The only thing standing on vacant land in Victoria’s Silver City neighborhood is a pipe sticking out of the ground. There’s a rectangular foundation covered in crumbling shale, and that’s it.
The lot is a horror, and it’s not the only one.
On the other side of town, near the Queen City neighborhood, a lot on Loma Vista Avenue is just a pile of rubble. The lot is the wreckage of a home, and it sits like a scar on the face of one of Victoria’s oldest neighborhoods.
The City of Victoria is looking to acquire lots like these across the city and turn them from eyesores into family homes.
“The intention is to build single-family homes on vacant lots in neighborhoods that need revitalization, neighborhoods that need a boost,” said Victoria assistant manager Mike Etienne.
The city has an infill housing plan to build affordable family housing on those lots, Etienne said. It is the city’s second phase of its affordable housing plan, which began with the Enchanted Gardens and Odem Street apartment complexes. The city will begin the project by acquiring a limited number of lots in some of Victoria’s oldest neighborhoods.
It’s important that homes be concentrated in certain areas, said John Henneberger, co-director of the Texas Low Income Housing Information Service. For the revitalization of a district, the city can also address projects outside housing.
Lots the city is seeking for the program can either be sold to the city or donated, Etienne said. If landowners choose to donate their lots to the city, the city will forgive liens on the properties.
Many of these vacant lots have liens above the value of the property, which can make it difficult to sell, Etienne said. For this reason, owners often abandon properties.
“They leave it, and the city ends up spending thousands of dollars a year maintaining these properties because they’re abandoned,” he said.
The city has identified 10 vacant lots it is seeking for the pilot phase of the infill housing program, Etienne said.
If the goal of the program is revitalization, the city should be careful to place homes in a concentrated area, Henneberger said.
“It has to be focused in a particular area, so it has an impact,” he said. “Putting a new home in a 20 square block area that hasn’t had new housing in a long time, where there’s a lot of deteriorated housing conditions, isn’t going to cause a sudden revival or reinvestment in that neighborhood. It’s just a one-time deal.
Etienne echoed Henneberger’s statement.
“The intention is not to find land, it’s to find an area that has a significant number of vacant land,” Etienne said. “The intention is not to do one here, to do one there. We would like to build in a neighborhood that needs several lots to fill.
Once the city acquires the lots, it will accept bids from builders and award the lots to the winning bidder for free, Etienne said. The builder will then build, with his own money, affordable housing on the lots.
“We would prefer (houses) to be three (bedroom) two (bathroom),” Etienne said. “It’s more marketable.”
To keep home prices low for buyers, home prices can only be 10 to 15 percent above construction costs, Etienne said. Since the builders will not have to pay for the land as well as the construction costs, this can incentivize them to undertake the projects.
Henneberger said it’s important for the city to target people who really need affordable housing help when looking for buyers.
“The last thing you want is for someone to move into that house and then sell it for a profit,” he said. “And then someone turns it into a rental house. It happens.”
To avoid this, the city will require buyers to stay in the house for five years, Etienne said. If they choose to leave before the end of the five years, the owner will then have to reimburse the city for the value of the land.
The city will also help builders find qualified buyers, Etienne said. Plus, they’ll help homebuyers with a down payment and assistance with closing costs.
“We know the number one reason people or families don’t buy a home is because they don’t have money for the down payment and closing costs,” he said.
The down payment and assistance with closing costs will be funded using community development block grant funds, according to a news release. There are federal funds that must be used for community development and poverty eradication in eligible census tracts.
Other costs are “funded by the Victoria Housing Finance Corporation, which makes money on some of its projects through developer fees and bond issue fees”, according to the press release. VHFC will receive approximately $500,000 from Enchanted Gardens apartments this fall, and its projects are expected to bring in $5 million over the next 17 years.
If this pilot phase of the program is successful, the city will continue with it, Etienne said.
To revitalize an area, the city should look beyond affordable housing in vacant land, Henneberger said.
“It’s important, if you’re trying to revitalize the neighborhood, that the city makes sure the streets are up to standard,” he said. “That the flood control and drainage systems are adequate. That the sidewalks are present with adequate public lighting. The city can do a lot with how it provides public infrastructure, which can amplify the impact of producing new affordable housing in the area.