The Mayor’s Task Force on Preserving Dynamic and Diverse Neighborhoods met at City Hall Monday afternoon to discuss the definition of gentrification and explore methods used by other cities to prevent displacement of lower-income populations in “up-and-coming” neighborhoods.
“We can agree at the table here (what gentrification means),” said Mayor Ivy Taylor. “But (citizens) have different definitions. I hear people use the word gentrification and to them it’s evil … and some people use gentrification to refer to positive neighborhood change.”
But members of the task force, which includes City Council members, City staff, and citizens, at least agreed that gentrification often means involuntary displacement, and that’s what they’d like to see mitigated.
The task force initiated by former Mayor Julián Castro before he joined the Obama Cabinet was led by former District 1 Councilmember Diego Bernal before he stepped down from City Council earlier this month. It is now headed by Mayor Taylor.
Eastside community activist Nettie Hinton suggested that the timeline for results set by Castro – to have policies ready for review by the Quality of Life Subcommittee in February and then by City Council during a B Session in March – is too soon.
“The changes that have happened are so severe,” Hinton said, referring to the recent departures on City Council and the committee. “I no longer believe that (timeline) is appropriate.”
Taylor, however, remained steadfast in her goal to get something – at least some initial policies that “we could build on in the future” – presented to Council on schedule.
“I am very interested and committed to this (task force),” Taylor said. “If we extend this, for the next person, it may not be a priority … I may not be here.”
Taylor has not yet announced whether she will run for mayor in May. Two other candidates, state Rep. Mike Villarreal and state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, are in the race.
“There needs to be a longer conversation about these issues, but I don’t think this (task force) can resolve that right now. We need to provide some solid recommendations,” she said. “Let’s get something on paper, let’s get something to council and then we can add to it … I would be open to ways of further institutionalizing this conversation – maybe a new (semi-permanent) committee or subcommittee.”
City staff from the Department of Planning and Community Development presented a summary of strategies implemented in other cities to the task force. Most came from Austin’s task force and City Council and other cities in Texas as the more aggressive (or progressive) policies are in states with very different housing, property, and tax laws.
“There are a lot of California cities, for instance, that have been working with gentrification issues for decades and decades and they have some state laws that allow for more things,” said Michael Taylor, assistant director of planning and community development, after the meeting. “(California) has a ‘fair share’ requirement. The state has decided what the affordable housing need is and each community has to provide their fair share. They also allow things like inclusionary zoning, linkage fees (essentially residential impact fees) – additional regulatory things that we can’t impose.”
The task force and City staff are looking at those as well, he said, but are focusing on what Texas cities are doing and what programs the City already has in place that may need modification in light of the gentrification issue.
Taylor’s presentation included four categories for strategies that track gentrification, produce additional workforce housing, retain workforce housing, and build resident assets.
For more details, download the presentation made to the task force here.
The task force seemed to agree that tracking changing demographics like income, property values, and lot vacancies will help predict which neighborhoods will experience change in the future. Another point of agreement: implementing a policy to protect lower-income renters will be a priority.
A large portion of the population at risk are not homeowners, said former Councilmember María Berriozábal. “56.8% of the Hispanic population are renters … and our Hispanic population is large.”
Berriozábal suggested that fellow task force members read the “Rise of the Renter Nation” report released by Homes for All campaign. The report’s five pillars – affordability, accessibility, sustainability/health/quality, long-term stability and protection from displacement, and community control – could be applied in San Antonio, she said.
San Antonio for Growth on the Eastside Executive Director Jackie Gorman pointed to the possibility of using the next city bond initiative to help fund affordable housing projects and programs, which she said had been done in Austin.
“If we’re looking ahead to 2017, we’d need to start that process now,” Gorman said.
“I’m open-minded to bonds,” Mayor Taylor said. “But the market makes the case … I don’t know if we have that data to support it.”
San Antonio enjoys a much lower cost of living than Austin.
Rod Radle, community activist and former executive director of the nonprofit San Antonio Alternative Housing Corporation, suggested starting with a senior housing bond – an easier tax for the public to vote for – as Austin did.
City staff also briefed the task force on the Inner City Reinvestment Infill Policy (ICRIP), which incentivizes inner city housing projects within its boundary with tax breaks and fee waivers.
Mayor Taylor decided to hold most discussion and comment on both presentations until the next task force meeting, scheduled for Dec. 11.
*Featured/top image: Mayor Ivy Taylor leads the Task Force on Preserving Dynamic and Diverse Neighborhoods. Photo by Iris Dimmick.