Franklin Development. “That’s why we’re trying to maintain as much affordability as we can. We realize that those [affordable units] are evaporating downtown.”

Wilson served on the finance committee of the Mayor’s Affordable Housing Task Force. The task force’s recommendations were approved by City Council this past summer. Bailey served as one of five task force members.

The biggest impact that has on the affordable housing market, Wilson said, is that it “gives the development community a partner [the City] in this fight to provide affordable housing … there are a lot of hurdles.”

Gone are the days of Section 8 housing that clusters low- or no-income residents together in one spot, Nisivoccia said. The new wave of public housing is to find public-private partnerships that produce mixed-use and mixed-income projects.

“This is one of many Housing Authority properties where we have market rate plus affordability,” he said.

Groundbreaking on 100 Labor Street is slated for late next year, with an expected opening in early 2020, Nisivocchia said.

Just south of 100 Labor Street is Victoria Plaza, a nine-story senior and disabled living facility built in 1959. The tower was vacated last year for a $17 million renovation project and will continue to serve the elderly population once completed in about 18 months, Nisivoccia said.

The last undeveloped SAHA property in the neighborhood, a property further southeast between Refugio and Leigh streets, already has streets and other infrastructure installed, but SAHA has yet to decide what to do with it.

“We’ve gone through many different maturations of how to redevelop this property and obviously the housing setback we had across the country made us rethink our plans and efforts,” Nisivoccia said.

Soon, he said, the housing authority will develop another public-private partnership, sell the land, or develop it itself.

“My gut feeling is there will be different price point and types of housing [there] such as townhouses, mid-rise [apartments], and more” for mixed-income residents, he said. “We’re trying to develop slightly different business models so we can bring in more income that then supports our overall mission of affordable housing.”

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Iris Dimmick

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and workforce development. Contact her at iris@sareport.org