Affordable Housing is the Housing We Live in Now

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A residential house and newly constructed high density infill development project on West Craig Place in the Beacon Hill Neighborhood.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

A single-family house (right) and newly constructed high-density infill development project stand side by side on West Craig Place in the Beacon Hill Neighborhood.

At a recent Beacon Hill Area Neighborhood Association meeting, neighbors came together to talk about the proposed updates to our Neighborhood Conservation District (NCD5) design standards. These design standards were originally developed by area residents in 2005, in partnership with City staff, to address the demolition of craftsman bungalow homes in favor of more subdivision-style homes. This was a grassroots effort to preserve our neighborhood housing stock and to inform future development.

The recent and overdue work to update the design standards was a result of changing development trends and the City’s focus on high-density infill which allowed for multi-storied single family condos to be built on a lot zoned for multi-family development. The updates also addressed issues that included porch requirements, fencing, height, and setback limitations. Many of the NCD standards were actually loosened.

There were many opportunities over the past year for residents and businesses to participate and provide input. Feedback ranged from “The City shouldn’t be able to dictate what I do with my property,” to “How can we protect our neighborhood against indiscriminate flippers and developers?” But the most commonly heard and loudly voiced concern was over residents’ ability to stay in their homes in the face of wildly increasing property taxes, partially caused by the new high-density infill developments and flipped houses in their neighborhood.

“I don’t know how much longer many of us can hang on,” one anguished neighbor said to a crowded room. His neighbors vigorously agreed. The frustration and fear were palpable.

At a recent breakfast organized by the Mayor’s Housing Summit, an executive of the Urban Land Institute (ULI) stood before a packed room and denounced neighborhoods as the NIMBYs who would deny affordable housing development in our communities because our design standards make it more difficult for developers to build. Recently, Beacon Hill has been criticized for this very thing. The fallacy in a working and middle class neighborhood like Beacon Hill – according to a 2015 Census Bureau report the family median income in Beacon Hill is just under $37,000 in a 77% Latino neighborhood – is that density and development creates affordable housing.

The easy equations belie reality. Density does not equate to affordability. In fact, the quick turnover of flipped houses and the development of luxury condos which has become the model for downtown housing development (like the recent construction of six single-family condos on one lot in the middle of a block of mostly single story early 2oth century bungalows selling for more than $300,000 each) has contributed to a steep rise in housing prices and property taxes, and many longterm residents simply cannot keep up. Local landlords struggle to maintain affordable rental rates when their taxes are skyrocketing.

The “unprotected” neighborhoods of Monte Vista Terrace and Tobin Hill North (part of Tobin Hill) are facing condo developments that are anything but affordable and are incompatible with the character of their neighborhood. Who wins here?

Residents in Tobin Hill North, who have been there for generations, will face rising property values and taxes, a fear echoed at a recent Zoning Commission meeting where several elders and other neighbors voiced concern over incompatible and expensive developments. Tell the unfortunate residents of Mission Trails Mobile Home Park, who were displaced by City-incentivized development how that tragedy promoted affordable housing. Their affordable housing will be replaced by luxury condos. In working class neighborhoods, affordable housing is the housing people live in now.

A residential house and newly constructed high density infill development project on West Craig Place in the Beacon Hill Neighborhood.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

A recently built high-density infill project sits next to a craftsman home in the Beacon Hill neighborhood.

Design standards can help maintain stability in neighborhoods, and they help prevent displacement. In fact, one of the Beacon Hill NCD5 standard updates requires that units built on multi-family lots be built within one structure to help ensure rental housing for the future. In the 12 years that our NCD standards have been in place, there is no instance of them discouraging the development of affordable housing. Design standards do not prohibit affordable housing – expensive developments drive up land prices and prohibit affordable housing. Protecting working class neighborhoods could help protect affordability in a hot housing market.

While we’ve updated our standards, Beacon Hill has also welcomed thoughtful and neighborhood-friendly developers working on affordable housing and density into our community. There are opportunities within the neighborhood for the development of “missing middle” housing and along the corridors for four-story structures creating density.

As we work with the City in the future on the Near North Central Plan as part of the SA Tomorrow Comprehensive Plan (which promotes “strengthening [NCDs] to address the appropriateness of new and infill construction through enforceable design standards that allow neighborhoods to define unique character and features and promote compatible infill development” HPCH P9), we look forward to working on issues of density and equity. But we cannot solve San Antonio’s workforce housing shortage by destroying these early 20th century downtown neighborhoods that are an important part of our city’s history. Once gone, these unique neighborhoods cannot ever be brought back. Once gone, our neighbors cannot ever be replaced.

One of the greatest reasons we struggle with the issue of affordable housing is that San Antonio does not have a comprehensive housing policy. Working together to create one would be a first step to guiding our future. A developer-driven approach to affordable housing, one that primarily favors the builders, is not an answer. If we are serious about providing affordable housing, then we need the political will to do the hard work of building a plan that is equitable and that works.

