Newsmonger: Digging into Castro’s Downtown housing claims

Steel House Lofts - COURTESY PHOTO
Courtesy Photo
Steel House Lofts

During his last speech (we’ll see) as the mayor of San Antonio, Julián Castro hailed the “Decade of Downtown” and lauded what he said was a significant addition of housing units and investment into the Alamo City’s urban core.

San Antonio has changed drastically over the years, a point Castro noted in his July 10 speech to supporters, who paid $75 to $100 per ticket (or $475 to $750 per table of eight) to listen to the mayor reiterate his vision for the future of Downtown in a third-floor conference room at the San Antonio Marriott Rivercenter.

Castro praised the infusion of infrastructure dollars invested into Downtown housing projects and noted that 20 housing developments in San Antonio’s urban core resulted in a combined $574 million investment in the Downtown area, for which the City of San Antonio provided $54 million in incentives.

A housing inventory spreadsheet for those Downtown projects—provided to the Current by Lori Houston, director of the Center City Development and Operations Department—breaks down the finances and the number of housing units that Castro boasted about in his speech.

The mayor said that since 2010, Downtown housing units have more than doubled. In 2010 there were 3,034 housing units and in the past four years, 3,573 more have been added, Castro said, explaining that the goal is to have more than 7,000 units (in addition to the 2010 number) by 2020.

The housing inventory spreadsheet backs up Castro’s numbers, but also paints a bit of a different picture than what was presented during the luncheon.

Seven of those touted 20 developments are still under construction and five are in the design phase. Additionally, the 12 developments being designed or being constructed account for a total of 2,241 housing units. The contracts for these 12 developments were executed in 2013 and 2014, with the exception of two that were executed in 2012. In that time span only one project has been completed, the Casa Blanca Lofts on the near East Side, which has 17 housing units (five under contract) and was an investment of $3.3 million backed by a little less than $300,000 in city incentives. In total, these developments represent an investment of $347,623,763 backed by $32,886,613 in city incentives.

All of the housing projects that started in 2010 and 2011 are complete and two projects started in 2012 are also complete. Those eight completed projects represent a total of 1,332 housing units for a total investment of $226,729,771 backed by $20,879,418.86 in city incentives.

So, in actuality, less than half of the housing units Castro said were added in Downtown are actually occupied.

But, according to the housing inventory spreadsheet, nearly all of the eight completed projects have occupancy rates above 90 percent. The Mosaic, contract executed in 2011, has an 82 percent occupancy rate with 92 percent of the units being pre-leased. The Steel House Lofts, contract executed in 2011, are 85 percent occupied with 98.5 percent of the units being pre-leased.

In closing, Castro spelled out for his supporters what Downtown needs to do to continue to revitalize. Those points include more incentives for Downtown housing, attracting tech startups to Downtown (which our Cityscrapes columnist will be happy to hear) and reviving street-level retailers.

“And it’s in the entire city’s best interest that we pay to invest infrastructure dollars in Downtown and that means for streets, for drainage, and that means for the VIA street car as well,” Castro said, to thundering applause—none of which, we’re guessing, was provided by the alleged 20,000-plus people who signed a petition seeking a referendum requiring the street car project be put to a public vote.

Those signatures are being verified by the city clerk as Castro packs his bags and moves to Washington D.C. to join President Barack Obama’s cabinet as the secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. And while his quoted numbers might be soft, the impact Castro’s already had on Downtown is there for all to see.