City Council members directed City of San Antonio staff to pursue several ways to help lift area residents out of poverty following the increase in the area’s poverty rate and the Status of Poverty Report city officials recently produced in response.

The Planning and Land Development Committee, comprising five Council members, agreed Monday that more should be done by local government to address generational poverty and economic segregation in San Antonio.

Committee members generally supported the report’s recommendations, which included expanding permanent housing and services for homeless residents, creating additional senior housing suited to aging in place, increasing funding for displacement prevention programs, and looking into targeted property tax relief for low-income homeowners.

The committee also is tasked with considering recommendations from the report related to affordable housing. In the coming weeks, several other City Council committees will take on other recommendations, including those related to economic development, transportation, health, and more. Final recommendations from these committees are slated to come before City Council in April, ahead of fiscal year 2021 City budget discussions.

“This calls for all-hands, immediate effort from every sector of our city,” stated Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales (D5), the committee chair. “One out of every five San Antonians – mostly children, mostly women-head-of-household families – are relying on us to see them, and act. There is no time to waste, and the process we kick-started this afternoon should be our top priority in the weeks and months to come.”

Meanwhile, 64 percent of area voters surveyed in the Bexar Facts/KSAT/Rivard Report Poll, which was released Tuesday, said elected officials weren’t doing enough to address poverty.

About 90 percent of low-income renters and 70 percent of low-income homeowners are cost-burdened, meaning they spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing-related costs, according to the report on poverty compiled by City staff.

A number of City initiatives already are targeting the lack of affordable housing in San Antonio as a result of the housing policy framework adopted by City Council in 2018.

The City spends more than $29 million per year on affordable housing initiatives, including housing development, home rehabilitation programs, and displacement mitigation, said Melody Woosley, director of the City’s Department of Human Services.

While overall homeless population estimates have decreased, more families found themselves on the street last year compared to 2018, according to annual point-in-time counts. The City spends $10 million per year on Haven for Hope, the area’s largest homeless shelter, and about $13 million on San Antonio Police Department units and programs that connect homeless individuals to mental health services and other resources, Woosley said.

In 2018, the San Antonio area had the highest percentage of people living in poverty out of the top 25 most populous metropolitan areas, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.

Work on this problem has already begun, said Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran (D3).

“I think we have seen some positive changes [in terms of fighting poverty] that may not have been recorded in the census data,” Viagran said, but added that a comprehensive look at poverty is needed to avoid just putting “Band-Aids” on the problem.

“I’m very happy that we’re being aggressive with this,” Viagran said, noting that she‘s particularly supports targeted property tax relief,

With more than 45 percent of housing units in San Antonio occupied by renters, Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) highlighted the need for the soon-to-be-established Renters Commission.

“Tackling homeownership is a worthy cause,” he said, “but we’re only halfway there. … I really want us to understand where the majority of the issue seems to reside.”

The renters commission will comprise people selected by Council members who live in each district, Treviño said. Final recommendations for the commission are expected this spring.

Iris Dimmick

Senior reporter Iris Dimmick covers City Hall, politics, development, and more. Contact her at iris@rivardreport.com

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