San Antonio City Council got its first look Wednesday at the projects that got the green light from city staff to receive nearly $44 million to increase and maintain affordable housing in the city.

The bulk of that money comes from the city’s first $150 million housing bond that can directly fund projects, which city voters approved in May. Roughly $8 million will come from various federal housing programs.

These 14 projects will build or rehabilitate an estimated 2,532 housing units — including 71 affordable homes that will be available to purchase — over the next five years.

Five projects would build new rental units, six would rehab existing rentals and three would build new affordable homes. The proposed recipients include familiar names in affordable housing, such as the local housing authority, Prospera, Alamo Community Group, Habitat for Humanity and NRP Group.

“This is a big shot in the arm for the [city’s] Strategic Housing Implementation Plan,” Mayor Ron Nirenberg said, referencing the plan approved last year that identified the need to build or preserve over 28,000 affordable housing units over the next 10 years. “I’m excited to tell all of our peers across the country who are also struggling in this area how we’re doing it here in San Antonio.”

City Council is expected to vote on this first slate of projects at its Dec. 15 meeting.

The next round of funding could open with a request for proposals as early as April, and the city’s housing officer said he’s hoping to see more creative approaches to affordable housing.

Bond proposals and priorities

The city received 29 proposals for the first round of funding, which includes $20 million for rental rehabilitation, $19 million to build rental units and $4.8 million to build homes.

A third of the units to be built or rehabbed in this round are what the city’s housing department calls “deeply affordable,” meaning rental units that someone who earns 50% or less than the area median income (AMI) can afford and housing units for someone earning 80% AMI could afford to buy.

A citizen-led committee last year directed that the bond money should prioritize the most vulnerable, cost-burdened and low-income populations.

Nearly a quarter of the units built or preserved in this first round of funding are public housing (88 units) or income-based (464 units), meaning rent is based on 30% of the household’s income.

Opportunity Home San Antonio, formerly the San Antonio Housing Authority, was selected by city staff to receive $17.5 million in bond funding, the most of any single entity.

The 88 public housing units will be part of Opportunity Home’s first phase of construction and renovation at the historic Alazán Courts housing complex. If city council approves staff’s recommendation, the housing authority would spend $8.2 million in bond funding for the $24 million project.

It would spend another $9 million to rehabilitate three other public housing projects and $220,000 to build five affordable homes for purchase in the West Side.

None of the 14 projects would be entirely funded by bond or federal grant money, said Veronica Garcia, interim director of the city’s Neighborhood and Housing Services Department. Private investment would round out the estimated $355 million total cost for all 14 projects, she said.

“Our bond dollars and federal dollars will go that much further with the private investment that’s coming,” Garcia said.

Each project was subject to a displacement impact assessment to determine if they would jeopardize — through gentrification or demolition — the housing stability of existing area residents. Only three required an additional, in-depth analysis, and they were determined to be low-risk, Garcia said.

She also noted that bond projects are not concentrated in one particular part of the city. “With these funding recommendations, we can see that all parts of the city will benefit from our affordable housing bond investments,” she said.

Many of the projects are shovel-ready, meaning work could start almost immediately if City Council approves the funding, Garcia said.

Other bond priorities

The housing bond also includes $45 million for owner-occupied home rehabilitation and preservation — for which city officials have said they received a deluge of applications before the window closed in September.

The goal for this money is to assist those making up to 50% AMI — and prioritizing those earning just 30% AMI — with home foundation and structural repair, roof shingle replacement, utility care and other maintenance needs.

The remaining $25 million is reserved for permanent supportive housing for people experiencing chronic homelessness that includes support services such as a mental health clinic or counseling.

Between the housing bond, the city’s and Bexar County’s federal coronavirus relief funding and other federal grants, the region now has $45 million to spend on permanent supportive housing.

The South Alamo Regional Alliance for the Homeless is coordinating with the city and county to award that funding. The request for proposals was released Monday and closes in January. Garcia said she expects to present selected proposals to City Council in April.

Getting creative with bond funding

Mark Carmona, the city’s first housing officer, said while it was critical to get shovel-ready projects off the ground in order to leverage private investment, he’d like to see more creativity in the next round of proposals.

That round will likely include the remaining $20 million for rental rehabilitation and preservation, $17.5 million to build rentals and $2.5 million to build homes.

“I think a good starting point is to really go back and look at the [housing plan] … and emerging best practices,” Carmona told the San Antonio Report after a recent committee meeting. That could include considering land banking or community land trusts, he said.

“Now that the [accessory dwelling unit] amendments were passed through the Unified Development Code, how can they be utilized and leveraged? …. I’m hoping that people will kind of expand [our] view a little bit more in thinking about this.”

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Iris Dimmick

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and workforce development. Contact her at iris@sareport.org