Scott Ball / Rivard Report
City Council unanimously approved its Urban Renewal Plan Thursday, meaning that San Antonio's first-ever housing bond will go to voters as part of the 2017 Municipal Bond Election in May.
The plan, which is mandated by state law, outlines 12 geographic areas in San Antonio targeted for affordable housing development using the $20 million Neighborhood Improvements bond funds. The overall 2017 bond program is the largest in city history, at $850 million.
City officials, especially Mayor Ivy Taylor, want to see the housing bond mitigate the lack of affordable housing throughout San Antonio as the city continues to grow.
"Most folks know that I've been an advocate for expanding our community development and housing funding for many years," said Taylor, who has emphasized the importance of affordable housing throughout her career. "... I’m pleased to see us being creative and innovative to meet the challenges of our community."
If voters approve the housing bond in the May 6 election, the Office of Urban Redevelopment San Antonio (OURSA) will take on purchasing parcels of land in each of the 12 target areas as recommended by City staff. Then the City will prepare the land for redevelopment, which could include demolishing structures, environmental remediation, or installing sidewalks, for example. The City will then put out a request for project proposals and sell the parcel to a nonprofit or for-profit developer at a fair price.
OURSA is not obligated to invest the funds in all the selected areas, though it may complete projects in some or all of them over time.
City officials plan to work closely with neighborhood leadership when choosing projects and do not anticipate displacing residents or businesses or using eminent domain to implement the program.
"City staff will be first set of people who will evaluate areas and real estate options,"
said Deputy City Manager Peter Zanoni. "... and then we’ll solicit input from [the community] once an area is identified."
All development projects under the housing bond will have to meet certain affordability requirements, such as reserving at least 50% of residential units for households earning 80% Area Median Income (AMI) or less, Zanoni said.
Projects that offer more than 50% affordable units, maintain affordability for more than 20 or 30 years, or sell 50% or more of the residential units to an owner-occupant, among other things, will receive priority in the City's selection process.
Council also will give heightened consideration to developers who offer homeownership opportunities, as well as to projects located near amenities such as transit routes, parks, and employment centers.
City Manager Sheryl Sculley announced Thursday that she created the Neighborhood & Housing Services Department, "which will focus on the implementation and administration of the City’s housing policies and programs, housing development, management of Fair Housing and Homeownership programs, administration of CDBG and HOME Grants," and the housing bond if it's approved by voters.
Some City staff members will be reassigned to the new department, which will serve as liaison to the San Antonio Housing Authority, San Antonio Housing Trust and the City's Housing Commission, to assist OURSA in implementing the funds. They also will work with neighborhood associations and a citizen oversight committee to identify plots of land for purchase and the type of development that will go on them and ensure that each project is consistent with its neighborhood plan.
The oversight committee, suggested by citizens and the original Neighborhood Improvements bond committee, will include 17 members appointed for two-year terms. Ten will either be from the Neighborhood Improvements bond committee or appointed by City Council members. Mayor Taylor will appoint five residents from the improvement areas in the plan, one from the Housing Commission, and one chairperson.
"One thing I’ve learned while on City Council is [that] you better listen to those neighborhoods," said Councilman Mike Gallagher (D10). "They have to have a voice in this entire process."
Keeping the community involved in the housing bond process was a desire expressed by several council members, including Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1), who added an amendment to Section 3 of the Urban Renewal Plan that ensures regular consultation with neighborhood groups affected throughout the process.
References to maintaining community engagement were already included in the plan draft, but Treviño's amendment makes it more explicit, Zanoni said. If a neighborhood community is strongly against a particular location being targeted for development, he said, "we won't pursue that site."
Last December, Council approved 13 geographic areas in City Council districts 1-8. The Housing Committee last week voted to remove one area, the Oak Hollow area in District 8, from the plan because multi-family development is inconsistent with the neighborhood plan of Oakland Estates, where Oak Hollow is located. District 8 Councilman Ron Nirenberg suggested the site's removal after talking with area residents, who wanted to protect their neighborhood from too much density.
Taylor said she's excited to finally be at this point, using bond dollars to create more "safe, stable, mixed-income neighborhoods.
"I’m confident that we are poised to really do something new and different here that will have a positive impact on our San Antonio families," she said.