Housing Task Force Recommends Sweeping Changes to Alleviate Market, Policy Shortfalls

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Mayor Ron Nirenberg listens as Mayor's Housing Policy Task Force Member María Antoinetta Berriozába speaks to the proposed plan.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

Mayor Ron Nirenberg listens as Mayor's Housing Policy Task Force Member María Antoinetta Berriozába speaks to the proposed plan.

Mayor Ron Nirenberg’s Housing Policy Task Force on Wednesday presented five main recommendations that come with more than one dozen ambitious action items and priorities to a largely receptive City Council.

The recommendations aim to combat growing housing gaps in San Antonio. To implement them, the task force says the City needs to start allocating $20 million of its budget every year, starting in 2019.

City Manager Sheryl Sculley said $20 million annually may not be feasible, but that funding level could be achieved with a “phased-in approach.” The task force is working on solidifying the details for a full policy report that will be presented in early August to Council, which will then consider the implications for the fiscal year 2019 budget.

An audible gasp and excited whispers filled the room as task force member Gene Dawson described the “by-right zoning” recommendation that would allow proposed housing projects to receive automatic zoning approval if half of their units are designated affordable and meet other soon-to-be-determined guidelines.

“You said, ‘Be bold,'” said task force Chair Lourdes Castro Ramírez, noting Councilman Rey Saldaña’s (D4) charge last week. Nirenberg tasked the five-member task force with creating comprehensive, compassionate policies last August, Ramírez said, confident that they and the more than 100 members of five technical working groups delivered.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

Housing Task Force Chair Lourdes Castro Ramírez.

Other action items include creating a “one-stop” housing center, 18 positions within the City’s Housing and Neighborhood Services department, and an executive position in the city manager’s office; increasing funding for payment assistance and housing rehabilitation programs; incentivizing developers who build low-income housing; providing displacement assistance; changing the City charter to allow bond money to be used for housing construction; and “removing barriers” such as fees and restrictive zoning rules.

Click here for the full outline of recommendations and here to download the 75-slide presentation given to Council on Wednesday.

Implementing tools with which the City will intervene is “not going to be easy,” Nirenberg said, adding that’s why so many cities and Councils before them have failed to act. 

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. That burden and homelessness is expected to worsen over time, Dawson said. The task force recommends focusing on building and incentivizing efforts to create housing for people who make less than 60 percent of the average median income – or less than $30,000 per year.

Task force member Maria Berriozábal, a former city councilwoman, said she combed through 30 years worth of studies, reports, and policy recommendations related to better housing policy. Many outline the same issues and lack one critical element: “political will.”

For the first time locally, a majority of City Council named housing as a top budget priority for next year’s budget along with streets, sidewalks, drainage, public safety, and transportation.

“We don’t have a resource problem, we have a priority problem,” said Dawson, president of local development firm Pape-Dawson Engineers. Energy, transportation, and water are only three of the four pillars of economic infrastructure, he said. Housing is the fourth – and under-funded – pillar.

But this kind of priority has its detractors. Councilman Greg Brockhouse (D6) questioned whether it is the City’s job to ensure housing for its residents.

While he agreed with the recommendations to lower fees and restrictions on development, Brockhouse said he’s not convinced that homeownership is a right and called the plan as a whole “social reengineering” and “probably the greatest overreach of governance in decades.”

He questioned the return on investment that home rehabilitation programs, such as the Under 1 Roof program which replaces eligible homeowners’ failing roofs with energy-efficient ones, have citywide.

Data collected from several local and national economic impact reports show that the more people are secure in their housing needs, the more jobs and prosperity there will be, Dawson said.

“We cannot lose our [housing] affordability, it’s one of our economic development secret weapons,” he said.

As for owner-occupied rehabilitation, Dawson said, “the cheapest house we can create is a house that already exists.”

Most council members agree there is a moral obligation to help solve the emerging housing crisis.

“It’d be discompassionate to pretend like [displacement and homelessness is] not happening in our community,” Councilwoman Ana Sandoval (D7) said, pausing as tears ran down her face. “It’s our job as leaders to ask ourselves how we can help.”

City Council could use a number of different funding methods to tackle the issue, Dawson said. Each has a hefty, long-term price tag beyond annual budgets involving bonds, loans, and other sources of funding.

