Scott Ball / Rivard Report
Mayor Ron Nirenberg stood beside COPS Metro Alliance leaders Thursday morning to announce a more aggressive path forward for the City’s plan to prevent housing displacement in San Antonio.
In February the group asked Mayor Ron Nirenberg to expedite efforts to prevent displacement. Originally, the City wanted to conduct a potentially 18 month-long study starting in 2020 that would outline the root causes of displacement. Then it would start implementing policies based on that data. But after hearing the public’s concerns, City Manager Erik Walsh and Mayor Ron Nirenberg decided to use savings from other housing programs to fund an independent study and policy formation immediately.
On Thursday, COPS Metro Alliance leaders saw that promise go into effect as they were presented with immediate, near term, and long term actions that would establish a scope of work, create a plan to apply for grants and ultimately, hire a part-time staff to implement the displacement prevention plan. It also included follow-up meetings with COPS Metro.
The City reallocated existing funding within the housing department – from a loan program that has not used as much money as expected – toward the estimated $300,000 study and implementation costs.
“We are very pleased that City did hear us loud and clear, and they see the urgency in helping our communities with preventing displacement,” said Linda Davilla, a leader with of COPS/Metro Alliance.
“It’s really not a study, it’s an action plan now,” Davilla said, adding that the group will continue to monitor the City’s progress. “We know it’s just a start, it’s not the end.”
Some action has already taken place, COPS Metro officials said, including work on creating Neighborhood Empowerment Zones, targeting owner-occupied home rehabilitation programs in vulnerable neighborhoods, and a Housing Navigators program that reaches out to people to educate them about rehab and tax exemption programs.
The study that was slated for 2020 included an in-depth look at the causes of displacement, which include rising property taxes after public and private infrastructure investment, increasing rents, etc. COPS Metro called on Nirenberg to fast-track tangible action items rather than wait potentially two years for data.
University of Texas in San Antonio’s $200 million expansion in the near-West Side, which is set for 2022 completion, is expected to dramatically impact the property values – and therefore tax bills – of nearby homeowners. As part of the new “action plan,” the City will focus its analysis and displacement prevention in that area now instead of in two years.
“From my perspective, COPS Metro has been a voice of conscience for our community for over a generation,” said Nirenberg, who created a task force that produced the city’s comprehensive affordable housing policy last year. “The work to accelerate this plan was really rolling up their sleeves with City staff and figuring out how we can reprogram dollars that are already in the housing budget to ensure that we are taking care of the most basic needs.”
Sister Jane Ann Slater, a COPS Metro leader, said the new urgency shown by the City to address affordable housing is an example of San Antonio’s compassion.
“This is all about people … and preventing people who have very limited means to keep those homes in their neighborhoods,” Slater said, adding that the City will launch its #BeGoldenSA campaign Thursday evening that aims to get residents to commit to the Golden Rule; treat others as you wish to be treated.
“This is what compassionate policymaking looks like,” Nirenberg said. “We didn’t want to deliver just a housing strategy, we also wanted to deliver a comprehensive but compassionate housing policy that makes sure that we’re taking care of the people of San Antonio. When there are tweaks to be made [we make them].”