No room in Beaumont

Intersection of Smith League Road and Mitchell Road in Lumberton, the proposed s

“My constituents won’t support it,” Beaumont City Councilman Mike Getz said about tax credit apartment construction proposed in the city. Constituents haven’t said anything about supporting the construction elsewhere, however.

Getz and fellow elected officials in Beaumont, at a meeting of the group held Monday, March 1, unanimously approved supporting a housing tax credit development proposed in the city’s Extraterritorial Jurisdiction (ETJ), which would position newly constructed affordable housing outside the city limits of Beaumont, closer to the city of Lumberton than “areas of opportunity” in affluent Beaumont neighborhoods.

A total of seven proposed tax credit properties petitioned for Beaumont City Council support – all were denied without a hearing, except for the one project located outside of the city in Hardin County.

Although voting in favor of offering support to the Lumberton-area tax credit proposal, Councilman Audwin Samuel voiced concern over fair housing issues he felt could be raised about the city’s hesitance to even consider any development inside the city.

“I’m a bit concerned about the way this council is going,” he said. “We are going down some very dark roads. We are putting ourselves in a position to have to pay for our actions – or for our lack of actions.”

Getz said he had to voice his constituents’ desires – and, he says, he’s received “dozens of messages opposed to” tax credit developments in Beaumont, a city that already sports two-times the state average for such developments. The only message of support Getz said he heard was from Hardin County officials, who approved a resolution offering support of the ETJ project in January.

Jan. 25, Hardin County commissioners unanimously approved offering a letter of support – along with $100 in monetary support – to the proposed Lumberton-area tax credit project, called Lumberton Senior Village. Project developer Jeremy Mears said the construction is expected to cost approximately $10 million, and the result will be “76 units of senior housing ... first class, with a business center, (and) all types of supportive services for our seniors.”

Most of the apartments, Mears said, would be below market rate, and perfect for seniors on a fixed income.

“A lot of our clients are on fixed Social Security income,” he said. “I think the rental rates are not too high. But they’re not too low either, approximately $700 monthly for a two bedroom. Very, very affordable.”

Hardin County Commissioner Alvin Roberts said he believes the project will be a benefit to the citizens he serves.

“I think it will be a great addition to the community,” he said. “I think it would be really good for that area. There’s a lot of senior citizens down there.”

Mears said he needed the support of not only Hardin County, but of Beaumont as well, to stand a chance at receiving the competitive tax credit award.

“We can’t move forward without a support resolution,” Mears said. “The good thing is we aren’t competing with anything else in (Hardin) County – we’re competing with Beaumont.”

Mears said he was meeting with Beaumont city attorneys Jan. 25.

“I don’t think we’re going to be faced with much opposition,” Mears told Hardin County officials about the odds of getting support in Beaumont.

He was right.

Beaumont community development director Chris Boone said that since Beaumont City Council did not award a letter of support until the last possible day one could be submitted in the tax credit award application process (March 1), a letter was drafted and given to Mears and company as soon as the elected city officials completed their routine business.

“In a normal year, they would pass a resolution, and I would send a letter,” Boone said. “Due to the time constraints, they went through the city clerk this time.”

Boone said he put the Lumberton development on the March 1 agenda since two City Council representatives requested the item. None of the other proposed developments could garner the two-councilmember support needed to make it that far. Although no one was offered support for tax credits projects in the city limits this year, Boone advised that the city has been very generous in offering support in the past.

Teresa Bowyer, the applicant representing Old Dowlen Cottages’ proposed tax credit construction, said she was in disbelief the city wouldn’t even hear her development’s presentation before dismissing the construction as unsavory. According to Bowyer, the construction proposed by her company would add 90 affordable senior units to the city’s stock, and added that the project would serve seniors in need of affordable housing – a market Bowyer said is still underserviced in Beaumont.

Market analysis sent to the state agency in charge of awarding tax credits – the TDHCA – shows that although Beaumont does indeed contain a large number of tax credit properties, nearly all of them are being used.

According to third-party market analyst Apartment MarketData, LLC, the current occupancy of all multi-family, tax credit developments in this submarket (2,152 units) is 97.8 percent. Broken down even further, there is a 100 percent occupancy rate for units charged at 30 percent market rate; a 99.3 percent occupancy rate for units charged at 50 percent market rate; a 97.1 percent occupancy rate for units charged at 60 percent market rate; and a 97.3 percent occupancy rate for units charged at full market rate. Additionally, the current occupancy of all senior multi-family, tax credit developments in this submarket (634 units) is 96.7 percent.

The Apartment Association of Southeast Texas, a nonprofit trade association representing Hardin, Jasper, Jefferson, Newton, Orange and Tyler counties, reports that Beaumont has a strong occupancy rate for apartment units in the city, which could support new growth, according to Apartment Association executive officer Hope Hilz.

“Our overall average occupancy is at 92 percent – pretty good over two to three years ago when it was in the 80s,” she said. “It was a scary time, for sure, back then.”

In those days, Hilz said the association argued against adding tax credit property to the city, but now it has no opinion.

Which leads Bowyer to believe there is room for more affordable senior living units in Beaumont. Her argument, however, fell on deaf ears as the Beaumont City Council refused to hear her sales pitch.

“The way it was handled … was a little bit disappointing,” Bowyer said. “I understand that elected officials represent their constituents, but you’re supposed to represent in an open and transparent process.”

According to Bowyer, the only real difference in the development she’s proposing and the one in Lumberton is location, location, location.

“The one big difference,” she hooked, “is that you won’t be getting property taxes.”

Bowyer said the proposed construction on Dowlen would have generated an estimated $71,000 tax bill annually.

“I think that’s a missed opportunity for the city,” she said.

Worth Moffett, who owns the property where the Old Dowlen Cottages was to be constructed, said he was upset that the city’s elected officials refused to consider their proposal.

“All we wanted was a hearing,” Moffett said.

Boone said he understood the frustration, but was adamant that the city was not trying to hinder city development.

“We had an abnormal amount of proposals this year,” he said. “It may be that we change the process some next year. We’ve supported a lot of these projects in the past, and I suspect we’ll support more in the future.”

Although Moffett and Bowyer were unhappy with the city’s refusal to listen to their proposal, TDHCA public information officer Gordon Anderson said the city was in no way obligated to entertain any proposed development.

“TDHCA has no statutory authority to direct a City Council with respect to how it conducts its business,” he said, adding that there is nothing to compel any city to support such construction.