The city of Galveston should rebuff any request to endorse an application by operators of the Compass Pointe apartments for state housing tax credits. In fact, the city should use every tool in its toolbox to rid the island of the troubled complex and find better housing for its tenants.
Millenia Housing Management hasn’t confirmed it would seek housing tax credits, but representatives told the city they planned to and would seek the city’s endorsement, city officials said. Theoretically, Millenia would use the tax credits to renovate the 3916 Winnie St. property, formerly known as Sandpiper Cove, where people are living in squalid conditions, plumbing is faulty, some tenants are without air conditioning and police are kept busy responding to constant calls.
The property has long been troubled, but came under new scrutiny in March when 66 of the 192 units lost power for nearly four days, a hardship for anyone, but especially trying for people who rely on electrically powered medical equipment.
Housing tax credits are federally funded. The Galveston City Council supported the complex’s 2017 application for Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs tax credits. But Millenia never followed through with a final application, according to state officials. And Millenia never submitted anything for 2018.
The tax credits are for companies building new complexes or renovating existing complexes. Companies don’t need a letter of city support to apply, but the department’s scoring system gives a much better chance to applications with such endorsement letters.
There were high hopes in 2015 when Millenia Housing Management vowed to improve conditions at the property. But any progress has stalled, City Manager Brian Maxwell said.
“Despite some improvements, recent occurrences at the property continue to disappoint us and give us pause,” Maxwell said.
When Millenia purchased Compass Pointe, it did so with the intention of improving residents’ quality of life, Millenia spokeswoman Valerie Jerome said.
The facility needs major rehabilitation, Millenia has acknowledged. But that was the case when the company bought it in 2015 and made a lot of promises.
There’s little evidence quality of lives improved under Millenia and a lot of evidence that the 50-year-old property might be well past its expiration date. It’s time for action, not promises. People shouldn’t have to live in such conditions.
Compass Pointe is the only apartment complex in Galveston using project-based vouchers, a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development program that helps pay for rent in privately owned apartments that lease to low-income residents.
Unlike the Housing Choice Voucher program, once called Section 8, the government voucher for subsidized rent stays with the apartment, rather than traveling with a resident.
If the low-income tenant moves, the voucher stays. The apartment owners, in this case Millenia Housing Management, is guaranteed a steady income. But tenants in this system have few guarantees.
The main downfall with project-based vouchers is that federal standards are rarely implemented or enforced. Inconsistencies and lack of federal oversight have a direct effect on tenants.
If residents at project-based complexes have problems with habitability, they have few resources, said Kimberly Brown Myles, managing attorney for Lone Star Legal Aid, which provides legal representation for low-income Texans.
Galveston Housing Authority, which oversees public housing on the island, is expected to meet strict federal standards, but the federal government does little to police private operators to which it has granted project-based housing vouchers.
The federal government should intervene, but given its track record in such cases, the likelihood of that happening is slim. And although the apartment complex doesn’t receive any city funding or tax credits, the city should withhold any endorsements and explore ways it might be able to resolve the problem.
Tenants and taxpayers deserve that.
• Laura Elder