Scott Ball / Rivard Report
Mayor Ron Nirenberg's Housing Policy Task Force on Monday released its final report for comprehensive housing reform in San Antonio almost one year to the day after being formed.
The report includes final, more specific details regarding policies and recommendations previously discussed by the task force at City Council and its working groups in June, including estimates for the 10-year funding plan that approaches $3.9 billion in public and private funding. Click here to download the 56-page report.
"[The report is also] focused on an explanation of our processes and data that was used to better understand the housing challenges [in San Antonio]," task force chair Lourdes Castro Ramírez told the Rivard Report Friday. "In general, what we presented to City Council [during] B Session and what's in this report is pretty much the same."
Many of the task force's recommendations have already been acknowledged by City Council and prioritized in the City's 2019 fiscal year budget, which is slated for approval in September. That budget would triple commitments to several housing assistance and repair initiatives, create a new risk-mitigation fund for people on the brink of displacement, and add 13 City staff positions in the Neighborhood and Housing Services Department – 10 funded by the City and three by the federal government.
"We are very pleased with the budget that City Manager [Sheryl] Sculley presented last week," Ramírez said. "It's a really strong start ... but there are a number of other recommendations left [to fund]."
Should the City change its charter to allow for direct spending on housing projects – an idea that has received broad Council support in the past – the task force recommends using $250 million in bonds for housing bonds over the next 10 years.
That – combined with $485 million from the City's general fund (annual budget), property tax exemptions (approximately $58.5 million), City fee waivers ($133 million), and revenue from a revolving door loan fund ($113 million) – accounts for the 10-year plan's more than $1 billion in public sources.
The private contribution is expected to be around $2.8 billion, according to the report.
The implementation timeline provided in the report calls for Sculley to establish a position and start looking for a top executive in October "to lead housing and neighborhood-related activities and integrate with all city functions" as part of a new "coordinated housing system."
The proposed budget for next year, slated for a Council vote on Sept. 13, does not include funding for this position. For now, Sculley said, Deputy City Manager Peter Zanoni will oversee the implementation of a three-year plan he has developed with Neighborhood and Housing Services Director Veronica Soto.
"I think we would all agree that it's critically important to be able to hire an executive with experience and expertise and someone to be held accountable for making sure that these policy recommendations are implemented not just in year one," Ramírez said. "For us to make a significant impact, it's going to require a long view and commitment over time.
"We put forward our strongest recommendations for what it would take to address the affordable housing [gap]," Ramírez said. "We recognize that we're recommending – we're not dictating or directing. It becomes a conversation point for the mayor and council."
Nirenberg has indicated he would push for a more immediate hire of the executive some have called the "housing czar."
"There is still a lot to be worked out between the delivery of the recommendations and the implementation of them," he stated in an email. "My plan is to fully support the task force. That’s why I appointed them.”
The task force also calls for the City to develop a one-stop housing center and online portal for residents and developers in need of information and support regarding housing issues.
"Such a single point of access will help the City align resources and leverage public investment with effectiveness and accountability," the report reads.
The report explains that about 165,000 San Antonians are overburdened with housing expenses – meaning they spend more than 30 percent of their income on rent, mortgage payments, and other costs associated with housing, such as electricity.
The new housing system is one of five "action items" with corresponding policy priorities and strategies. Those action items are: develop a coordinated housing system; increase City investment in housing; increase affordable housing production, rehabilitation, and preservation; protect and promote neighborhoods; and ensure accountability to the public.
The report and recommendations were formulated through public input hearings and five working groups – made up of about 20-30 people each – who released their preliminary findings earlier this summer. Most recommendations are nearly identical to those presented to Council on June 20, save for a clarification for incentives and funding the City should focus on.
For homeowners, Ramírez said, the City should focus on supporting people earning up to 120 percent of the area's average median income (AMI). For renters, it should target those earning 60 percent AMI. That's because the criteria for home loans are different than for renters, she said.
"Bold" action is what Councilman Rey Saldaña (D4) asked for, and that's what he said the proposed budget provided in terms of housing.
After seeing Sculley's proposal last week, Saldaña told the Rivard Report, he understands the need to phase in and ramp up housing funding and policies.
He emphasized the importance of creating and filling that prospective executive position soon, but acknowledged that "there's not someone out there ready to go next week to take the position."
For now, the "focus is right" on tripling the budget and adding staff, he said.
City Council will likely consider the task force report in September when it will take official action, a spokesperson for the mayor said.
If approved, the Housing Commission, which was created via a separate task force initiated under then-Mayor Julián Castro, would essentially become the entity tasked with overseeing the implementation of these recommendations, according to the report.