Howard Hughes Corp. offers $2 million for affordable housing efforts

Howard Hughes Corp. offers $2 million for affordable housing efforts

By Melissa Quinn

The Howard Hughes Corp. isn’t just giving the city a revamped Landmark Mall, it’s also donating more than $2 million for affordable housing.

The company, which plans to transform about one-third of the struggling mall, will contribute $2,007,355 to City Hall’s affordable housing fund. Officials will receive the money after construction on the mall is complete in 2016.

“We’re glad to see this contribution going forward with the planning commission, and we’re encouraged by the increase in development activity and the opportunity to get contributions like this,” said Mildrilyn Davis, director of the city’s housing office and a member of the affordable housing advisory committee.

Howard Hughes plans to demolish the central portion of the mall — last renovated in 1990 — and create a mixed-use community with retail and residential space.

According to city documents, the new-and-improved mall will feature 250,000 square feet of shops and restaurants. The multilevel space also will house 350 to 400 apartments on the upper floors.

While some residents are excited about the renovated mall, which was constructed in 1965, others scrutinized the lack of affordable units included in the major undertaking. The Dallas-based company plans to sell the residential properties at market-rate but did offer the $2 million donation to the city.

Representatives from Howard Hughes declined to return to the Times’ requests for comment.

Though the corporation’s donation represents a boon for affordable housing, Davis said it’s not uncommon for developers to contribute sizable amounts to the fund.
 Working in conjunction with development companies, city staff devised a formula — approved by city council in June 2005 — to calculate potential contributions. The formula takes into account the size and magnitude of the project, Davis said, and though developers are not bound to make a donation, many do.

“We have a lot of contributions that are out there pledged,” Davis said. 
 Money in the affordable housing fund is typically used for development or preservation as nonprofits tackle affordable housing projects.

And a $2 million donation — such as that from Howard Hughes — could go toward many things, Davis said. The list includes homeownership loans or gap financing, which covers nonprofits’ project shortfalls.

“We only put in what the project can’t support on its own,” Davis said.

Affordable housing — a constant worry for many in the city — emerged as a major issue during November’s city council election. The matter flared up again in recent weeks after city council proposed removing set-aside funding from the real estate tax rate for the affordable housing and open space funds.

Though the city will not see the contribution until after the Landmark Mall redevelopment project is complete, Davis said the donation will be put to good use.

“It’s great to have,” she said.