The “replace-what’s-lost” method to backfill the federal dollars no longer streaming in, he said, would require $200 million to $400 million over 10 years; the “match-supply-to-demand” method would entail $1.36 billion to catch up; the method to eliminate overspending on housing would be $657 million per year; catching up on lost inventory would ring in at $1.1 billion; and if the City just wanted to maintain the status quo, it would still cost an additional $29 million per year.

Whichever funding mechanism the City chooses, they all aim to fix “billions of dollars [worth] of problems,” Dawson said.

Maureen Galindo, a resident of the now-Soap Factory Lofts near San Pedro Creek, attended the more than three-hour meeting. That apartment complex has become a flashpoint of the gentrification conversation in San Antonio as a new owner is renovating the units and increasing rent to coincide with its proximity to the $175 million public creek redevelopment project.

Galindo is not confident that the task force’s recommendations will be implemented – or that they would even help the most vulnerable residents in the city.

“Overall, I think what’s going to come out of this is: we need to build more and we need to incentivize developers,” she said. “[They think] with more supply prices will go down, but it’s not that simple. That’s what every other city has already done and it’s never worked.”

One recommendation directly addresses the “unintended consequences” that major public investment in amenities and infrastructure can have on surrounding communities, Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) said.

A “displacement impact assessment” will be conducted for such investments that total $15 million or more, Dawson said, and 1 percent will be set aside for a fund to mitigate displacement.

Maureen Galindo partakes in a community work session discussion of the new short term rental assistance program funded by the Community Development Block Grant.

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

Maureen Galindo expresses her concerns with the future of her family during a public input meeting regarding the Housing Policy Task Force in April 2018.

24 thoughts on “Housing Task Force Recommends Sweeping Changes to Alleviate Market, Policy Shortfalls

  1. He forgot to include the property tax issue… And I don’t see much affordable housing going up downtown regions… ?

  2. No city has ever gotten more affordable as it has gotten more densely populated. Ever. In the history of the world.

    Yet City Council seems on board with density. Then Sandoval sprouts crocodile tears. You can’t have it both ways, kids.

  3. Love the by right zoning policy but I hope they did their homework on the percentage of affordable units, most other cities have seen as high as 30% work but 50% may be a barrier for this policy to Even work.

    • just listened to the presentation, its not actually by right zoning – it has to go through a citizen advisory council to make sure the project “fits with the form of the neighborhood” – in other words, projects are very likely to get shut down if they are more than two stories – good luck getting 50% units at 60% AMI units in a development if neighborhoods will limit projects to 2-3 stories. You’d need 10+ stories to get that affordability, maybe even more.

      • Citizen advisory is a joke. Zoning is done at the will/pleasure of developers. Case in point: rezoning corner of Blanco & Wilderness Oak from business, which would have been against flow of traffic and far less vehicle traffic- to apartments. It is already an F- intersection, petitions from homeowner’s against it, traffic survey done at a time when intersection not impacted by traffic, no infrastructure to handle traffic, does not fit in w the surrounding businesses (daycare, private school)…

  4. Maureen – where do you get your info from? I thought the soap works managers gave tenants an option – they can rehab the unit and pay $100 more per month on rent or they can choose to keep the unit as is and pay no extra rent? Has anyone been evicted/displaced as of date? I am not aware of any.

  5. The property tax issue is extremely important, as gentrification creates displacement and insecurity.

    In other parts of Texas and in other states, Market Segmentation is used. This would be particularly effective in the historic districts. An upgraded or new residence could be taxed at a new rate, rather than the owner of an older, existing structure penalized because of the new construction. This makes perfect sense to me. I am surprised this idea hasn’t caught on.

    • so people that upgrade or improve their homes should get penalized and those that choose or maybe don’t have the choice to upgrade get a tax break? This isn’t making sense to me.
      Also, there has been lots of research on property taxes/values and involuntary displacement. The research shows that renters are the ones that are displaced, not homeowners. Homeowners may be more cost burdened but they typically are not displaced. I’d like to see this research done in San Antonio. UT Austin just did research on a gentrified neighborhood in Austin and found that it was renters, not homeowners, that were displaced from rising taxes and home values. We need more protection for renters. They are typically lower income and more likely to not bear the burden of rising taxes/values/rents.

