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City pushing for downtown development

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City leaders are trying to spark a boom in affordable housing including near downtown, offering developers tax incentives through the Center City Housing Incentive Policy, managed by the city’s Center City Development & Operations Department. File photo

New city policies and incentives are helping boost affordable-housing options near downtown, including condos for sale in one of the hottest parts of San Antonio’s urban core.

To date, 220 apartments for rent and condos for purchase are on the books in developments that will offer affordable units in exchange for tax incentives through the Center City Housing Incentive Policy, or CCHIP, managed by the city’s Center City Development & Operations Department. Two are near downtown and a third is close to the South Texas Medical Center, a designated SA Tomorrow Center targeted for affordable housing development.

As former Mayor Julian Castro’s “Decade of Downtown” neared its close, city-center incentives had assisted plenty of developments, but the breaks on fees and taxes skewed toward apartments with luxury living or even no-frills flats with steep rents for those who wanted to be in the now-happening hub of the city.

A moratorium on those incentives was imposed in 2018, slowing some projects and causing others to revamp plans to take advantage of a new set of guidelines put in place last year to emphasize affordable housing.

“Providing affordable housing to families in San Antonio is critical to the future of our city,” said Mayor Ron Nirenberg in a written statement. The units are aligned with the Mayor’s Housing Policy Task Force Report, he added.

The Vista Verde Lofts at 509 El Paso St., a few blocks south of the University of Texas at San Antonio downtown campus, has applied for incentives with the promise of making 10 of its 24 planned units available to families earning less than 80 percent of the Area Median Income, which comes to $56,800 a year.

Two more units will be leased to families making under 60 percent of the AMI, or $42,600, according to the city’s CCDO.

The project by Terramark Urban Homes is scheduled for a December 2021 completion.

One initiative developers and affordable-housing champions will be watching closely is the first project applying for incentives on condo units for sale instead of lease.

SOJO Urban Development, which sold out its 27 three-story townhouses of SOJO Crossing I with starting prices at more than $400,000 across the San Antonio River from The Pearl, is preparing to build 48 townhouses and condos in the second phase of SOJO Crossing.

The new development initially had plans for a few condominiums for sale at less than $300,000, but the revamping of the city’s incentives made it advantageous to increase that figure to 15 units, said Frank Pakuszewski, a SOJO Urban partner who heads development and construction.

“I was surprised when they came out with this (new CCHIP rules) with a ‘for-sale’ component,” Pakuszewski said. “I’m proud that the city has embraced it. This will help build multi-income and multi-generational communities.”

The condos, unlike the townhouses, will have all rooms on one floor for those don’t want stairs. Those set aside as affordable will be about $290,000 and go to families earning 120 percent or less of AMI a year, or no more than $85,000.

Pakuszewski said most of the money from the incentives will go back into landscaping, sidewalks and other infrastructure improvements on the former industrial site that separated the Tobin Hill neighborhood from the river.

The SOJO project along Locust and Grayson streets is slated for completion in April 2022. The CCDO said the project will cost $15 million.

Just a stone’s throw away, a 1.55-acre property made up of of several lots will become a 10-story mixed used development by Austin-based Sabot Development. The project, which received rezoning approval from the city’s Zoning Commission in mid-December, will include 14,000 square feet of retail space, 325 apartments and 400 parking spaces.

The San Antonio Heron, an online magazine covering downtown development issues, reports that Sabot plans to keep all the units at market rate, but is evaluating if it might pursue fee waivers and incentives to make some units available under the affordable housing plan.

Groundbreaking for the project at East Elmira and Myrtle streets is expected in April 2021, with completion by the end of 2022.

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