29 July 2010

Senior Targeted Apartments Open Doors for First Tenants

San Angelo Standard-Times

SAN ANGELO, Texas — River Place Apartments, San Angelo’s first apartment complex solely for low-income seniors, is opening its doors to its first tenants off Rio Concho Drive.

The 120-unit complex is about halfway complete, the developer, Granger MacDonald of Kerrville-based MacDonald Companies, said during a ribbon-cutting Tuesday.

“This is a start,” MacDonald said. “There were no affordable senior properties. There are lots of wonderful senior properties here but not for low-income seniors.”

MacDonald Companies has built 27 similar properties across the state, he said.

This is also not the developer’s first project in San Angelo. MacDonald built Bent Tree Apartments on Sunset Drive in 1997 for low-income families.

“He’s been a pacesetter, not only in Texas but nationally, building safe and decent places for people to live,” said Michael G. Gerber, executive director of the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs.

The TDHCA is the state agency that backs projects like River Place, and Gerber presented MacDonald with a check for $980,345, the total in tax credits the developer was due.

“This is just a beautiful property that serves a critical need,” Gerber said.

The tax credits are what make the deal viable, he said.

“This has been about as tough a year for housing development as we’ve seen,” Gerber said. “The builder is getting tax benefits, but at the same time the return is to build a property that benefits the people it is supposed to benefit.”

MacDonald said the one- and two-bedroom apartments are designed to compare favorably to any apartment complex. Ten percent of the units are equipped for people with disabilities, including the blind or deaf. All the units were built to be easily and quickly converted for accessibility.

The complex, which will be owned by MacDonald Properties and managed by Orion Real Estate Services, includes a clubhouse and a swimming pool.

“The first thing we learned building senior complexes was you’ve got to have lots of tables and chairs for all the potlucks and things residents are going to have,” MacDonald said.

Robert Salas, the city’s assistant director of development services, said the Texas apartment complex was part of the city’s five-year revitalization plan.

“Government cannot solve the problem long-term,” he said. “It takes all stakeholders, especially the private sector.”

Gerber credited state Rep. Drew Darby with helping to get the project for San Angelo.

“We always talk about providing opportunities to people who need a little leg up,” Darby said. “This is a wonderful example of state and federal and private property interests coming together to build this project.”

26 July 2010

Clear Lake Shores ordinance on Ike housing

Houston Chronicle

CLEAR LAKE SHORES, Texas — Residents of a Galveston-area community damaged by 2008's Hurricane Ike will have three months to repair their boarded-up homes or tear them down.

Clear Lake Shores City Administrator Paul Shelley says a previous ordinance allowed boarded-up structures if they were secure. The new ordinance, approved last week, requires businesses or homeowners to repair or demolish residences damaged by the Sept. 13, 2008, hurricane, including these south Houston apartments.

Property owners, after receiving notice, will have 90 days to inform the city of their plans to repair, demolish or appeal the order. Clear Lake Shores will tear down a structure and place a lien on the property if the owner does not respond to the notice, which also applies to storage sheds and rental units.

Clear Lake Shores is 25 miles northwest of Galveston.

14 July 2010

Another Look at Recycling Apartment Complexes

Fort Worth Star-Telegram

NORTH RICHLAND HILLS -- Apartment dwellers have been increasingly calling the city, concerned that their plastic bottles, magazines and soup cans are ending up in the trash instead of a recycling bin.

"I receive calls from apartment managers too, wanting to know what they can offer their residents because they're getting the same requests," said Debbie York, neighborhood services manager for North Richland Hills. "We really don't have anything for them."

It's a common and years-old refrain across Tarrant County, where few apartment complexes offer any kind of recycling. No one has been able to keep the cost and contamination low enough to make recycling possible for a significant number of North Texans.

But North Richland Hills apartments, which has offered curbside recycling for single-family homes since the early 1990s, is making another run at recycling on multifamily properties. The city has applied for $43,665 in grant money from the North Central Texas Council of Governments to start a pilot program at four apartment complexes.

City leaders will find out July 15 whether they can launch the program.

The complexes have not been chosen, but York said the city is leaning toward one with more than 800 units and three smaller ones. All told, she said, officials hope to try it with about 1,600 units, about 23 percent of the city's apartments.

"We've had people move here from other cities and states where they are able to recycle, and they are really appalled that they can't," York said. "We also have people who have lost their homes or haven't lived in apartments in years, and they're used to recycling. They want that same opportunity in apartments."

