Kathryn Boyd-Batstone / Rivard Report
We are at the beginning of an affordable housing crisis in San Antonio. The $850 million 2017 City of San Antonio bond program that is now before voters is a crucial first step to staving off this crisis.
As of 2015, San Antonio had a deficit of more than 100,000 affordable housing units. And let’s be clear, this is not subsidized housing. We’re talking about homes for the people who go to work at very important jobs in this city every day – nurses and medical attendants, skilled trades workers, people in the service industry. These are literally the people who keep our city alive and thriving, but for whom rising rents and real estate prices make housing costs take a disproportionate amount of their monthly income.
At the rate San Antonio is building affordable housing, it would take 100 years to make up for the deficit that existed in 2015, never mind how much that deficit has grown in two years. Proposition 6, part of the 2017 bond package, is a key component to solving our housing deficit.
This portion of the bond calls for investing $20 million in urban renewal efforts in 12 neighborhoods located throughout the city. These public investments will in turn spur private investments that will catalyze more neighborhood improvements that will enhance opportunities for San Antonio working families for years to come.
Serving as a co-chair for the Neighborhood Improvements Bond Committee gave me the opportunity to understand just how widespread San Antonio’s housing crisis is. Consider the Wurzbach corridor – one of the 12 areas targeted for revitalization as part of Proposition 6. It is also a main thoroughfare within the South Texas Medical Center.
Development is not the challenge here. Hospital systems and medical groups continue to invest heavily to make their facilities bigger and better. And as they grow, so too does the number of health care related businesses aimed at serving these facilities and the patients and employees who are in the Medical Center on a daily basis.
Yes, housing stock has been added for physicians, executives and other higher-wage employees who can afford it. But for the orderlies, nurses, lab technicians, and other individuals who make it possible for these facilities to serve local residents, that development has not kept pace. Many of these men and women spend anywhere from one to two hours – often on public transportation – traveling to and from work, simply because they cannot afford to live near their jobs in the Medical Center.
This is a scenario playing out across our city. That is why the urban renewal portion of the bond, Proposition 6, is so important. San Antonians have a chance to change the direction of development in 12 communities that have been, for far too long, overlooked and underutilized.
As to how those 12 urban areas were chosen, much credit must be given to the 30 individuals who made up the Neighborhood Improvements Committee, along with me and co-chair Jim Leonard. I had the privilege of working with a group of men and women who understand the communities they represent, and what these neighborhoods need to make revitalization possible.
Committee members were open-minded enough to respect that some areas originally targeted for improvement were not appropriate for public investment. These did not make it to the final list of recommended neighborhood improvements. Their voices, combined with those of residents who attended each of our public meetings, ensured that the final list was as diverse as the citizenry of San Antonio itself.
Now it is time for the public at large to let its voice be heard. A “yes” vote for Proposition 6 is a vote for investing the funds today that give the City the means to lay the groundwork for the housing stock that has been out of reach for too many people for too long.
We don’t have 100 years to catch up to San Antonio’s affordable-housing crisis. What we do have is the power to set in motion a plan for getting ahead of this challenge by voting for the 2017 bond program.
We need to put this plan into motion. We cannot assume that this opportunity will be available in five years or sometime further down the road. We need to get in front of this housing crisis before the people who built our city are priced out of it.