Any workable housing plan must include neighborhoods in the decision-making process instead of a top-down elitist approach that bypasses the democratic process of allowing neighbors to speak for themselves. We must avoid easy answers that promote a blanket policy of control that may displace neighbors and leaves them vulnerable to predatory practices. Simplistic slogans like YIMBY and NIMBY are just diversions to the complex and difficult work that needs to be done.

In his much acclaimed new book, How to Kill a City: Gentrification, Inequality, and the Fight for the Neighborhood, journalist Peter Moskowitz examines the very process that is occurring in our downtown San Antonio neighborhoods and in neighborhoods across the U.S. He makes the case that it is imperative that neighborhoods should decide their own future: “So the problem of solving gentrification is not only about economics or urban planning, but about democracy. What would cities look like if the people who lived in them, who made them function, controlled their fate?”

We must not destroy our unique downtown neighborhoods to solve the problem of San Antonio’s affordable housing shortage: We must, instead, develop an equitable and effective housing policy whose process is fair, inclusive, and transparent. We must give the people who live in our neighborhoods a voice in their fate.

35 thoughts on “Affordable Housing is the Housing We Live in Now

  1. Thanks for a thought provoking article. We’ve had NCD regulations for years now, and relatively local control through District Council representation instead of at large Council representation, and it didn’t prevent whatever affordability problems are out there now.

    Not too much local control…The City of San Antonio doesn’t rely on each neighborhood to volunteer their money to keep up streets and sidewalks citywide, because each one would just free-ride on everyone else, and no one would give anything. Given many homeowners’ tendency to not want apartments or condos next door, it probably shouldn’t be left up each neighborhood to ensure that our zoning regulations allow for a diverse mix of housing types and prices. No-one would allow much of it near them, and so it won’t be enough anywhere.

    Homeowner control… Homeowners/homevoters are more often than not fundamentally interested in increasing their property values, because a huge chunk of their savings is tied up in their homes, and they want their home value appreciation to at least beat inflation and most hope to do a lot better than that. Homeowners/homevoters tend to advocate for public investments like bond projects, and advocate for zoning regulations like NCD’s that probably creates some home scarcity and a stable arena for others to flip run down houses into really nice houses, which helps keep everyone’s home values ticking up. Homevoter advocacy needs to be balanced with the needs of the larger community.

    Wrong tool for the job…I think that calling NCD’s an affordable housing tool is either misleading or misinformed, and it seems that affordable housing issues and the people who are having trouble with their taxes are being co-opted and used to advocate for something (NCD regulations) that might make the problem worse.

    • I disagree heartily with your assessment. I own my 1928 cottage in Alta Vista. I am flanked by post-war apartments, one a 4-plex, one a duplex. Most of the other structures on our block are also multi-family, including a few large homes that were converted. One is owned by SAMM and is transitional section 8 housing. Most of my surrounding single-family home neighbors are long-term residents (some more than 50 years!). The only disaster is the 1926 apartment building that a slum-lord out of Houston owns and made a mess of in the process of violating our NCD standards and trying to skirt our CoSA permitting requirements. It now stands as an ugly wreck and is under the cloak of the Vacant Buildings Registration Program.
      To your point, I do like my neighborhood the way it is. It is a great patchwork of people and incomes, young, old and somewhere in between – we look out for each other. My idea of a disaster would be some developer coming in and mowing down a property on my block to build ugly and expensive housing that doesn’t reflect the character of our ‘hood. “Progress” that would likely displace residents and landlords that still provide affordable housing.
      If that makes me “NIMBY,” then so be it!

  2. As a Beacon Hill resident that appreciates the difficulty of balancing the preservation of both our human and housing stock with the need for additional housing, at all levels of affordability, I applaud Ms. Spielman for speaking to the complexity of the issue. As she says, the bottom line is that San Antonio’s housing development community is currently operating in a void where the lack of a housing policy is helpful to the higher end housing developers, but hurtful to those developers that produce Low Income and Workforce housing. Hopefully our new Mayor will be able to bring the necessary resources together, including neighborhoods, to develop a comprehensive and effective housing policy which can benefit existing and incoming residents, renters and owners, young and old.

  3. You make some important points. One of the ideas I wanted to promote in this article is that these things are multi faceted
    . That often easy or well-meaning ideas sound great on the surface, but can have disastrous effects and that local context is everything. I don’t think NCD standards are as important as zoning and land use when it comes to controlling what happens in neighborhoods but this article was written in part to rebut a commentary written earlier in the Rivard that asserted that Beacon Hill’s recent updates to our NCD were antithetical to affordable housing. While the article serves as a rebuttal, more importantly its point is to offer a perspective on neighborhood protections, housing and displacement in working class neighborhoods, and the dire need for a CoSA comprehensive housing plan.
    I am hoping that not only will San Antonio residents will push for a comprehensive housing plan, but a process in its development that is inclusive of neighborhoods and addresses the complexity of reality as opposed to theory.