Recycling, in and of itself, doesn't provide much of a revenue stream. Prices for recycling have been quite low in recent years, and most cities consider it a victory to break even. But diverting all that material saves money by making a landfill last longer.

Apartment recycling has been a challenge for many cities and North Texas apartment buildings, said Perry Pillow, director of government affairs for the Apartment Association of Tarrant County, which represents the interests of the owners and managers of hundreds of complexes.

Many pilot programs have never advanced beyond that stage, and numerous studies have been commissioned, he said. He has worked for years with officials in Fort Worth and Arlington, but he said that contamination of recycling receptacles with regular trash makes it unworkable for complexes and haulers.

"Everybody wants to do it, and everybody knows we need to do it," Pillow said. "But it's been a hard nut to crack -- how do you get apartment residents to recycle? The challenge is contamination. You can't control what goes in."

In the vast majority of cases, Fort Worth apartment complexes contract with private companies to dispose of their garbage, so cities are left with only the power of encouragement.

Contamination isn't the only reason it isn't more widespread in North Texas, said Kim Mote, Fort Worth's assistant director for environmental management. He said cost is another major factor in the highly competitive apartment market. Offering on-site recycling would increase disposal costs for the complex, he said.

"We took a survey about five years ago to see what the climate was, and we found out that the managers did not want to add any costs and a majority of the residents did not want to pay more for rent to be able to recycle," Mote said.

York said educating residents will be a major part of the pilot program, provided that the council of governments approves the grant.

"There is a lot of continuous education because people move in and out of these Fort Worth apartments," she said. At the end of nine months, "We'll be giving the City Council a report -- how many Dumpsters were used, what was the contamination rate, how much was collected, what was the opinion of the apartment managers."

09 July 2010

City Celebrates Two New Housing Projects in Dallas

Dallas-Fort Worth News

DALLAS — District 11 Councilmember Linda Koop recently joined other elected officials and dignitaries to celebrate completion of the Willow Falls Townhomes, 13890 Brookgreen Drive. The 319 unit development of medium priced homes on 46 acres is a housing leader in the North Dallas High Five Corridor.

“The entire project cost $7.5 million, which was a big reinvestment boost for the community,” said Koop. A fundamental part of the revitalization project was a focus on crime prevention, Koop said, which included formation of a citizen’s patrol to work with law enforcement. As a result, crime has dropped significantly.

Funding was obtained through Community Banc of Arizona and paid for by the homeowners association through an HOA fee increase and no special assefee adjustment with no special assessment.

Each year since in the mid 1980s, residents have organized an appreciation luncheon for police officers and firefighters in their community. The event has grown over the years to include city, county, and state officials as well as local merchants and school principals.

In addition to a more updated and appealing structure, the revitalization has changed resident’s attitudes. Brett Ferguson, a resident who served as financial treasurer and construction chairman, said, “the otherwise busy owners have turned into friendly neighbors where they view the neighborhood not as a place to live but where they do their living.”

Another Dalls apartments project adjacent to Willow Falls is gaining praise too. Built in 1968, the former Woodside Terrace apartment complex has been in poor condition for years. In February, Knightvest Capital acquired the property which is now called Las Terrazas. Over the past several months, a $1.1 million renovation project has been underway at the 230 unit complex and is nearly complete. Renovations include upgraded interior units, a remodeled pool, exterior paint, new playground, exterior lighting, and new security gates.

“The complex has gone from 57% occupancy to over 80% since the renovation and we have experienced a decline in criminal activity,” said KC Kronbach with Knightvest Capital. “Our goal with this project was to take the worst property in the submarket and make it a safe, clean and inviting place for residents to call home.”

“This property was nearly uninhabitable and on the watch list with the City Attorney’s Office,” said Koop. “These revitalization projects will go a long way to bring economic vibrancy back to this area.”

06 July 2010

Notorious Houston Apartment Complex to be Razed

Houston Chronicle

A blighted Houston apartment complex that has been vacant for 20 years is scheduled to be demolished at 9 a.m. today.

"This is one of the worst examples of neglectful ownership that I have seen," Mayor Annise Parker said in a statement today, adding that the owner of the property had failed to improve its condition despite receiving numerous chances. "The property is a neighborhood eyesore and a public safety risk."

The 43-unit complex, located at 7410 Park Place Blvd., was the subject of an extended story in the Houston Chronicle in February that showed the apartment in Houston to be a magnet for crimes involving drugs and prostitution. It is one of thousands of abandoned properties all over Houston that city officials and police have found to be dangerous and in need of demolition.

