It's been a tough road for the City's Housing Commission to Protect and Preserve Dynamic and Diverse Neighborhoods. It turns out that only a portion of the proposed housing bond the advisory group has been crafting can be included in the City's forthcoming bond election in May 2017.
Due to city charter regulations that allow only public works projects – which don't include housing projects – to receive City bond funding, the commission can only complete urban renewal projects under the City’s Office of Urban Renewal San Antonio (OURSA). In addition to urban renewal projects, the commission initially wanted to seek bond funds for affordable housing construction, multi-family housing preservation and emergency repair/accessibility improvements for existing housing stock.
Despite this, the group Tuesday decided – after more than two hours of debate and discussion – to move forward with plans to address San Antonio's lack of affordable housing. They voted to make a recommendation to City Council in the next two weeks to allocate $10-25 million of the city's $850 million bond to purchase land in areas defined by Council as "blight" or "slum" – language used in the OURSA mission statement – prepare the site, and then resell it at an affordable price. The commission also recommended that there be no permanent displacement or relocation of residents.
Another recommendation is restructuring OURSA, which is in charge of administering the bond funds as directed by Council. OURSA was formerly known as San Antonio Development Association (SADA), an organization that had a history of displacing people, something that commissioners feel is inconsistent with their mission of avoiding gentrification across the city. Revamping the organization would mean reestablishing its mission, and several commissioners have expressed the desire to change the words "blight" and "slum" to more sensitive terms, among other changes.
Finally, the commission will propose amending the City charter at the next available date, which is in Nov. 2017. If the charter amendment gains voter approval, it will allow other housing projects to receive City bond funding in the future, and for the City to administer bond funds on its own instead of through OURSA.
Since its inception in May 2015, the Housing Commission has been developing various methods to mitigate the impact of gentrification in San Antonio and preserve and increase affordable housing in the inner city, including crafting a potential housing bond, the first of its kind. At the commission's last meeting in June, the group learned of the charter restrictions that forced them to head back to the drawing board to move forward in their housing bond proposal.
(Read more: Legal Limitations Put Proposed Housing Bond On Hold)
Some commissioners Tuesday felt that they still needed more time to create a more developed, comprehensive plan that's more inclusive and reflective of the commission's original mission before taking it to Council for approval.
"I understand getting that (bond) money while it's there, but I cannot support (the plan) the way it's structured right now," said commissioner Rod Radle, co-executive director at Inner City Development on the Westside. Radle has seen communities first-hand be pushed out of their homes under the guise of urban renewal in their neighborhood and feared the same would happen if there weren't strict enough stipulations in the bond and city charter. "I think we (should) get that (charter) revision done and come forth with a really good package to the citizens – it's the way we've gotta go."
Others said time was running out since City Council will begin selecting citizen bond committees, who will advise City Council on which initiatives should be allocated funds, later this month. Taking a more bite-sized approach and beginning to put housing projects on the map as far as bond allocations will be beneficial in the long run, said Deputy City Manager Peter Zanoni, since voters are more likely to continue to support those initiatives if they're successful.
The commission should act soon, he added, since it's also possible that by Nov. 2017 there may not be any funds left for housing projects.
"The calendar is moving on the bond program," he said. "Getting a recommendation to Council soon is more important and useful than waiting months."
The various setbacks and legal limitations that have bubbled up in the process have frustrated some commissioners and community members. Perhaps one of the greatest fears among all of them regarding the urban renewal process is permanently displacing people from their homes and neighborhoods to make way for new developments.
Emergency single-family homeowner rehabilitation, for example, could help mitigate that since residents could remain in their homes as they're refurbished. But due to the charter limitations, it'll be a while before any of those projects can come to fruition.
Gianna Rendon, outreach and intern coordinator at the Esperanza Peace & Justice Center who spoke before the commission Tuesday, thinks it would be worth the wait.
"There's something that happens to your psyche when you're pushed out (of your own neighborhood)," she said, urging the commission to be patient and change the city charter to create "a housing bond that will not end up creating more generational trauma."
Commission Chairwoman Jennifer Gonzalez will draft a memo for City Council to review before discussing the item further at an Aug. 10 B Session, Zanoni said. From then on, the citizen's bond committee on housing will take recommendations for housing projects from the commission to Council for approval.
Top image: The City’s Housing Commission to Protect and Preserve Dynamic and Diverse Neighborhoods meets to discuss the proposed housing bond for the city's 2017 bond election. Photo by Camille Garcia.