City Considers Fast-Tracking Housing Displacement Prevention Policy

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This house on Harding Place is being revitalized and restored during Rehabarama.

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

Owner-occupied rehabilitation of homes is one element of the Mayor's Housing Policy Task Force recommendations.

After hearing concerns from affordable housing advocates that it’s moving too slowly on developing policies to prevent housing displacement, the City of San Antonio is considering accelerating that process, officials said Tuesday.

The three-year plan to implement the recommendations of the Mayor’s Housing Policy Task Force had called for spending 2020 on in-depth analysis and policy formation aimed at preventing housing displacement. Now, that so-called “root-cause assessment” could start this year – if City Council approves.

“Certainly it’s a good step, and it should have been done yesterday,” Maria Tijerina, a leader with of COPS/Metro Alliance and Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church, told the Rivard Report. “Displacement is happening now.”

COPS/Metro Alliance members pressed Mayor Ron Nirenberg and the City in February to tackle gentrification and displacement more urgently. Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales (D5), who chairs a Council subcommittee, has asked her colleagues to fast-track consideration of a shorter timeline for the study.

But to accelerate the root-cause displacement study, something has to give, Deputy City Manager Peter Zanoni told reporters Tuesday. City staff in the Neighborhood and Housing Services Department would have to either “reshuffle our business plan” and delay work on one of three other projects, or the City would have to find an estimated $300,000 to hire a consultant to perform the displacement policy study and develop recommendations, Zanoni said. That number includes other costs associated with the study, including public engagement meetings.

“[The latter option] is one that [City Council] may like because it won’t cause us to have to stop doing something today,” he said.

After this article was originally published, Zanoni informed the Rivard Report that City staff, after a meeting between City Manager Erik Walsh and Mayor Ron Nirenberg, has decided to recommend using savings from other housing programs to fund a consultant that would perform the work that could take a year to 18 months to complete.

That recommendation will be presented to the Council’s Comprehensive Plan Committee on Wednesday. That committee can make the final decision on how to proceed, or not to proceed, with the study now. City Council would have to approve a contract with the consultant at a later date.

Update: On Wednesday morning, the committee voted in favor of the plan to hire a consultant and start the study and policy formation this year. 

On Thursday, City Council will vote on the $1 million Risk Mitigation Fund aimed at assisting people who have been or are about to be displaced because of rising rent, property taxes, or trouble paying mortgages. Eligibility for housing or relocation assistance through the fund would based on income and demonstrated financial burden. Anyone making the local average median income or below could qualify, but benefits are scaled to increase for those who make 80 percent AMI or less.

The fund is intended to help an estimated 200 families, Zanoni said.

“Some people are worried that the money will run out, which it might,” he said.

The City, through its general fund and federal grants, already provides relocation assistance similar to the risk mitigation fund, said Veronica Soto, director of the Neighborhood and Housing Services Department (NHSD). But the roughly $500,000 that comes from existing sources comes with tighter eligibility restrictions.

Meanwhile, the City is working on other initiatives that should help ease housing vulnerability, Soto said. It’s working with State Rep. Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio) on proposed legislation that would provide some school district tax relief for homes that have been occupied by the owner for at least 15 years, develop a coordinated housing system to connect homeowners in need with housing resources, carry out $10 million in housing rehabilitation programs, and work on establishing Neighborhood Empowerment Zones that would freeze taxes for homeowners who invest in improving their homes in certain neighborhoods.

“When we fix up a home, we keep a family that lives there in that home,” Soto said. The mitigation fund is “a deliverable that we can address this year.”

Previous local work commissioned by the Housing Task Force and Housing Commission provided a baseline of housing conditions in San Antonio, Zanoni said, but much more in-depth study is needed to formulate policy on how to stop or manage displacement.

“Austin, as an example, spent a year developing what were the root causes [of housing displacement], but they have not done anything to improve them,” he said. “So it’s a two-step process.”

While the City of Austin has implemented numerous ways to mitigate displacement, none of the recommendations from its anti-displacement task force have been implemented, Zanoni added.

A 2018 report that identified potentially vulnerable neighborhoods provided “a foundation for the areas we need to focus on,” Soto said, “but we need to update that information and see if the numbers [in subsequent years hold true].” The report used data from 2000-2016.

Soto said City housing officials are coordinating with the Bexar Appraisal District on the City’s pending study of the property appraisal process.

Councilwoman Gonzales said she will file a council consideration request soon that would bump up the timeline for the root-cause study.

“I think that if we can find additional funding for a consultant that would be the best option [instead of delaying other work],” Gonzales told the Rivard Report. “We want to keep everything on track.”

Nirenberg established the Housing Policy Task Force in 2017. Its report and recommendations, which were adopted by City Council last year, include estimates for a 10-year funding plan that approaches $3.9 billion in public and private money. Click here to download the 56-page report.

In an emailed statement, the mayor said he supports the accelerated timeline.

“One of the reasons that I created the Mayor’s Housing Policy Task Force was to ensure that families can live in decent, stable and affordable housing regardless of their income,” Nirenberg said. “The task force report established the framework for the current discussion, and I am encouraged by Council and staff’s participation in moving the task force agenda forward.”

The City’s fiscal year 2019 budget includes $25 million for housing – the first budget to emphasize housing needs – and NHSD developed a three-year plan to implement the policy.

“[The City] couldn’t do everything at the same time,” Soto said, so the three-year plan was based on community feedback collected through the task force’s process. 

