As rising housing costs throughout Central Texas push many area workers to live outside of the city in which they work, the New Braunfels Food Bank and area nonprofits are working to bring a more affordable option to the city.

In June, food bank staff and representatives of local nonprofit organizations, community groups and businesses attended a groundbreaking ceremony for the Apple Seeds Apartments, a $9 million apartment complex that will be located at 1530 S. Seguin Ave., New Braunfels.

Nonprofit group New Braunfels Housing Partners donated the land to be used for the construction of the New Braunfels Food Bank and the apartments, and groups like the McKenna Foundation, Habitat for Humanity and the San Antonio Food Bank have been involved in the project.

The 51-unit property will provide housing for families at below market-level rents for 24 to 36 months, said San Antonio Food Bank President and CEO Eric Cooper. The project is one of the first food bank-backed housing efforts in the nation, Cooper said.

“It's not a shelter, it's not dealing with emergency situations. It's really dealing with individuals that are working in New Braunfels that are struggling with the affordability of rent and the inability to gain equity,” Cooper said. “So many of the families that come [to the food bank] needing help are literally choosing between paying their rent or buying food.”

Four Rivers Association of Realtors reported in June, the median sale price of a home in New Braunfels was $324,500, a 28.2% increase compared to June 2020.

Data released by RentCafe, a national price aggregation company, shows that in July, the average monthly rent in the city increased by 10% compared to July 2020 with the average monthly rent reaching $1,316.

“There is a real lack of inventory to meet the demand. Comal County, in its fast growth and increasing costs, has created an environment where many people can’t afford to live and work in the same community,” Cooper said.

While living in the apartments, a portion of each resident’s rent will be put into a savings account that they will receive access to upon graduating from the program, Cooper said.

The ultimate goal of the community will be to provide residents not just with a stable place to live, but also access to healthy food, opportunities to learn about national and local assistance options, and financial and career training.

After completing the program, tenants will be equipped to build a steady career and thrive in their community, Cooper said.

“The framework in which we give aid is in a three-tiered strategy that we call food for today, food for tomorrow, and then food for a lifetime,” he said. “When you think of that three-tiered framework, it's really in that tomorrow and lifetime space that the Apple Seeds Apartments were born.”

Building the future of affordable housing

Eli Woolsey, president of Woolsey Construction, is part of the team heading up the project and has been involved in the development for several years.

The New Braunfels-based firm first became involved with the project five years ago, Woolsey said, and rejoined the effort after the work was delayed.

Project leaders anticipate welcoming the first residents in the fall of 2022, a goal that leaves just over a year for construction to be completed.

“I think the challenge has been and will be to meet a year build time,” Woolsey said. “The industry as a whole has been just backed up with the lack of building materials available, and price escalation.”

Though the apartments will be rented at below-market rent prices, the project is expected to incorporate high-quality components and design elements.

Much of the funding needed to build the complex has been secured, Woolsey said, but the food bank and other organizations are still seeking donations to fund the work.

On July 23, the New Braunfels Food Bank will host a meeting with contractors, suppliers and others involved in the project to discuss the needs of the project.

“We're going to be asking those involved in that meeting if they'd be willing to do an in-kind contribution or donation of their pricing towards the project,” Woolsey said. “The costs have already just become so inflated over time just with material price increases and a lot of other things [like] the project being on hold for a few years, it's really kind of maxed out our budget.”

For Woolsey, the opportunity to be part of the construction is a way to give back to his community and support those who struggle to afford to live in New Braunfels.

“[The project leaders] want it to be something different for affordable housing, something that I think inspires people to keep moving forward and not your say run of the mill like, you know, low income housing,” Woolsey said. “It's more of a hand up than a handout. And so I just, that resonated a lot with me.”

Though the rent has not yet been determined, Cooper said his team will begin accepting applications and working with local nonprofit organizations to find candidates this fall.

“That opportunity to possibly live and work within a community is something that we desire for these participants, and that will be a reminder for the city of New Braunfels that we need to have more housing that's affordable,” Cooper said. “It's a much bigger movement and work than just 51 apartments run by the food bank.”