  4. I agree, a full participatory and democratic process is necessary for deciding our future and housing policy. But, I would ask, how is a process that includes mostly older adult homeowners democratic? How many renters, lower-income persons, and young adults were involved in the decision-making around the NCD standards? Not many. Beacon Hill is 57% renters and they need to be represented in these processes. Holding 4-5 meetings made up of mostly homeowners is not representative of who lives in the neighborhood now and who is going to live there in the future.

    I would also agree that a ‘blanket policy of control’ is not the answer. The blanket policy of limiting all single family and multi-family developments to 2.5 stories in Beacon Hill is not the answer, and makes it quite difficult for developers to make any sort of affordable housing development come to fruition.

    Does Beacon Hill want to maintain its current diversity of incomes and ethnicity? If yes, I would argue that they need to seriously reconsider their strict development standards that will limit housing supply, and, ultimately, reduce affordability.

    You are correct – density does not equate to affordability, but neither does current or future low-density developments. Density with affordability incentives and careful planning can reduce the steep rise of home prices. If we stall housing development through strict building heights and lot widths (as seen in the BH NCDs) then we will see a steeper rise of home prices in the future. On the very same street as the six single-family condos you point out costing $300K each, just two doors down, is a half a million-dollar single family home on the market (also out of character with the neighborhood). It would be easy to point to examples on both sides – high priced multi-family and high priced single-family dwellings. However, we need to look at the issue of affordability comprehensively, as stated by Cynthia, which is why jumping into strict NCD design standards without an affordability analysis is risky.

    In a recent article in the New York Times (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/17/us/california-housing-crisis.html), they discuss the explosive costs of housing in CA due to a housing supply crisis. They point to the decades of resistance of the kind of development that creates lots of units, multi-family housing. Housing without new development has caused single family home prices to rise by 75% over the last five years in many parts of California. San Antonio could see the same if we don’t address housing supply issues early on.

    Rising property taxes are due to a complex set of issues – 1. Texas, City of San Antonio and Bexar County do not have an income tax. If we want to fund roads, transportation, schools, SAPD, SAFD then we need to decide if we want income tax or property tax to finance these investments. 2. The Texas State Legislature continually underfunds public schools, which places the burden on local governments. Guess where they get the money to fund the schools – property taxes. 3. More people are moving to Texas and San Antonio and local families are growing – they need to go somewhere. Many are choosing to live near the center of the city to live near where they work. This puts a strain on the low supply of housing that doesn’t meet the current demand – this causes property prices and taxes to rise. Building height and lot width restrictions that restrict new developments will cause the prices of both single family and multi-family units to rise at a steeper than normal curve.

    Furthermore, property taxes disproportionately burden multi-family dwellings that typically use a lesser share of resources (parking, roads, land, etc). A recent study has shown that multi-family housing units typically bear a property tax rate at least 18% higher than the rate of a single-family home. If you truly want equity then single-family homeowners should pay a higher proportion of taxes than a condo or apartment owner.

    This Texas Tribune map tells it all…
    https://www.texastribune.org/library/data/tax-credit-housing-locations/. It maps out the low-income housing tax credit projects that were built in San Antonio. It shows that almost all the developments were done in impoverished neighborhoods. Zero LIHTC projects were done in North of downtown neighborhoods (Tier 1). Why? From what I’ve heard from housing advocates and developers, it is due to ‘resistance to affordable multi-family housing in my neighborhood.’ If Beacon Hill values social equity and inclusion then why were no LIHTC projects built there?

    • Dawn, Participation in Beacon Hill ANA is inclusive. We charge no dues, all residents (renters and owners) have an equal voice, and we hand deliver 2,200 monthly newsletters to all residences and 600 more to local businesses with Spanish translations so that anyone who wants, is included. Our meetings are well attended (Our last holiday party had 350 neighbors) and they are intergeneration, multi-cultural, and we are a primarily working and middle class neighborhood and our meetings reflect this. Three of our 7- member board are people in their 30s and 40s and we expect our next president will be someone from that generation. We had over a year of meetings to update the NCD (with changes on our website) with all kinds of people and opinions and those meetings were loud and were community at its best. What part of this seems undemocratic?

      I’m not sure I understand what you mean by affordable housing developments when applied to our downtown neighborhoods. Most of those developments are complexes with several hundred units that are driven by a financial bottom line. Unless there is a plan to tear down blocks of homes, where would this happen? Are you suggesting we begin building high rises? Wouldn’t this conversation make more sense in the center downtown area instead of hotels. We are promoting affordable housing in our community with developers who are working on new neighborhood-friendly housing.

      Our design standards are not really the issue: as you point out taxes and I would say City policies create a lack of affordability. But what is particularly pernicious is that the issue of affordable housing has been framed as a developer-driven one. More than anything, this is the reason we need a comprehensive housing policy that includes neighborhoods in its development process.

  5. Cynthia, let me start by stating where I agree with you. Yes, preventing the loss of older housing stock is important; it’s part of what makes our neighborhood unique and attractive. It’s part of why neighborhoods near downtown cost more per-square-foot than homes in suburbia. Yes, preventing the displacement of long-time residents is crucial in maintaining the diversity we aim to celebrate in neighborhoods like Beacon Hill. And yes, let’s build an equity-based housing policy to create more affordable housing not just here but throughout the city. However, I think there are a host of conclusions you make in your commentary that are misunderstood and, in some cases, totally misleading.

