Matt Briscoe and Art Metzinger
John Borquez came to Texas in 2015 with so-called “California money” in his pockets. The truth of the matter is that the Stanford graduate made a bulk of his money in real estate and to narrow it down even further, Borquez focused on affordable housing options for the ultra high rent state. But then he moved to Austin in search of a better life, free from liberal ideals and the taxes that often come with them. But after living there for a few months, this native Californian quickly realized that Austin was exactly what he had left behind and he wanted no part of that. So Borquez decided to move to San Antonio and start traveling the state, learning all that he could about his new home. One thing that struck him right off the bat was the need for affordable housing right here in our own backyards--and that is something that Borquez thought he knew something about.
You see, Borquez built and sold micro-apartments to low and middle income wage earners out in California and offered them affordable housing options that were scarce, at best. But it was the psychology of it all that really sparked his imagination and his curiosity.
“What I learned is that the younger generation coming up were kids when the housing crunch hit back in 2006-2008,” says Borquez. “They remember the troubles that their parents had and they are leary of buying into costly mortgages and are willing to sacrifice a little space to save money.”
The 42 year-old businessman and father 4 says that he Corpus Christi is a prime market for expanding on small, more affordable housing options that shave off amenities in favor cost savings.
“People in Corpus Christi certainly seem to be the type that want to live in their community and not live within the confines of four walls,” Borquez said on Tuesday after attending his very first Corpus Christi city council meeting. “I wanted to dig into the nuts and bolts of what is going on here and get a feel for where the city is going from here.”
While Borquez was sitting back listening to Council work it’s way through the various business items of the day, including approval of an impressive new city budget Borquez noticed that there was more and more money being pumped into things like parks and recreation improvements and street repairs. He also noticed that the city is becoming more and more aggressive in finding affordable housing options for lower income wage earners who might not be able to readily afford the $988 dollar a month average rental cost in town. Borquez noticed that one thing that the city budget did was open the door to growth and expansion for a community on the rebound.
“I guess really, we began looking at Corpus Christi in the Fall of 2017 when we realized that there had to be a better way than Austin,” Borquez pointed out. “Since then, my wife and I have spent plenty of time here and quietly researching the area and are really glad to be ready to call this place home.”
Real Estate Investor John Borquez
Borquez and his wife have children that range between the ages of 11 months and 5 years old. They are a younger family on the move and largely represent what the new face of Texas is. They are college educated and bring with them skill sets and ideas that might not have at one time been the norm for right here in Texas. They are largely part of the #IvebeenaTexansince crowd and they don’t shy away from it one single bit.
Melissa is John’s wife and she says that one thing that hurts her hear the most is to see all of the poverty in Corpus Christi and just how much potential some of the neighborhoods really have.
“One place that we are looking at here in the early stages of this project is in Flour Bluff,” Melissa says while rounding up toddlers from around the living room of their VRBO. “We see so much potential there and the beauty of Flour Bluff is so prevailing that with a little bit of work it could really see it’s full potential come to reality.”
John and Melissa are just like other investors who believe that neighborhoods really should develop their own personality but work together to compliment each other.
“You have places like here on North Padre Island that are really growing and they support a very active hyperlocal business community. But then you cross over the causeway and see very little activity in that area between the Island and Ennis Joslin,” Melissa points out. “To change that you are really going to have to work outside of the box and distance yourself from the establishment and really go your own way.”
That is why John and Melissa have been hesitant to join local business associations that serve as more defacto political action committees rather than economic drivers. For both John and Melissa, they believe in the power of people not in the power of power.
“You likely don’t know our names and you would not recognize us around town,” Melissa laughs. “And that is just how we like it.”
But what about this issue of micro-housing?
In most growing areas like Waco and Tyler, developers are building more co-living apartments with small private rooms and bathrooms but no kitchens. You have to think of them as sort of a dormitory for grown-ups, with plenty of modern amenities but not a lot of space. Some of these micro-homes are just 400 square feet, which is smaller than most 2 car garages.
They often build them as what some developers call “micro-planned communities” that are close to retail spaces, public transportation, dining and recreational areas. Houses in these little micro-communities can run anywhere between $40,000 and $70,000 and the marketing is geared not only towards the younger generation. Experts say that these tiny micro-homes are actually very appealing to retirees on a budget, as well.
“Even our older generation is becoming more and more active in their lifestyle developers have found that people in the 65 year-old and up age range are really taking a liking to the concept, as well,” says John. “Gone are the days of grandpa and grandma sitting on their porch watching a sunset and playing dominoes. They are increasingly active, vibrant and even more cost savvy than ever before.”
"One reason that we are considering places like Flour Bluff for a potential run at this is because there is plenty of room on Flour Bluff to put micro-houses and we would love to hear honest feedback from the local community,” John points out. “That kind of open candor really helps us make solid business decisions that are truly independent of self serving interests.”
“We would love to see more mixed housing neighborhoods, with mixed sizes, mixed income ranges and mixed ages,” says Melissa.
But one thing that they have to beat is the political fight. While overall there seems to be a broad acceptance of co-living in urban apartment buildings, there are often zoning challenges for tiny homes, which are typically about 500-750 square feet.
Tiny homes fall into two main categories: permanent structures on concrete foundations with connections to water/sewer and electricity that are often called “accessory dwelling units” or tiny houses on wheels that are typically classified as recreational vehicles.
These modestly scaled dwellings face enormous challenges with municipal zoning and ordinances, plus opposition from neighbors concerned that they will hurt property values or create more traffic and crime.
Whether they’re even allowed on specific parcels of land often depends on the type of zoning for that particular lot and that is a challenge that the Borquez family readily expects, if their project was to come to life.
“We would hope that city council would be mindful of the benefits and be willing to work with us on modern new approaches to affordable housing options in this community,” John says. “In the coming weeks and months we hope to have meetings with city officials and their staff about potentially building some sort of project like this right here and we believe that working with City Hall staff is where it all really starts.”
The idea remains that micro-homes and co-living apartments are becoming more popular as Millennials, retiring Baby Boomers and lower- and middle-income families look for more affordable housing solutions.
Many municipalities across America are in fact considering changes to zoning laws or other exceptions that would allow more tiny homes to be built, while developers in major cities focus on creating more co-living apartments to attract renters who prize affordability over size.
“This is something that you have to approach with an open heart and open mind and really understand the reasons behind why people buy into these communities,” Melissa says. “I believe that micro-planned communities are just another option for savvy buyers across a very wide spectrum and we want to be a part of possibly bringing that home here to Corpus Christi in the future.”