Several members of COPS Metro and other affordable housing advocates said they will appear at the “Citizens to be Heard” portion of City Council’s weekly meeting at 6 p.m. Wednesday. They have invited Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller to speak in favor of the City addressing displacement.


14 thoughts on “City Considers Fast-Tracking Housing Displacement Prevention Policy

  1. This is the craziest thing I’ve ever seen. Don’t we all know what causes displacement, why do we need a study tell us that people don’t have the financial means to pay high taxes or the inability to make code complaince home repairs?? Is this a stalling tactic?

    • No, it’s about setting policies that are based on real data and not on anecdotes. That data takes time and manpower to find and analyze.

      • Well what was the Mayors Housing Policy Task Force doing from 2017 when they began their research, up to the time the city Council adopted their findings in 2018?! According to this article, “The task force report established the framework for the current discussion,” It takes ONE YEAR to “establish,” that displacement is occurring and now it’s gonna take another year to gather data and analysis?!

        Last year I attended one of these open comments meeting held at the Main Library and left feeling frustrated from the lack of audience participation and interaction. There was one gentle lady that evening whom I recall stated that the funding which the City was planning to set aside for displaced families was only a drop in the proverbial bucket. However no one, including myself followed up on her statement.

        It’s great that our downtown is finally becoming a bustling and thriving destination for all age groups and income levels, and I applaud the City for placing the issue of displacement front and center. But it mystifies me how long and expensive the process takes to find answers to this issue? The city maintains records on individuals that are late on their taxes as well as homes that are not within code compliance. They also maintain records of homes sales, right? Why would this take a year and $300,000.00 to get that answer. The city could also make this project into a data gathering/public event for local volunteers, high school or college students wishing to learn survey skills. Sign me up.

        It’s great that The Rivard Report allows for public discussion. Perhaps this platform can organize and engage fellow citizens into action. The results of which could increase the speed at which policy becomes law/ordinance.

  2. I would argue that you can follow other cities that have addressed similar housing problems and implement those policies almost word for word. I think there really doesn’t need to be a study involved here.

  3. This is ridiculous. If the city wants to prevent displacement and create affordable housing, it needs to quit providing corporate welfare to downtown developers in the form of massive tax break. This funding is depriving struggling neighborhoods throughout the city of millions of dollars. City policy is directly creating homelessness and poverty. How about dispersing funds to poor neighborhoods at the same level that downtown condo projects are receiving.

    “Funding a consultant.” Give me a break!

  4. The City of San Antonio isn’t serious. There’s NO need to hire a $300,000 consultant. The above comments say it all.
    What is needed is a City ordinance prohibiting the mayor and council members receiving bribes disguised as campaign donations from developers or building contractors.
    Furthermore taxpayers shouldn’t fund displacement costs. This should be paid for by the developers causing the displacement.

  5. Root causes? How about critically examining the impacts & outcomes from the city’s urban planning model, where “success” is measured in business terms, rather than in socioeconomic terms. This old, narrow, limited SA Tomorrow “vision” favors growth at any cost, leading directly & indirectly to scarcity, gentrification, displacement, rising property values/taxes, greatly & irreversibly affecting low-moderate income families. The city is not serious, courageous, or wise by pursuing their “economic growth”, metroplex agenda. Changing the paradigm will not be easy, but is necessary when things go from bad to worse.

  6. Considering that the voters decided that a little more than $300,000 was to much to a CM who actually did something, spending that amount on a consultant that will do nothing seems nuts. One way to prevent most displacement is to stop all new construction, and put a halt to tax increases.

    Actually, displacement is a myth. Say a developer puts four units where there was a single family dwelling. Four people move in to the new complex, after vacating former residences. Those residences are now available, presumably at lower cost or rent. And so in. Down the line.

    All this concern is about the old liberal boogeyman, the worry that someone may make a profit.

  7. The city needs to look no further than it’s own pro-gentrification and development policies to get to the ‘root cause.’ It’s that simple.

    Why does the Mayor and city council act like they don’t have a clue why displacement occurs when their votes on the dais are the major reasons for displacement?

  8. I’ll save you the trouble of a “root-cause analysis.” The root cause is that Bexar County tax appraisals are getting jacked up by 20-30% every year for neighborhoods near downtown. Even with the 10% homestead cap, a 10% increase year after year adds up pretty quickly. I already had to move out of Tobin Hill because of it. My current house payment has gone up $300/month in 3 years just due to increased tax appraisal. I was hoping to retire next year, but can’t afford my current house if I do. So, I’ll need to sell to some incoming gentrifiers and move to a more affordable location. That’s sad because I really love my neighborhood.

    • Your jacked-up tax appraisals & unaffordability problem is the consequence & is symptomatic of the actual “root cause” — the city’s adopted, longstanding “vision” to facilitate & subsidize its economic growth, metroplex agenda. No one looks at its adopted long-range plan. Get it?

  9. Displacement is cause by the the city and county and their neverending assault on their citizens.The county can lower the tax rate,they just do not want to.How do they expect us to budget for these increases?

  10. Neighborhood and Housing Servives Department has been working on issue for the last seven years or more with all the resources needed. Only meetings are held without any results, enough studies already and more results. When do we hold staff accountable? Management is too top heavy !

  11. This is not that difficult of a problem to solve. The people/City need to pass building codes/laws that require new multi-unit developers to mix-in a variety of sizes and affordability for every new development. And also raise corporate/business taxes to help subsidize if necessary – businesses need all kinds of people and people need affordable places to live.

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