    Multiple times you connect higher-density housing with increased neighborhood property taxes (“…wildly increasing property taxes, partially caused by the new high-density infill developments…”) and (“…the development of luxury condos which has become the model for downtown housing development…has contributed to a steep rise in housing prices and property taxes…”). This belies a misunderstanding about how homes are appraised and how homes are priced on the market. The appraisal district would not look at a $400,000 four-plex down the street and use that to raise the valuation of my single-family house. The two properties are not comparable. Likewise, a realtor wouldn’t see the $400,000 four-plex and use that property to determine a selling price for my house. At its core, property value is determined by the attractiveness of the neighborhood, the quality/features of the property itself, and the overall demand for properties in that neighborhood. It’s why homes near transit stations demand a premium and why homes near landfills don’t. The reason Beacon Hill is seeing price increases and new construction is because our neighborhood is now in demand; let’s not view this through the wrong side of the lens.

    What I often find is that neighbors are much more concerned about predictability and preventing change than they are about promoting new housing for low or moderate income families. (“Design standards can help maintain stability in neighborhoods, and they help prevent displacement.”) Your statement here is the biggest clue to that. Design standards themselves have no real bearing on displacement. Displacement is prevented one of two ways: either by completely cutting off real estate market activity, which is both un-American and undesirable, or by creating a two-prong approach that keeps long-time tenants in their homes at affordable rents while constructing enough new housing to satisfy demand. The idea that design standards prevent displacement is puffery of the NCD standards.

    Like the earlier fallacy that density increases neighbors’ taxes, here’s another one: (“Design standards do not prohibit affordable housing – expensive developments drive up land prices and prohibit affordable housing.”) Expensive developments do not drive up land prices—artificially restricting the housing supply in a high-demand market does. What makes a home less affordable to build, and ultimately buy, is increasing the cost per unit to construct it. And the primary way to reduce the cost of each unit on a property is to build more units on that property. The anti-apartment folks certainly don’t want to hear that, but it really is that simple. Now, granted, there are ways to make multifamily developments more expensive than single-family developments, but that’s not what I’m talking about here.

    I hear lines like this from other neighborhoods not only here in San Antonio but in other cities where I’ve lived: (“Beacon Hill has also welcomed thoughtful and neighborhood-friendly developers working on affordable housing and density into our community.”) In my time in Beacon Hill I have not seen a single bit of new construction that wasn’t being opposed by vocal neighbors. Worse, I’ve been told that our new neighbors at 930 West Craig have literally received hate mail because of the vitriol that has been spewed about that development. I see nothing welcoming or neighborhood-friendly about that.

    Lastly, I’d like to address what I see as a typical response of blaming ‘the other’ for the problem: (“One of the greatest reasons we struggle with the issue of affordable housing is that San Antonio does not have a comprehensive housing policy.”) While, yes, a comprehensive housing policy can do a lot to address affordable housing, and I agree we need one, it cannot by itself overcome the more and more sophisticated ways neighbors oppose new affordable housing and, particularly, apartments. Across the country residents have learned that to oppose affordable housing without seeming racist or classist is to elevate a host of other issues like property values, crime, parking, and schools. Lately I’ve even heard possible flooding as an excuse to keep apartments out of an area, even though multifamily development contributes less to stormwater runoff than industrial and commercial developments and far less than single-family homes when you measure it on a per-capita basis.

    My friends and I have been moving to neighborhoods like Beacon Hill to be close to others who celebrate diversity and enjoy an urban quality of life. I hope you can assure us that we moved to the right neighborhood.

    • Ray, welcome to the neighborhood. When you can come to a neighborhood meeting. We would love to have you as a member of our Zoning and Urban Design Committee. !) Rumors that hate mail have been sent to residents sounds wildly improbable. Please offer proof . I am aware of several neighbor on the block making friends with residents at 930 Craig. No one there has reported any instances of hate mail. 2) The six units built at this address were sold as individual homes not as a single apartment development. It is as if 6 new single unit homes were built on this block. Even if that were not the case this raises the land values and this leads to higher taxes for residents even if they fall under different land use categories. We have been trying desperately to revitalize our urban corridors, especially on Fredericksburg road. These would be great for affordable 4 story apartments. Perhaps you could be part of making that happen. West Side Development Corp. and other financing institutions have rejected all our efforts. 3) Neighbors have worked with several developers as we are currently working with MP2 Home Restoration at 715 Grant. They are encouraged to present their designs and garner support with input from our neighborhood association, which as in this case was overwhelmingly supported. Please don’t repeat false rumors and come support us by attending our meetings. Often the majority of our monthly membership have lived in the neighborhood less than 1 or 2 years. Our stated goal in our Midtown plan is to increase density. We are pro density and affordability. We just think it should be in our urban corridors first and that development should not displace our older, vulnerable residents.

