A recently released San Antonio housing market study will be used to inform the city’s policies on how best to avoid displacement in distressed and emerging neighborhoods.
City staff, with help from outside consulting firms Fregonese Associates and ECONorthwest, carried out the study which aims to inform the REnewSA strategic plan for community development and, eventually, the City’s comprehensive planning effort, SA Tomorrow.
The City’s Housing Commission to Protect and Preserve Dynamic and Diverse Neighborhoods, unofficially known as the Gentrification Commission, was briefed on the study on Feb. 25. The commission was formed last year out of recommendations from a task force that studied the effects of changing neighborhoods, property values, and displacement.
REnewSA was developed to assess local current market conditions, create a market index, and help to prepare an inventory of vacant, neglected and underutilized properties.
From there, the City can form a feasibility model to review the best uses of existing properties, types of appropriate housing, and price points. Specifically, the study could help the City zero in on low-income communities.
“Instead of spreading resources citywide, we target neighborhoods in distress,” said Michael Taylor, City planning administrator. “Distressed neighborhoods,” in this case, are defined as communities that haven’t seen any recent development, and are hosts to low rents and high vacancies.
The study outlines distressed, emerging, strong/stable and booming types of neighborhoods in four different geographic “rings” around the city, from the downtown area outward. The Edgewood neighborhood on the Westside, for instance, is classified as a “distressed” community, the Eastside Promise neighborhood is “emerging.”
Planning Coordinator Chris Lazaro said emerging markets are communities that have a blend of quality transit options, walkability, proximity to jobs, and significant community investment.
“That’s where the private and public sectors are investing, and where community groups are most strong,” Lizaro said.
The Five Points and Harlandale areas are categorized as strong and stable markets. Lazaro cited some of the booming neighborhood developments, such as Pearl, Southtown/King William, the Alamo Quarry Market and River Road area.
Taylor also acknowledged that some neighborhoods near downtown are on the cusp of gentrification.
“Intuitively, you probably know places like Mahncke Park are seeing gentrification on the edges,” he said. “This analysis shows that area already in the process (of gentrification) and other areas that are emerging.”
According to REnewSA, Mahncke Park is one of 17 emerging areas filled with economic potential that are near other vibrant areas. Some of these other emerging neighborhoods include Dignowity Hill, Terrell Heights, Oak Park/Northwood, Los Angeles Heights, Jefferson, Woodlawn, Collins Gardens, Avenida Guadalupe and Zarzamora.
The study, Taylor said, is meant to provide the city with an overall glimpse at the differing market levels of neighborhoods.
“Gentrification itself is a whole other discussion – the wholesale displacement of a population with another that has different lifestyles and different buying habits,” Taylor said, adding that the resulting feasibility model will better identify what’s happening in each neighborhood. The model would also identify where the City could have the most positive impact with investment down the road.
Commissioner Jackie Gorman, executive director of San Antonio for Growth on the Eastside, said that the study cannot discount the habits of commuters who ride bikes or use public transportation to get to their jobs. Taylor said that he and his colleagues could look at levels of educational attainment and shifts in race and ethnicity and try to add those variables into the feasibility model.
“We can also look at how sensitive (the neighborhood) is to change,” he added.
Commission member Gabriel Velasquez asked whether manufactured/mobile home parks, are considered in the study, especially following last year’s decision by the City Council to let a developer buy land that wound up displacing more than 100 residents in the poorly maintained Mission Trails Mobile Home Park.
The study does not specifically address them, Taylor said, but whether these types of communities can be considered a long-term type of adequate housing “is certainly a discussion that’s coming up.”
How best to address trailer parks is part of the City’s ongoing examination of whether to float a housing bond. City officials said voters could face such a bond as early as 2017.
A subcommittee of the Housing Commission has been meeting monthly to look at how to develop a housing bond proposal. That subcommittee met twice in February. The subcommittee will inform the Housing Commission and ultimately the City Council on how aspects of the housing bond could prevent the loss of affordable housing options in San Antonio.
The City is preparing a request for proposal that will be distributed among local colleges and universities, Taylor said. The contractor, with a maximum $25,000 contract, will help the City to further refine adequate housing policies and programs.
The City is also looking at surveying residents citywide to determine the level of support for a bond that would increase the overall supply of affordable housing. Velasquez suggested that the survey may show a higher need for affordable housing in some neighborhoods, whereas other communities may see no need for it.
“What everyone (on the housing bond subcommittee) really wants is information on what citizens want to see,” Taylor said.
*Top image: Many historic homes in Dignowity Hill have been renovated and sit next to deteriorating homes or vacant lots – one of many complex signals of gentrification. Photo by Iris Dimmick