The iconic Baxter Building today. (Photo: RGG/Apolonio Sandoval, Jr.)

HARLINGEN, RGV – In 2016, MRE Capital applied to the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs (TDHCA) for part of the $23 million available in Multifamily Direct Loan funding for the development of affordable multifamily rental housing for low-income Texans. 

The $65.3 million in housing tax credits that TDHCA provides is granted to private developers who construct or rehabilitate 64 properties across Texas, offering affordable rents to household earning up to 60 percent of the area median family income. The credits are expected to finance an estimated 5,000 units across Texas.

The highly-competitive process is based on a point system, and TDHCA in 2016 had 141 applications for Urban and Rural areas throughout the state.

Points are based on the extremely-detailed Rules, Sections, and Subsections specified in the Qualified Allocation Plan (“QAP”); while a developer-applicant may request scores in variety of categories within the QAP in determining their pre-application and application self-score, it is the staff and Board of the TDHCA which makes the final determination, and award the Housing Tax Credits – or not.

At the June 2016 TDHCA Board meeting in Austin, MRE Capital’s (Interstate/Baxter Holdings, LP) scoring appeal for the Baxter Lofts Project #16029 in downtown Harlingen was denied.

Since that time, the project had been re-submitted, with a new emphasis placed on the project as “affordable housing,” not low-income, as has been reported in some media outlets.

According to Victor Leal, Harlingen City Commissioner District 5, prospective residents will be required to undergo a thorough credit and background check, and “If tenants don’t pay their rent, they’re out,” Leal stated.

Today, the revised project broke ground in downtown Harlingen across the street from the current structure at the Lozano Plaza on South A Street.

MRE Capital’s Application for the Baxter Lofts proposed development is comprised of 24 one-and two-bedroom apartments, the majority of which target low-income families, the major component of HTC program.

This represents an about-face from the 2014 Request for Proposal, RFP No. 2015-01, regarding the Redevelopment of the Historic Baxter Building in Downtown Harlingen, initially advertised to the public on Aug. 31, 2014. On page 7, this RFP states:

“The City has determined that the site is not suitable for low-income or public housing.”

According to the Application, rents at the proposed Baxter Lofts would range from $478 per month for a one-bedroom apartment of 811 sq. ft, to $768 for a two-bedroom unit of 945 sq. ft.  

For nearby downtown business owners, especially those who share the Jackson Street-side of the proposed development site, one of their major concerns is the lack of parking, especially during special events, including Market Days, the Friday night Art Walk, Farmer’s Market and the Christmas Parade.

However, according to Harlingen City Manager Dan Serna, parking is not going to be a problem. “There are over 2,000 public and private parking spaces in the vicinity of this project,” Serna emphasized.

The 2014 Request for Proposal noted the [current] availability of on-street parking:

“There were a total of 320 striped angle-in, free on-street parking spaces within the [entire] Downtown District. Of those, 60 are on ‘A Street’ between Van Buren and Monroe, [two blocks away from the proposed site], and 28 of those spaces are in the same block as the Baxter Building. The property includes the vacant Baxter Building, which has 28,000 square feet of space, and a vacant one-story building measuring approximately 3,500 square feet. [The smaller building has already been demolished.]”

Harlingen Mayor Chris Boswell had high praise for the Baxter Loft’s developer, MRE Capital. “They stuck with the project because they know that it’s a great project for the community and their company,” Boswell said.

In his remarks, Dan Sailler of developer MRE Capital, LLC highlighted the challenges of the resurrecting the 91-year old Baxter Building, saying,”It hasn’t been, easy. By far, this is the most complicated and trying project we’ve ever done.”

The building is tentatively slated to open in May 2019.

Editor’s Note: The main photo accompanying the above news story were supplied by Norman Rozeff, the “unofficial” historian of Harlingen.