      • We have welcomed the residents of 930 W. Craig. I have welcomed them myself. They are our neighbors. I can’t imagine that anyone received hate mail. If that is the case, it did not come from anyone in BHANA.

      • Mark –
        The BH NCD standards limit any apartments (even on the main corridors) to 2.5 stories unless it is a mixed-used building. Only mixed-use buildings can be four stories, and even then there are strict lot widths and re-plotting polices that make these developments difficult. You stating that BH has been trying to revitalize BH corridors with supporting 4 story apartments is a bit misleading.

        The Westside Dev Corporation has not historically nor currently done housing developments but sometimes supports partners like NRP to help make affordable housing developments happen. The WDC boundary area cuts off at Fred Rd. I am not sure what you mean by WDC rejecting BH efforts as a lending institution. Can you clarify? WDC has just awarded a small business grant to a commercial business on Fred Rd. in support of helping business in the near Westside thrive.

        Please point to a housing development in Beacon Hill that has displaced residents. I keep hearing about the displacement of residents with new developments. If this is happening, we’d like to know. We don’t support displacement of residents with new developments, but if the homeowners or property owners are willing sellers this is not displacement. It is understood that older adults can have their property taxes frozen in Bexar Co, so if rising property taxes are the issue with displacement helping them freeze their property tax rate could solve this issue.

        • I find this response by WDC disturbing. It is bad enough that an employee is actively fighting our efforts to preserve our community housing (and I would not bring up that she is an employee except it states it on the Rivard Report which leads me to believe that it reflects the views of the organization), but that you question our efforts to revitalize the lower Fredericksburg Corridor over the past several years has gone into the realm of insulting. BHANA as we,ll as the Fredericksburg Road Economic Development (FRED) group, have been working for years to encourage locally owned businesses that serve the community as well as the larger city even though you have stated that our demographics make us too poor, too old, and too undereducated to have much success.

          We are grateful for the work you have done and the help you have given us, but you have never, in any meeting, stated that our design standards stand in the way of our progress. We would argue that point.

          Your question about displacement is disingenuous. It is a question that people pose when they know that there is no data because displacement is complicated. People in my neighborhood are feeling afraid that they can’t hang on to their homes and at some point we will have a meeting. I will invite you to express your disbelief.
          The solutions will take some political will.

          I do not want to get into an adversarial position with WDC. We have worked together and I admire what you have tried to do on the West Side and your help with lower Fredericksburg Road, but your comments cannot be ignored. Mark may have misspoke when he stated, “West Side Development Corp. and other financing institutions have rejected all our efforts.” (I don’t speak for him) but it is indicative of the frustration that a community feels when revitalization is only measured by the Pearl.

          • I lost my temper (which actually rarely happens) and I apologize if my tone or words were harsh. I meant them to be at the moment, but I realize that important conversations can’t take place when we get heated. Everyone has a right to their opinions. No matter who you work for you should feel free to voice your opinions although I would like clarification on WDC’s official position on NCDs.

            One last point regarding our NCD and then I am moving on to the bigger picture of affordable housing instead of framing it in our NCD standards. So, just a clarification: the four-story buildings allowed on corridors with commercial zoning can be three stories of apartments and the first floor can be work/live space which qualifies as four stories of living space. I’m not a 100% sure and I have called the City for verification. At the least, there is three stories of living space in a mixed use building which would be nice on the corridors.

          • “The standards state ‘The maximum building height for any construction or vertical addition on a parcel that abuts Blanco Road, Hildebrand Avenue, or Fredericksburg Road, shall be no greater than four (4) stories. Additional height bonuses allowed through the UDC, due to additional setbacks do not apply.’
            That means that commercial construction, or multi-family development or a mixed use development would be subject to the same standard.”
            ” Where the height restriction is applied is in this example: Let’s say that a property on Hildebrand is zoned “MF-40”. The maximum height for that base district is 60 feet. With the NCD, the max height would be 4 stories…”
            “If just typical C2, multifamily is permitted… at 10 units per acre.”

          • From DSD: “The standards state ‘The maximum building height for any construction or vertical addition on a parcel that abuts Blanco Road, Hildebrand Avenue, or Fredericksburg Road, shall be no greater than four (4) stories. Additional height bonuses allowed through the UDC, due to additional setbacks do not apply.’
            That means that commercial construction, or multi-family development or a mixed use development would be subject to the same standard.”
            ” Where the height restriction is applied is in this example: Let’s say that a property on Hildebrand is zoned “MF-40”. The maximum height for that base district is 60 feet. With the NCD, the max height would be 4 stories…”
            “If just typical C2, multifamily is permitted… at 10 units per acre.”

