Swan Crossing sees slow growth (video)

Melissa Crowe By Melissa Crowe

July 15, 2013 at 2:15 a.m.

Catherine Garza stands outside her home at Swan Crossing in Victoria. Garza's home was built by Habitat for Humanity, and she loves her new home and wants more neighbors. "We watch out for each other," said Garza. "Hope they build more homes."

Catherine Garza stands outside her home at Swan Crossing in Victoria. Garza's home was built by Habitat for Humanity, and she loves her new home and wants more neighbors. "We watch out for each other," said Garza. "Hope they build more homes."

The afternoon shower rained on the pitched roof, into the recently installed gutter of Homer and Margaret Hill's new house on Swan Drive in Swan Crossing on Monday.

The three-bedroom house is one of 12 in the subdivision established in 2006 by a federal grant intending to provide affordable homes to Victoria residents.

The Hills were the fourth family to move into Swan Crossing. They thought it would fill up quickly.

"I like this house. I like this neighborhood," Homer, 61, said. "That's why we built here."

But since then, development has slowed to a crawl, and 43 of the 55 original lots still sit empty.

On July 2, the city conveyed its first lot in 15 months, leaving many wondering what happened.

To turn a once-vacant lot into a booming neighborhood, the city invested $570,000 in Community Development Block Grants and $250,000 in area tax dollars to create the 12-acre Swan Crossing.

The linchpin of the plan was finding home buyers.

Victoria Development Services Director Jared Mayfield has managed the subdivision since the beginning.

He recalls the steady momentum: three homes built in 2007, two in 2008; then it stalled.

"It went on the ground, and we couldn't get enough momentum before the recession hit," he said.

In 2010, to combat the national recession, the City Council voted to partner with Habitat for Humanity to fill eight lots with cottage-style homes. The organization is interested in more lots.

Catherine Garza, 56, was one of the first Habitat homeowners. She moved in February 2010.

"It's my first home," she said. "It's very special. I'm blessed to have a home."

Although some residents opposed the nonprofit group moving in, she said it has worked out for the best.

"They were afraid it would be a lot of mess," she said. "You can't run down something - it's a blessing that they gave us this house."

She hopes to see the rest of the neighborhood filled with new homes, either by private buyers or Habitat for Humanity.

Mayfield said the interest is still there for Swan Crossing, but the challenge is money.

Whether potential buyers were denied for a home loan, did not follow through with the bank or maybe had an unresolved credit issue, more than half the neighborhood sits with new water and sewer lines, but no homes.

To qualify for the lot, buyers must meet income guidelines but at the same time must make enough to get a mortgage to cover the cost of the home.

The homes range from $80,000 and $90,000, plus the $15,000 lot.

Eligible home buyers can qualify for a $15,000 five-year forgivable loan on the lot, plus $5,000 to help with the down payment and closing costs.

"You can't buy a new home in Victoria for that price, and no one else is building houses at that price range," Mayfield said. "Even if you have to pay for the lot, it's still a good deal."

He estimated that the average house permit in Victoria, not including the lot, is $179,000.

In Swan Crossing, the city has to sell a minimum of 38 homes to income-qualified buyers, and the remaining 17 homes to buyers above the median income later. So far, three lots have been sold to over-income buyers.

"We haven't had builders knocking on our doors asking to build," Mayfield said.

While the city weighs other options and whether selling off the lots to a private developer might make sense, an area real estate agent is out to help first-time home buyers lay down roots.

Priscilla Pompey, a real estate agent who specializes in affordable homes, helped the city sell its first lot in 15 months July 2.

"She seems to be in tune with that market segment," Mayfield said. "The key is someone like her who's willing to work with a new home buyer, to follow through with them."

After 20 years in the Houston real estate market, Pompey semiretired and opened up shop in Victoria about nine months ago.

"You have to have a passion to help home buyers," Pompey said. "I hold their hand and walk them through the process. Sometimes, they're afraid to make that first move."

She has one client in the process of building and two potentials.

While some clients believe they can never own a home, she is out to prove them wrong.

"It's one of the biggest investments you'll make in your life," she said. "If you're renting, you're paying someone else's mortgage. Either way, you have to have shelter."

She purchased her first home at age 22 in Houston and has owned four in her married life.

Although the sale commission for Swan Crossing is less than some of the more expensive real estate, Pompey said the volume and demand can make up for it.

"Housing is so expensive in Victoria," she said. "Why hasn't this subdivision sold out? There's a need for it."

Pompey said she does not think the property has been marketed properly.

She plans to up the marketing and sell all the lots.

In the meantime, the Hills are taking great pride in owning their first home.

They added a sprinkler system, security lights and storm shutters, increasing their home value from $85,900 to $117,000.

"Apartment living versus this living is a big difference," Homer said of their 1,259 square-foot home.

Throughout their marriage, the couple moved nearly every two years with Homer's job at Schlumberger.

Homer jokes that they finally started collections.

Although they did not qualify for the $15,000 forgivable loan, Homer said the price was a good match, and the size is perfect for them.

"We retired and came back home to Victoria," Homer said. "I enjoy living here. I've got my freedom."



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