Bill Kargman says that he believes in protecting his residents. Kargman is the president of First Realty Management, the Boston-based owners and managers of High Point Village in Roslindale, Mass. Since it was built in the 1960s with a mortgage from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), High Point has been a refuge from the Boston area’s booming real estate market for its tenants, many of whom had their rents lowered by project-based Sec. 8 subsidies.
But last August, the HUD mortgage expired after 40 years. Vacant apartments at High Point now rent at whatever price the market will bear.
High Point was the first project to reach the end of its HUD loan in Massachusetts, but it is far from the last. Across the country, time will run out for 240,000 affordable apartments in the next eight years, according to the National Alliance of HUD Tenants. Many of those apartments are located in old Eastern cities like Boston or Washington, D.C., where land to build on is scarce and the cost of construction is high.
Many will simply leave their programs and gradually fill with tenants paying market rents. “There is no mechanism now to recreate those units,” said Katie Groen, project manager for Community Preservation and Development Corp. (CPDC).
CPDC works to keep the income restrictions on old affordable housing properties. A nonprofit housing developer, based in Washington, D.C., CPDC recently helped the tenants at another aging HUD property buy their own community from its owner and preserve it as affordable housing for another 30 years. This summer, workers will begin to renovate the 569 apartments at Mayfair Mansions in Washington, D.C.
Tempers run high as the owners of these properties decide their fate. Last summer, many tenants at High Point clearly believed they were about to be evicted. They held angry demonstrations in the community and held up signs to reporters saying “Save Our Homes.”
But no tenants have been priced out of High Point so far, and almost all of the 540 low-income households that lived there last summer are still in place. Their new market-rate rents are paid for with enhanced Sec. 8 preservation vouchers from HUD.
“I don’t think people understand what the federal government is offering,” Kargman said. The residents will take this voucher subsidy with them if they move. If they no longer qualify for the vouchers because their incomes increase, the vouchers revert to the local housing authority to help pay the rent for future very low income families, he added.
Kargman points out that First Realty Management is following the agreement that the developer made with HUD 40 years ago. He also believes the slow mixing of market-rate tenants into the community at High Point will be healthy for the development. “I’m a believer in mixed-income housing. An owner of mixed-income housing is required to keep the property up to the market,” he said.
But affordable housing advocates worry about the loss at High Point of apartments explicitly reserved for poor families. The new Sec. 8 enhanced vouchers that HUD has provided could evaporate if Congress fails to fund the program. Also, as the original tenants leave High Point, there’s no guarantee that their housing vouchers will be accepted elsewhere in the Boston area. In cities like Chicago, some voucher holders have had difficulty finding apartments that accept their rental subsidies.
Advocates also worry that in Boston submarkets more expensive than working-class Roslindale, low-income people will eventually be almost totally excluded.
For example, 10 years ago, First Realty Management took the 248 seniors apartments at Heron Towers in Cambridge, Mass., out of the Sec. 236 affordable housing program. HUD gave enhanced preservation vouchers to all of the tenants. But today, only 70 receive rental subsidy. Eventually no low-income households will be left at the building, Kargman said. The market-rate rents there are too high to allow even new Sec. 8 voucher holders to move in to the property.
Housing rescued in D.C.
In spring 2005, the tenants at Mayfair Mansions found out that the owner of their community intended to sell to an out-of-state buyer. Under a local law, that gave the tenants the first right to purchase the property themselves.
A local community development financial institution, the Unitarian Universalist Affordable Housing Corp., loaned the tenants the $250,000 they needed as a refundable downpayment.
The tenants have another advantage in that the HUD Sec. 236 mortgage on the property will last until 2014. If the property were sold, that mortgage probably would have been prepaid. But in the meantime, the mortgage comes with an interest reduction payment from HUD that will help to finance the recapitalization of Mayfair Mansions.
Mayfair Mansions Tenant Association partnered with two nonprofit developers, the Marshall Heights Community Development Organization and CPDC. In July, the partners closed the purchase of Mayfair Mansions for $40 million, or about $70,000 per unit. The price included the assumption of $16 million in outstanding debt on the property’s Sec. 236 mortgage. The partnership raised the remaining $24 million with a loan from the District’s Department of Housing and Community Development.
The developers plan to spend an additional $45 million to repair and preserve the complex as affordable housing for another 30 years, or about $80,000 per unit. The money will come from a mix of tax-exempt bond financing, 4 percent low-income housing tax credits, and historic rehabilitation tax credits.
Construction on the 17 buildings should start in July. But even Mayfair Mansions might require some compromise from affordable housing advocates. The tenants at Mayfair want to convert 160 of the 569 apartments at Mayfair to condominiums that will be affordable to the residents. If HUD approves the deal, then these 160 units, like the apartments at High Point, will no longer be places that future very low income families can depend on being able to rent.