  6. I think it’s correct to say that the housing we’re living in now is affordable housing. The City should protect our communities rather than scorn single family houses. As for new development to accommodate more people, Mahncke Park has a couple of high rise (high density) luxury buildings and many new single family condos on small lots that sell for up to $400+K, some of which replaced multi-unit rental buildings — this is not affordable housing. I like the idea of multi-family units in one building as a way to blend new and old. And Broadway is an appropriate place for higher density housing. But as developers, who are no friends of affordable housing in principle, invest in luxury and flip houses, the Bexar County appraisal district has revalued the neighbors’ land dramatically upward and existing structures down, which is pressuring the current residents. There’s no ‘normal curve’ for housing prices when we’re talking about community life, political decisions about public infrastructure investments and schools, and incentives for private profit opportunities.

  7. As a homeowner in a comparative neighborhood, Dignowity Hill, I applaud the author for addressing the complexity of the issue, particularly the need for communication across all of those involved. As an example, some of our neighbors aren’t able to interact with social media while others rely on it heavily day-to-day. The ramifications for this simple reality are obvious.

    I don’t want to repeat what others have said, as all are valid points. I would like to say, though, that I look forward to a means that allows neighbors, neighborhoods, developers, and the city to bring their voices together in a common manner. Afterall, anyone who reads this article is aware, if not acutely so, of this issue already.

    We’ve established what the issue is so the next logical step is to begin a conversation and resolution.

    • This is such a good comment C.Jones. I wrote the article in part as a response to an earlier commentary. I don’t like being in the defensive position because it does not foster real and thoughtful communication which this subject deserves. I also think talking about affordable housing in the context of our NCD design standards is like doctors squabbling over the bandaid when a patient comes in with a brain hemorrhage.
      How do we create a “means that allows neighbors, neighborhoods, developers, and the city to bring their voices together in a common manner”? We made a start at the Mayor’s Housing Summit with a panel discussion of developers and neighborhood leaders. It was such a learning experience for all.

  8. Readers should be warned that the photos of new development leading and framing this op-ed are as slanted as this section of West Craig.

    From the unflattering angles and cropping of the photos, the new development at 930 West Craig in Beacon Hill might strike some as challenging or ‘inappropriate’, but it obstructs how many extensions and levels there are to the at least two-storey property at 934 West Craig (photographed to the right) and other characteristics of this street section that the new three-storey multi-family development seems to match or better (in setbacks, number and width of drives, landscaping, building materials, scale, massing, etc).

    The property at 934 West Craig and the new multi-family housing development at 930 West Craig — which has met strict existing Neighborhood Conservation District design standards established in 2005 by the City with the input of all property owners in the district (and in relation to and not superseding other City plans and requirements) to ensure the appropriateness of new development — are similar to other multi-storey buildings along this steep street section. This includes former family ‘cottages’ that have morphed upwards and outwards nearly beyond recognition over time as part of San Antonio’s and Beacon Hill’s long build-bigger-as-you-go (if you care or need to) tradition.

    As a result, various taller buildings of different eras and design rise above slightly shorter but dense neighboring properties of different eras and design with little separation between properties along this section of West Craig; this is key to the urban design ‘character’ of this evolving street section and the larger district (as detailed with existing Neighborhood Conservation District design standards). What was uncharacteristic of this section of West Craig until recently, however, was the long vacant lot (Google Streetview suggests vacant since at least 2007) at 930 West Craig that the new development photographed has finally addressed.

    The most recent Google Streetview image of 930 West Craig (March 2016) depicts a vacant lot that could be construed as a neighborhood hazard — with visible mud, evidence of dumping and questionable parking/vehicular use. This is similar to arguments that the Rivard Report published in supporting the closing of Mission Trails Mobile Home Park.

    Unlike the Rivard Report, I generally don’t support knocking down occupied housing units or older residential, commercial or public structures to build anew — hence, my concern about various redevelopment efforts particularly in downtown and historic San Antonio. However, I must object to the Rivard Report disparaging by implication recent and approved multi-family development at 930 West Craig, which joins and supports other multi-storey, multi-family development in this section of Beacon Hill and addresses a long-standing neighborhood vacancy and potential blight.

    The photographs above demand context, including the chance for readers to explore this streetscape for themselves as well as to consider bigger Beacon Hill and San Antonio issues related to housing displacement.

    So far, I’ve read from two authors who’ve argued passionately about ‘affordable housing’ and displacement generally in San Antonio while thinking specifically about new development in the small neighborhood where they reside — one that has been granted special protections / design controls by the City for over a decade as a place where 75% or more of the buildings are 25 years or older although not a place deemed historically significant (at least, not a current, pending or eligible historic district) by the City.

    Neither author mentions school taxes or school funding reform to provide more relief for homesteaders (those who own the property in which they reside long-term) in Beacon Hill, which new residential patterns might help to address (including noting that Beacon Hill apparently has a high school graduation rate 14% lower than the rest of San Antonio). Neither mentions Beacon Hill’s high crime rate (apparently 17% higher than the rest of San Antonio), that new housing might also help to address, and particularly when it develops vacant properties or otherwise increases or reestablishes eyes and activity on the street.