      Maybe the task force didn’t tackle the issue of taxes because property taxes are a huge state issue. Many of the issues with our property tax system has to do with state legislation, reduction in state funds to education and a lack of other avenues for taxation, such as income tax. Not sure how the task force would tackle that. if we freeze taxes for residents that have lived here for X years, there will be a significant loss to the local school system, which has seen extreme funding cuts from the state already. Its a tough situation to tackle. Maybe there should be a coalition of groups from various cities lobbying the state to make changes – this would make more of an impact for more people.

      • Renters are displaced the most because apartment owners cannot raise the rent often enough to cover their costs (prop taxes, utilities, maintenance/updates, insurance, marketing, city inspections/code, legal) and still make a modicum of profit. Single family owners can put off expenses that an apartment owner cannot.

        Ultimately, they resign themselves to selling. Bye-bye renters, hello three, new 40′ tall stucco boxes.

    • Why would you start taxing people at different rates? Seems completely unfair. I’m for a flat income tax too, I don’t see that as fair either. In order for capitalism to work you have to have incentive. You have to know that your efforts aren’t going to be equalized and redistributed by the government at every level. Income, housing, healthcare…jeez what’s the point of trying to get ahead anymore?

      This isn’t going to encourage new home buyers who realize its going to be them footing the bill for new improvements to the neighborhood beyond their expensive investment of flipping a home.

      I’ve lived in older neighborhoods where houses get flipped. In 2 years, 5 houses on the same block underwent major construction. As far as the intact infrastructure I experienced potholes, no sidewalks, no fire turn around, cats fighting and peeing everywhere and it wasn’t even a 26′ wide two way street. Are you suggesting that people who buy homes on that street and invest in making those properties more attractive after decades of needing repair should also be the ones to pay extra for the streets, schools, and sidewalks to be improved? It’s all up to the transplants to do the extra lifting?

      So it’s like, sure you can move here. So long as you’re ready to pay extra to make the stuff that we all use more enjoyable for me, and at no extra cost to myself. I’m from here so I’m special like that and you need to make my city better. It’s up to you to carry the weight because I’m not going anywhere, not me I’ve been here forever. I deserve things.

      Doesn’t sound fair especially to those who intend to be the first. How do you expect to attract people with that? Sounds like a very communist idea to me.

  6. I’m highly skeptical of our city changing the charter to provide direct monies through bonds for building housing stock. I’m a solid “No” for now.
    Prop. 6-type bond monies to rebuild infrastructure to encourage affordable house-building: “Yes”.
    Bond monies to assist with rehabilitating owner-occupied, at least 5-year homesteaded, depending on how much the owner contributes (how much in grants? how much in loans, through local credit unions and banks?), “Maybe”, but leaning towards “Yes”.

  7. We seem to want our cake and eat it too. With every action/policy there are consequences. When it was declared that we are going to make “the decade of downtown”, what did you think would happen? They wanted to make DT a bigger economic engine, did they not realize an attractive DT would attract higher income households?

  8. Find more money from city budget?… then raise revenue rate. NOT by City Bonds- I will vote NO for that proposal. This money for rehabilitating older homes is money poured into a black hole… Now, if City / County will retain property ownership once original home owner that received this benefit is deceased ( no passing home to heirs ), WELLL… you may persuade me to buy into this program.
    All In All, home ownership is a privilege earned over TIME… regardless of yearly income…

  9. “As a right” and By right” are new terms to use city coffers started by the incredible give aways by the city to “incentivize” development in one of the hottest housing markets in the country. Property tax abatements for up to 35 years, waving of fees that support the cost centered city departments staff, waving SAWS fees for developers while raising rates for citizens to make up the difference…it’s a give away extravaganza at the expense of the very citizens that struggle to pay their bills!

    What’s happened is that non-profit developers want a piece of the action and now want the city to incentivize their projects at the same rates, but wait…and with no public input re. zoning changes from neighborhoods who will bare the weight of proposed affordable housing fallout. Oh,and land use and zoning changes that will “By right” avoid public input!

    This isn’t “bold”, this is creating city policy to destroy the very neighborhoods that the city flaunts as the best places to live! Chicago is trying to undo the ghettos they created years ago…because it wasn’t good public policy! The current urban planning cults of density and mixed use don’t work!

    • Absolutely agree! The city is vastly overreaching their role. The non-profits are just a way to get around accountability and do as they please. Tax abatements, by right zoning, etc. As currently done, none of this is in the interest of the taxpayer.

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