After reviewing information about the status of low-income housing market in San Antonio, the Mayor’s Task Force on Preserving Dynamic and Diverse Neighborhoods concluded their Thursday meeting one step closer towards coming up with a policy that protects residents from the deleterious effects of quickly changing neighborhoods, including gentrification.
Though council members are hesitant to refer to the meeting as a committee to prevent “gentrification,” meeting attendees had no problem using the word to describe San Antonio’s changing neighborhoods.
The task force is now headed by Mayor Ivy Taylor herself and consists of several council members along with city staff and invested community leaders.
Created by former Mayor Julián Castro before his move to work as the head of Housing and Urban Development in Washington D.C., the task force was led by District 1 Councilmember Diego Bernal until he stepped down from city council Thursday amidst speculation that he will pursue Mike Villarreal’s recently-vacated seat in the Texas House of Representatives.
“This is an area of intense interest to me and the focus of my life’s work,” said Taylor, who worked with Castro to create the committee.
Forbes recently ranked Texas as one of the best states for business investments and San Antonio was ranked number eight on the list of best cities for job growth.
While this job growth looks good, San Antonio’s low-income residents could potentially suffer two negative consequences.
First, an increase in businesses investing in local areas could spur economic development. In turn, this would increase the value of area property and increase property taxes for home-owning residents who cannot afford high mortgage payments. In inner-city areas that have seen little development over the last 30 to 40 years, renters are also at-risk of being priced out of their budget.
Residents who are unable to afford rent or mortgage payments could lead to a second, large problem for San Antonio— a lack of affordable housing.
According to the San Antonio Housing Authority, it currently has 6,254 public housing units and 7,038 mixed-income units. However, for a quickly growing city with over a million residents, public housing is already at a deficit.
With too few public housing options, San Antonio has remained fairly affordable to homeowners. The reason, said Taylor, is neglect.
By avoiding development in historically difficult areas, such as the Eastside, homeowners have been able to avoid high prices on homes and taxes. According to Taylor, some homeowners are not interested in bettering their homes out of fear that it could cause their property values to increase.
Taylor’s solution to the problem lies in increasing the earning potential of residents, rather than forcing the cost of living to stay low.
Nettie Hinton, who has been an active member in her Eastside community, was at the meeting to voice concerns about the changing demographic landscape of San Antonio’s Eastside community.
“On the Eastside, we lost generations of young people who did not feel that they could have meaningful careers here,” she said.
Hinton is referring to San Antonio’s not-so-distant past of losing college graduates and intellectuals to nearby cities such as Austin that offered more opportunity.
Hinton was also concerned about the neighborhood losing its culture to new residents who were unaware of its past.
Retaining intellectual brainpower has been a double-edged sword for older communities. A more skilled workforce with more opportunities has meant more business investment is seen in the area.
“Everything is going up. You can only control the cost so much. We have a lot of people in San Antonio who don’t have the earning potential to afford these basic things,” said Taylor.
The bulk of affordable housing programs, however, are directed primarily towards young families and the elderly who survive off of government assistance. In fact, 50 percent of San Antonio public housing is given to those under the age of 18.
Task force member David Adelman, founder and principle of Area Real Estate, cited building mixed income neighborhoods as the best way to maintain affordable housing for working class citizens. He also brought up issues of school funding, which is tied to property taxes, as reasons for promoting mixed income communities.
“The success of neighborhoods is linked to educational opportunities,” said Adelman.
Improving area education was a sentiment echoed by the entire committee, although arguments over how best to achieve this goal were divided with some saying schools would attract homeowners and others saying more valuable homes would result in better schools.
Ultimately, the task force hopes to be proactive rather than reactive by ensuring affordable housing is available the average San Antonio income.
The next meeting will be held on Nov. 17 at 3 p.m. in the Municipal Plaza Building. They plan to discuss real estate, investment and property taxes, as well as ways to promote cultural awareness of inner-city neighborhoods.
*Featured/top image: The Municipal Plaza Building at Main Plaza.