    The photos above raise the question: if you don’t want new and more dense housing development that meets existing and uniquely strict standards for infill development on a sloped lot vacant for at least nine years and zoned multi-family inside the 410 in an understood high crime and low academic performance area but also a neighborhood with a high walkability score and an understood cost of living 4% lower than the rest of San Antonio and 9% lower than the rest of the state on average, where do you want it? If the Rivard Report continues this conservation, could we please explore what might be done to lift the burden of particularly school-related property tax off homesteader residents, increase renter protections (including slowing rent increases) and other ‘real’ things the City could do to curb housing displacement in San Antonio rather than casting stones at select new and approved housing development?

    [Here’s 930 West Craig:
    https://www.google.com/maps/place/934+W+Craig+Pl,+San+Antonio,+TX+78201/@29.4519339,-98.5091716,3a,89y,197.87h,83.74t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sYQVd1PkpM2TIRhMxna-8Mw!2e0!7i13312!8i6656!4m13!1m7!3m6!1s0x865c5f1466da1089:0x9d74783e1e8d6e9f!2s934+W+Craig+Pl,+San+Antonio,+TX+78201!3b1!8m2!3d29.4517096!4d-98.5093569!3m4!1s0x865c5f1466da1089:0x9d74783e1e8d6e9f!8m2!3d29.4517096!4d-98.5093569

    Here’s Beacon Hill’s 2005 Neighborhood Conservation District design standards, established by City Ordinance – https://www.sanantonio.gov/Portals/0/Files/Planning/NPUD/NCD5_BeaconHill.pdf

    Here’s what commentator Dan Savage — that Dan Savage — suggests for tackling gentrificaiton and displacement: http://www.thestranger.com/slog/2017/05/22/25158186/doing-something-real-about-gentrification-and-displacement ]

  9. Thank you for this article, Cynthia, and thank you for provoking the comments, and supplying the links. It’s always good to remember that I possibly have a voice in these matters, especially if grouped into one voice like a neighborhood association to talk to our city councilperson and talk with neighboring associations.

    • You have a voice in these matters. BHANA Board does not make any decisions: It facilitates decisions. We don’t represent unless we have a vote. We also make available ways of making your voice heard if you disagree with the vote (which we all have on occasion.) We are a great and diverse neighborhood. I hope to meet you soon!

      • Thanks for the reply! I probably won’t meet you soon at a strictly BHANA meeting, because our NA went kaput a couple years back. However, I’m envisioning seeing an NA functioning here and maybe we will link-eastwards to y’all and any intervening NAs, concerning some issue or three in the future. Power to the people! Let our collective voices be heard!

  10. In Mahncke Park there has been a flurry of new home building. Most are the popular “small houses” on 25 ft lots. They sell for over $300,000. Not exactly affordable housing. They replaced many affordable duplexes that rented two bedrooms for around $700, sometimes less. Some of those duplexes were rundown eyesores, poorly maintained and poorly managed by slumlords. It’s hard to mourn their loss but I do. If the City enforced codes they could have been less of a blight and at least they were more in keeping with the age of surrounding housing stock. The “small houses” are kind of cute but don’t seem to belong to the neighborhood. Also, I’m concerned about the quality of the construction.

  11. Ray: We have welcomed the residents of 930 W. Craig. I have welcomed them myself. They are our neighbors. I can’t imagine that anyone received hate mail. If that is the case, it did not come from anyone in BHANA.

  12. So where do you put your disabled family member that’s on a $1000 a month fixed income and know he’s safe? 3-4 roommates in an apartment just barely surviving? Raise the rates or move to to “west side”? That’s just greed.

  13. When people visit other cities, the neighborhoods they want to explore are the ones that are redeveloping. In New York, for instance, everyone wants to go to Harlem and to Williamsburg these days. These were neighborhoods that deteriorated so far over time that only redevelopment/gentrification could save them. In a few years, the Bronx will probably be on the list. At the same time, other neighborhoods somewhere in the city are going down in value and in interest. My point is that change happens in older neighborhoods. Some neighborhoods are in transition going downward, while others are going upward. A city cannot stay the same. When a neighborhood is going downward, all the people living there rush to move out while lamenting the fact that they are getting so little for the sale of their property. When a neighborhood is going upward, the people living there lament the fact that it is getting harder and harder to stay there because of the rising value/related taxes of their property. The people in San Antonio neighborhoods that are facing increasing interest, rising prices, rising tax rates, and gentrification (which is a word that really means neighborhood improvement vs. neighborhood deterioration) seem to want to stop time. They want their neighborhood to stay as it is, their taxes to stay as they are, etc. That’s not going to happen.

    The city can be a bit more creative, though. For instance, it could implement a policy that anyone living in such a designated neighborhood more than 10 years could be given the option of having a “hold” placed on the payment of part of their taxes (not a free ride and not a freeze). Assessments and taxes due could continue to rise in relation to neighborhood values based on continuing sales, but the amount to be paid each year could be limited to a rise related to general inflation or a maximum percentage with the difference (the amount related to the unpaid amounts based on true values) accumulating to be paid out of the sale of the house whenever it occurs in the future. For instance, a homeowner might continue paying $2500 in taxes plus an inflation/maximum percentage rise rate each year while there is a growing tax-due debt related to the true taxes due. When they sale their house, currently valued at say $175,000, upon death or decision to leave the neighborhood at say $625,000, they would have to pay the non-paid true taxes due that would have accumulated over time out of the sale price. This would be one way to be fair in all respects–to let those stay who want to stay within the neighborhood what is affordable for them while not stopping the redevelopment/rising property values of the neighborhood. But it would be unfair to all citizens of the city give a free ride tax-wise to these people who have “hit the jackpot” by living in a neighborhood that has increasing interest, rising values, etc.

