Iris Dimmick / Rivard Report
With a unanimous vote, the San Antonio City Council approved a $1 million, first-of-its-kind fund to help residents who are facing or have recently been displaced from their homes due to rising rents or other affordability issues.
The money comes from the City’s general fund and was allocated as part of the implementation of the city’s new housing policy approved last year. Combined with other local and federal dollars, the City now has roughly $1.5 million to provide emergency rental, utility, and other payments for displaced residents or those experiencing housing insecurity.
Displacement and homelessness is an “unacceptable” condition for people in San Antonio, said Mayor Ron Nirenberg, who formed a task force in 2017 that developed the policy. The City’s fiscal year 2019 budget includes $25 million as part of a three-year work plan to implement the housing policy.
Of the $1 million fund, $600,000 will be set aside for resident relocation assistance for renters, $350,000 for emergency rent or mortgage assistance, and a $50,000 rental incentive fund partnership – some of which will pay the deposit premiums for qualifying individuals who have an eviction record. The fund will assist roughly 200 households, City staff estimates, and it’s first come, first served.
Information about how to qualify and apply for assistance will be posted soon on the website of the City’s Neighborhood and Housing Services Department (NHSD), officials said.
The City hosted five public meetings, and more than a dozen stakeholder and focus group meetings to develop the policy over the past several months. While the funding was approved as part of this year’s budget, the Thursday’s vote set the qualifications for residents and specific policy used to distribute $1 million, said Veronica Soto, NHSD director.
The fund is focused on assisting residents as they are being displaced. NHSD is working on other strategies as part of the broader housing policy to prevent displacement before it happens.
A study and specific policy formation regarding the root causes of displacement will address displacement prevention. After COPS/Metro Alliance pushed for a quicker initiation of that work, slated for next year, staff started its search this week for a consultant to carry out the study and make recommendations.
In remarks to City Council on Wednesday night, Catholic Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller praised the mayor and City Council’s work so far on the risk mitigation fund, but pleaded with them to “have the urgency to address the effects of [direct and] indirect displacement.”
Increased development and property tax bills in the city have left some, especially those on fixed incomes, with insecure housing situations, he said. “We need a plan to help homeowners keep their homes.”
Applause and shouts erupted from the crowd, many of whom took buses organized by COPS Metro, a faith-based community coalition, to attend the meeting.
“I am very aware of the complexity of the issue,” García-Siller said. “I am confident that you and your staff have the information you need as well as the heart and proactivity to find solutions. … [The City can] support both the continued growth of our city and the needs of our citizens. Please don’t delay. Act now to protect our citizens and help them keep their homes.”
Council members don’t typically respond to citizens who speak during Wednesday night “citizens to be heard” sessions because of official procedures.
But after García-Siller and COPS Metro leaders spoke, Nirenberg said: “Thank you all very much. We hear you loud and clear.”
Heat Relief Coming to SAHA Residents
On Thursday, City Council also approved a $500,000 contribution for air conditioning in older San Antonio Housing Authority (SAHA) housing complexes that have gone without for decades. The federal Community Development Block Grant funds will be combined with $1 million from SAHA and private/non-profit funding for 2,800 housing units in 22 different housing facilities – most of which were built in the 1930s and 1940s.
State Rep. Digeo Bernal, who led the effort after hearing some families lived through scorching summers without air conditioning, worked with Mayor Ron Nirenberg and local philanthropist Gordon Hartman to identify the funding and fast-track installation. SAHA expects to be able to reach each home before the hottest months this year.
When he heard about these conditions in public housing, Hartman told Council before the vote, “We simply felt that was wrong.’ said Hartman, who spoke before Council and thanked Bernal, Nirenberg, and SAHA, which “was wiling to work aggressively to make this happen.”
It’s not every day that Council votes almost immediately improve the quality of life for so many residents, Bernal said. “[I’m glad we] figured out a way to do this.”