Scott Ball / Rivard Report
City Council District 5 is now home to a pilot program in which private-public partnerships aim to address the housing needs of low-income residents and lure redevelopment to the area.
Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales (D5) announced the pilot program at a news conference Tuesday at the Mexican-American Unity Council (MAUC) campus.
The program has three overriding goals:
- Connecting low- and moderate-income residents to housing resources that fit their needs
- Leveraging private investment across District 5, including a blend of homeownership and rental opportunities that recognize cultural and historical assets on the Westside
- Protecting residents from predatory market activity and preventing involuntary displacement
Gonzales envisions the pilot as a network of resources for residents, investors, and housing providers to encourage equitable investment in housing that enables current residents to stay, inspires former District 5 residents to return, and attracts newcomers to a revitalized area.
According to the National Association for Latino Community Asset Builders (NALCAB), a pilot program partner, 56.4 percent of households in District 5 are owner-occupied.
The median household income is $28,952 in District 5, one of the city’s more socioeconomically disadvantaged areas.
More than 50 percent of the homes in the district were built between 1940 and 1969, a fact not lost on local leaders and affordable housing advocates who say many area residents are financially or physically unable to renovate their home.
In August, Gonzales sought advice from a group of Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) bankers in order to better grasp the challenges associated with investing in the urban core.
Gonzales said she has been focusing on quality housing, street lighting, and infrastructure improvements as means to raising equity in District 5.
“Long-term success in providing affordable, quality housing in the urban core depends on attracting private investment for low- and moderate-income residents,” she said. “This means finding ways to lower costs for small-scale rehabilitation and infill housing development so that new investments do not generate involuntary displacements.”
The MAUC campus at 2300 W. Commerce St. will set up a community housing center as a hub for housing-related services for District 5 residents.
MAUC Board Chairwoman Gloria Davila said the new housing center will be a natural extension of her organization’s mission, “all with an understanding of our culture, tradition and linguistic heritage.”
Resources will include housing counseling, housing opportunities from nonprofit and private providers, help with owner-occupied rehabilitation, and rent and utility aid. The center will also allow partner agencies to offer their services to area residents.
One partner agency is the University of Texas at San Antonio’s College of Public Policy, where students are paired with a faculty attorney to help District 5 residents with basic estate planning and title clearance issues.
Partnering with this program brings in “research methods for sample research designs and [works] with the community to get engagement going between family members, students, and nonprofit organizations.”
Local lending nonprofit LiftFund, another partner, seeks to launch the San Antonio Housing Revitalization Fund for lending to CRA-eligible contractors with annual revenues under $1 million. The company also plans to work with partnering financial institutions to develop products that allow certain residents to take part more fully in quality housing opportunities.
“[This] is a needed initiative for our community,” said Martha Zurita, LiftFund’s communications director.
NALCAB will work with the City’s Neighborhood and Housing Services Department, LiftFund, MAUC, and UTSA to co-host a seminar for small developers and investor property owners, a technical aid seminar for small contractors, and a housing fair for the public.
NALCAB, with support from JPMorgan Chase, is also providing a $20,000 grant to help start up the housing center.
Partnering in the program is not just about meeting residents’ needs, but also about capitalizing on opportunities to improve the quality of life and level of services and resources in District 5, said Noel Poyo, NALCAB executive director.
“The larger plan for investment in housing in this community begins with services, with investing in institutions like MAUC that can support people,” he added.
The program will be a chance to look at how the City and local utilities offer fee waivers, abatements, and incentives for owner-rehab and small infill developments that can benefit the community, Gonzales said.
She sees the pilot as a laboratory for the Mayor’s Housing Policy Task Force to assess the viability of policy and priority recommendations viewed through the so-called “equity lens” that was applied to the recent City budget process.
Combining the NALCAB grant and money allocated through the City’s 2018 budget, the pilot program is starting with about $100,000 in funding.
Gonzales hopes it will be successful enough to extend to other Council districts in the urban core. Her office will publicize the program through district neighborhood newsletters, program partner organizations, and meetings with residents.
“While this pilot is a modest initiative tackling complex issues, I believe it is designed to successfully address a multitude of needs,” she said. “I am optimistically looking forward to positive, measurable results within the next two years.”