  14. Cynthia,

    San Antonio’s historic neighborhoods are unique and are, or will be, very desirable places to live. San Antonio was the largest city in Texas, before the introduction of the automobile, and its neighborhoods were designed in a compact grid pattern to provide easy accessibility to its streetcar system. It is likely that San Antonio, in a close tie with Houston, has the most unique, “streetcar” designed, neighborhoods than any other city in Texas. That being said, San Antonio’s historic neighborhoods are well protected by historic preservation overlays, and by zoning designations. Because of this, there is a lot of demand to live in these neighborhoods, and not a lot of supply available.

    So, when there is a lot of demand, and limited supply, what happens? Well, the prices of the supplied goods will rise. Not only will the prices rise, but a wave of investment will occur. People will buy homes, fix them up, and sell them to meet the demand. If a vacant lot is found, people will construct new homes that meet demand and sell them for a price that meets demand. Regardless of design standards, neighborhood plans, and zoning codes, demand will increase the prices of the homes in San Antonio’s grid pattern neighborhoods. This wave is inevitable, unless there is a shock to the economy or a change in consumer preference.

    So, I guess the problem is that a resident of Beacon Hill that purchased a home for $50,000 ten years ago now has to pay property tax on a home valued at $200,000 by Bexar County. Well, the homes are going to increase in value regardless of what happens with design standards and new construction, since there is high demand for homes in the area. So, as Mark suggested above, why aren’t we talking about property tax relief for homesteaders?

    Either that, or why aren’t we protesting the tax assessments? Let’s say a town home development happens on a site zoned IDZ and results in four lots sized 2,000 sf a piece and the town homes sell for $300,000 a piece. The lots make up ~20% of this price, so a 2,000 sf lot is valued at $60,000 a lot ($30/SF). If, as you say, this drives up the price of land for parcels zoned single-family, then the appraiser must not be taking into account the design standards and lot restrictions put in place on the single-family property. It should be absolutely absurd for an appraiser to assess lots sized 5,000 sf at $30 per square foot, provided that they are only zoned for one single-family structure. If this is the case, you should really organize your neighborhood to protest the new tax assessments.

    Real estate developers and “house flippers” are simply just trying to add supply or make the supply suitable to the demand. It is always easy to point the finger at the big bad developer, but the developer is an incredibly valuable part of the city ecosystem. Sometimes, it looks like new construction is part of the problem, but new construction is really trying to relieve the problem, it just can’t do it quickly enough, since it can takes years to get approvals and build the product. Also, if design and building codes make it impossible to build to a low price point, new construction will only be able to occur in neighborhoods that have demand for homes at a higher price point. There is demand in Beacon Hill.

    So, maybe you can fight with the appraiser and protest your property taxes. If not, the only way to curtail the demand is to make the neighborhood an undesirable place or keep the housing stock at an undesirable level. More crime, lower educational attainment, more dumpy vacant lots, and more homes with deferred maintenance. Otherwise, just be happy that your home investment increased by 200% and that people are taking the effort to fix up homes and make the neighborhood nicer.

    David

  15. David, there is a very vocal protest regarding property taxes. At least according to voices on social media such as FB neighborhood pages and NextDoor. Easier said than done, particularly when the primary tool used this year was going for the value of the land, not necessarily the structure. BCAD sticks to their guns!
    On the other hand, if San Antonio does indeed have the most overpriced valuations in the country right now (according to Forbes), then we should all expect a downturn in our valuations when this bubble bursts. According to BCAD, there were many valuations that went down in the wake of The Great Recession.
    https://www.forbes.com/sites/samanthasharf/2017/07/19/texas-is-home-to-the-most-overvalued-housing-markets-in-america-2017/#5d86f10d3906

  16. Cynthia, thank you for a thoughtful point of view from the front lines.
    Another consideration not mentioned is an updated transit plan for the region. I am not in favor of suburban sprawl, but it is there and won’t be going away. Plenty of places to live. Let’s establish mass transit so the auslanders can leave the big white trucks parked at the hacienda as they commute in comfort to center San Antonio. I know that would be my choice if it were available.

  17. Cynthia:
    We just discovered that the same developer as the new development shown on W. Craig has pulled permits to build FOUR 4 story units on a lot located on the 300 block of W. Norwood Ct. We’ re horrified at the prospect of having a similar eyesore (and 4 units no less) crammed into what is now a vacant lot right in the middle of a residential block in our neighborhood. No idea how on earth they also plan to also include parking for all of the residents. We’re working to see if we have any recourse at all!

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