Since 2005, the city has demolished more than 3,000 such Houston apartments, but nearly three times that remain, despite the hiring in recent years of additional inspectors who can issue citations and begin the process of establishing evidence of abandonment that can be used in court to justify demolition.

More than 800 Houston apartment buildings the city has deemed "unsafe" have been demolished in the past 12 months, a record set largely through the use of "Demolition Day" in May, when 185 structures were torn down in one day with the help of private contractors.

Group Seeks to Stop Oak Cliff Apartments for Homeless

The Dallas News

Opponents of the Dallas Housing Authority's plan to rent apartments to chronically homeless people at an Oak Cliff high-rise have taken their fight to City Hall.

The fact that such tenants at the housing agency's Cliff Manor building on Fort Worth Avenue probably would have battled addictions or mental illness troubles some neighbors. It concerns the Fort Worth Avenue Development Group, which has been leading a turnaround of the corridor.

Specific-use permit

The development group has called on the city to require a City Council-approved specific-use permit for the project, arguing that the property isn't properly zoned for what the housing authority has in mind.

And on Wednesday, Randall White, a founder of the group and neighborhood resident, told the council that Cliff Manor neighbors were shocked to learn about the homeless housing plan.

"Help. Help. Help," he urged the council.

MaryAnn Russ, housing authority president, has said her agency has the necessary zoning and doesn't need the city's permission to proceed. And Wednesday she rejected talk of a city permit.

"The legal opinion we have is it continues the use we've had there all along – low-income rental housing," she said.

Last month, Russ said her agency would target women and older residents in setting aside 100 of the building's 180 units for "vulnerable" people who had been stabilized. Mental health services would be offered, and staffing would be increased, she said, with the possibility of a physical health clinic.

"We are an agency that's supposed to do this sort of work," she said. "The solution to homelessness is housing."

Mike Faenza, president of the Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance, said Wednesday that people now served through The Bridge, the city's homeless center, would be screened and referred by his group to Cliff Manor. They will have "worked hard to be ready for permanent housing and to assimilate into the community" and will have continued support after their arrival, he said.

"Health and human services are part and parcel of permanent supportive housing," he said.

In a letter to City Council member David Neumann, whose district includes Fort Worth Avenue, Scott Griggs, development group president, said the organization is "committed to our social responsibility to aid the longtime homeless with mental illness and addictions."

Yet he wrote that the housing agency needs a use permit from the city to provide medical and "social/psychological services" at Cliff Manor.

And, in his letter, Griggs asked for a decision from the city by Wednesday. City building official, Betty Antebi-Taylor, is considering the request and has given the housing authority until June 16 to respond to questions about its plans for Cliff Manor.

Neumann has said he favors the concept of permanent supportive housing. But the Cliff Manor project should have been discussed with neighbors before its announcement two weeks ago, he said.

'Show of indifference'

At the council hearing Wednesday morning, Neumann lashed out at the proposal.

"I have grave concerns about some of the decisions by the Dallas Housing Authority and the Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance and their show of indifference to the surrounding 12 neighborhoods," he said.

"The neighbors in this area are very concerned about this unilateral action," Neumann said.

Scott Batson, a resident of Stevens Park Village north of the Dallas apartment building, is one of those neighbors.

"The biggest issue for me is that Cliff Manor stands within yards of Stevens Park Elementary and Raul Quintanilla Sr. Middle schools," he wrote in an e-mail. "How can DHA justify housing such an unstable population such as this when we don't even allow registered sex offenders this close to schools?"

Myla Johnson asked in an e-mail: "What happens when an area resident is attacked? The Bridge has a history of violence and crime which could be funneled into the residential family neighborhoods in North Oak Cliff."

Faenza said such concerns are unwarranted. "I am very confident that the people [who are referred to Cliff Manor] will be some of the most positive residents in the neighborhood," he said.

Why? There's no evidence that people living in permanent supportive housing are a neighborhood blight, he said. "We're getting better and better" at placing residents, he said. And with Cliff Manor, "the plan of success is strong."

Faenza said he hopes the move-ins at Cliff Manor begin about July 7. That would give his group and the housing authority time to meet with neighbors, answer their questions and work with them to develop a system for measuring the Dallas apartments effect on its surroundings, he said.

"Words are cheap. We need to develop performance indicators," he said, such as Cliff Manor residents' impact on neighborhood crime and vagrancy.

"It's a business," Faenza said, "and we need to be held accountable."