Scott Ball / Rivard Report
Infill development in San Antonio's urban core has accelerated, bringing more apartments, mixed-use developments, and businesses to the area. As the growth gains momentum, affordability for many residents is diminishing.
This is no secret to local officials. Mayor Ivy Taylor, an urban planner by trade with extensive experience in housing, has made the availability of affordable housing and diverse neighborhoods one of her top priorities in office.
Bringing back the city's annual housing summit, which had been on hiatus until three years ago when Taylor resurrected it, is one way she hopes to address San Antonio's affordable housing needs through the exchange of ideas and knowledge among local and national industry leaders and participants.
"For our city to kind of advance and continue seeing the positive trajectory we’ve been seeing and continue to attract folks, we know that housing affordability is one of our competitive advantages here," Taylor said. "But being that wages haven’t kept up with the cost of housing, it’s important to have that conversation on how we can ensure that we have a variety of housing types available for folks at all income levels."
Taylor reconvened the summit because "I thought it was a great opportunity for all of the many different players and stakeholders involved with housing to be able to get together to talk about where we are as a community, where we need to go, and what our challenges are, and how we can best use our resources," she said.
The two-day Mayor's Housing Summit is set for all day Tuesday, May 23 and Wednesday, May 24 at the Henry B. González Convention Center. Tickets, which start at $15 and go up to $25, can be purchased here.
This year's program theme is "Practical Strategies for Community Building." It will feature a professional development day on Tuesday, where those in the local housing community including government officials, nonprofit employees, private sector workers, and neighborhood association board members can take part in training modules and earn continuing education credits. The idea is to have local participants already involved in the housing industry build on their skill sets to further contribute to the city's housing initiatives.
The day will conclude with the Urban Land Institute's Real Estate Developer Shark Tank from 5:30-8 p.m.
Wednesday will feature roundtable sessions touching on homelessness, senior housing, sustainability, changing neighborhoods, finance, and policy. Speakers include local developer David Adelman; Roy Juarez Jr., who overcame homelessness to become a motivational speaker; Zack Giffin, star of the FYI network series "Tiny House Nation;" former Housing and Urban Development Secretary and Mayor Henry Cisneros; and Stockton Williams, executive vice president of the Urban Land Institute.
This year's keynote speaker is Ellen Dunham-Jones, a world-renowned urban and suburban design expert who "will explore the importance and benefits of creating sustainable communities while addressing inequality through the implementation of SA Tomorrow," according to the event page.
San Antonio and other cities are in "a critical phase" right now in terms of federal funding made available for housing initiatives, Taylor said, and local officials should "be taking a hard look at how we can stretch those dollars and better utilize them," she said. "And I hope we’ll be making some changes to incentive policies and maybe even development code as well in order to facilitate the type of housing we want to see."
The end goal for the City and its nonprofit partners is to take all of the ideas shared during the conference and use them to form solutions to San Antonio's housing and urban development issues.
Along with the summit, Taylor spearheaded the effort to establish the city's first-ever affordable housing bond, which was recently approved by voters in the May 6 election. The bond funds – $20 million – are meant to go toward implementing affordable housing or mixed-use developments, readying selected properties for development, or providing neighborhood improvements in the city's most distressed or underutilized areas.
It's just a start, but officials – including Taylor – see it as a major step toward more housing security and stable neighborhoods in San Antonio.
"As we continue to grow, our neighborhood is going to continue to provide opportunities for all of our families, so I think the housing proposition gives us the chance to address slum and blight in some of our neighborhoods and make investments and redevelop, so it’s very exciting," she said on election night after the housing bond was approved.
For City Councilman Ron Nirenberg (D8), who is facing Taylor in the June 10 mayoral runoff election, the mayor's efforts on housing are not enough.
"We have significant challenges in our community related to affordable housing and gentrification," he said. "The mayor's piecemeal approach to tackling these issues has not yielded results. We need a comprehensive and compassionate approach to our growing housing challenges, and we need it now."
Those who are unable to make this year's housing summit can attend an abridged version on Saturday, June 3, at the Convention Center. Anyone wishing to apply for a scholarship to attend the event can contact HousingSummit@sanantonio.gov and briefly explain why you are requesting a scholarship.
For more information or to register for the summit, click here.