Council Hears Gentrification Task Force Briefing

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Mayor Ivy Taylor speaks during the City Council B Session on April 1, 2015. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

Mayor Ivy Taylor speaks during the City Council B Session on April 1, 2015. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

It’s been almost one year since former Mayor Julián Castro established the Mayor’s Task Force on Preserving Dynamic and Diverse Neighborhoods. The so-called Gentrification Task Force was created in response to a controversial decision by City Council to allow a developer to purchase a parcel of land that ultimately displaced hundreds of residents in the Southside Mission Trails mobile home park.

Since then, a group of educators, community advocates, elected officials, developers, nonprofit housing partners, and City staff members have meet 13 times to develop policies and initiatives to prevent future displacement of low-income residents – be they renters or home owners. The task force’s final report includes recommendations on how the City can mitigate the consequences of inner-city revitalization efforts.

The panel, however, was not tasked with looking at the underlying conditions of poverty in such communities, or why residential pockets like the Mission Trails mobile home park are allowed to fall into such blighted conditions without an enforcement efforts by the City against the out-of-state property owner. The park included numerous abandoned and stripped trailers, uncollected debris, standing water, and other health and safety hazards.

San Antonio for Growth on the Eastside Executive Director Jackie Gorman presents the Gentrification Task Force's recommendations to City Council. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

San Antonio for Growth on the Eastside Executive Director Jackie Gorman presents the Gentrification Task Force’s recommendations to City Council. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

Wednesday afternoon, members of City Council not on the task force got their first look at the report through a presentation given by task force member and San Antonio for Growth on the Eastside Executive Director Jackie Gorman. Many expressed approval of the recommendations, but agreed that they represent only the first steps toward ensuring safe, vibrant, mixed-income neighborhoods.

“We’re not just dealing with city actions – a city program or city advancements. What we’re also dealing with (is) real estate and financial market dynamics, we’re dealing with private property owner interests, and also the history, culture, and emotional attachment that people people feel to the place where they live,” Mayor Ivy Taylor said.

The main thrust of the report is to protect low-income, often older residents from being priced out or kicked out of their homes or apartments without fair notice or a financial safety net. As more inner-city neighborhoods see an influx of apartments, condos, and home development to accommodate the influx of urban core newcomers, older, neglected properties will potentially see an increase of property values and therefore taxes for owners.

On May 14, City Council will vote on the report and its short-term and long-term recommendations. Some short-term recommendations include the creation of a proposed San Antonio Housing Commission; amending the zoning change notification process to allow for more information and more residents to be notified of zoning hearings; and developing a relocation assistance program for projects that receive city tax/rebate incentives.

Long-term recommendations include developing a housing bond to pay for affordable housing projects and programming for voters to approve as soon as 2017; and consideration of creating a community land trust that would collectively own land and empowerment zones that provide tax breaks for long-time residents in certain neighborhoods.

Click here to download the 140-page draft report that includes meeting minutes and see the bottom of this story for a bullet-point summary of all recommendations.

Many action items in the report address displacement after the fact – like the relocation assistance program – and some planning/developing items seek to prevent displacement from happening in the first place – like the neighborhood empowerment zone. Beyond that, said Councilmember Alan Warrick II (D2), there are a host of other factors that go into neighborhood development.

“Is the commission even looking at the other issues that have caused blight in these neighborhoods? That’s really public safety and school excellence. If we don’t attack those, even if we have a housing bond with billions and billions of dollars worth of housing – what makes people go to these neighborhoods?” Warrick asked. “It’s not new houses, it’s quality education and (public safety).”

For issues like education, public safety, and code enforcement – which were considered to be outside the charge of the task force, that’s where a newly-formed San Antonio Housing Commission would come in, said Michael Taylor, interim assistant director of Planning and Community Development.

“This would be a body that would look holistically at these community development issues,” he said. “We know that it’s about city services, it’s about affordable housing, education, there are many different issues that need to be addressed.”

But the task force didn’t agree on everything.  Members Maria Berriozábal and Nettie Hinton do not support the entirety of the report, according to Vianna Davila of the Express-News, and some are concerned of how the recommendations will be implemented.

Trinity University Professor Christine Drennon wrote the introduction to the initial draft report months ago, which has since been changed to preclude details about the Mission Trails families. Specifically, the detail that they are now “living in borrowed quarters as they try to obtain adequate housing,” was taken out of the final report by City staff in an attempt to add other task force member comments and eliminate redundancies.

Short-term recommendations:

  • Create a San Antonio Housing Commission
  • Amend the zoning change notification process
  • Designate the City Housing Counseling Program and the Fair Housing Council of Greater San Antonio as primary resources for residents
  • Develop a relocation assistance policy
  • Plan and Host an annual Housing Summit

A Housing Policy Summit is scheduled for May 15.

Long-term recommendations:

  • Conduct a systematic assessment of COSA ordinances and policies to determine their impact on displacement and neighborhood change
  • Explore inclusionary housing policies of residential development
  • Develop a plan and timeline for the issuance of a housing bond
  • Identify ongoing sources of funds to be utilized by the San Antonio Housing Trust and Nonprofit Housing providers
  • Amend the Unified Development Code to support alternative housing types
  • Explore the development of a Community Land Trust
  • Explore tools for the protection of existing mobile/manufactured home communities and residents
  • Explore the creation of a neighborhood empowerment zone and other tools to provide targeted property tax relief for long-time residents

 *Featured/top image: (File photo) Mayor Ivy Taylor speaks during the City Council B Session on April 1, 2015. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

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