“Low-income landlord Starr gets tax breaks despite allegations of poor living conditions”

San Antonio Express-News  
June 16, 2017


Senior writer Richard Webner takes readers into the opaque – and sometimes questionable – world of multi-million-dollar development.

His story about developer David Starr began when he asked the city of San Antonio’s code enforcement division for a list of property owners that received the most code violation notices between 2011 and 2016. One of Starr’s property holding companies was in the top spot, and a few of his other companies were near the top, so he decided to take a closer look at his apartment complexes.

Webner talked with more than a dozen current and former tenants who detailed poor and sometimes dangerous conditions on his properties. Through an open records request, he discovered that almost 1,000 complaints were filed against Starr’s buildings between 2011 and 2016. Through records and interviews with public officials, he learned that most of Starr’s complexes aren’t regularly inspected by city, county or state officials.

Some residents who had filed complaints said they never received any help. He dug through the filings of more than a dozen lawsuits filed against Starr and his nonprofits over 16 years by people who said they were hurt due to dangerous conditions at the complexes. Webner also submitted 10 other open records requests with the city of San Antonio, Bexar County, the state of Texas and the Bexar Appraisal District in order to figure out how much public assistance Starr had received to build his complexes.

Webner discovered that city and county agencies had issued more than $225 million of tax-exempt municipal bonds to fund his complexes, and that he has saved $8 million in local property taxes over five years thanks to waivers for low-income housing. Despite getting all this help, Starr’s complexes have repeatedly faced financial difficulties, and several of the ones funded with municipal bonds ended up in foreclosure.

By digging through the federal filings of Starr’s nonprofits, he learned that they had paid $8.5 million in fees to companies owned by Starr and his son Matthew, despite his claim that the nonprofits didn’t provide any return for his family.

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Submitted by Jamie Stockwell.

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