The so-called Gentrification Task Force, for all intents and purposes, completed its task Thursday afternoon as the City Council unanimously accepted its report and created a commission to carry out its short and long term recommendations aimed at mitigating the possible effects that revitalization has on low-income neighborhoods, namely: displacement of low-income residents and the loss of historic and/or cultural identity of communities.
That is, depending on whom you ask. Three task force members took issue with the process, timeline, and outcomes of the Mayor’s Task Force on Preserving Diverse and Dynamic Neighborhoods – including the commission.
The commission was going to be called the San Antonio Housing Commission, but after discussion a more specific name was chosen: Commission for Preserving Diverse and Dynamic Neighborhoods. Public officials typically avoid using the “G” word, but it will likely be unofficially known as the Gentrification Commission.
This report is just a framework – a guide for the commission, which will be comprised of business, academic, and community representatives appointed by the mayor and City Council. As per amendment, each council member will be able to select one of the 15-member commission, the mayor gets five.
“These are not action items,” said Councilmember Mike Gallagher (D10). “These recommendations should be thoroughly vetted through commission and the proper committees prior to council voting.”
Council members agreed, this is just the first step of many towards policies that preserve and protect neighborhoods from sudden, drastic upheaval.
Two of the task force members, community advocates Nettie Hinton and former Councilmember Maria Berriozábal, were opposed to the final report entirely. They called for a delay of the Council vote out of concern that the report was too watered down to be an effective policy guide.
“I don’t believe we did justice to the task that (former) Mayor (Julián) Castro left us,” Berriozábal said.
Friday, May 15, marks the one year anniversary of the controversial, 6-4 vote by City Council to rezone Mission Trails mobile home park to allow for a $75 million luxury apartment complex. According to the report, 296 men, women, and children moved or abandoned their homes. The introduction to the report provides this summary of the aftermath of the decision and how the task force came to be:
“The developer voluntarily provided relocation assistance to the affected residents. The City’s Department of Human Services (DHS) provided relocation counseling to assist residents to identify options for relation to new residences. DHS also provided utility assistance and/or rental assistance to seven resident families in need of those services. Notwithstanding the above, some residents believe that the assistance provided was not adequate and many felt there should have been options to allow them to stay. “
Castro created the task force just before leaving San Antonio to become the U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.
“Some of the recommendations are very good,” Berriozábal said. “But even though preservation is in the actual title of our task force I don’t think we spent enough time on it … we spent more time on relocation of people than helping them stay in their neighborhoods.”
That doesn’t mean she wants them to stay poor, she said, “It is exactly the opposite.” Instead, she wants revitalization to bring opportunities to low-income residents, not eviction notices.
Hinton showed her dismay with the report by standing with her back to City Council while the report was discussed (see top photo). About 20 people showed up to the meeting, several from the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center and Texas Organizing Project, to call for a delayed vote.
Task force member Christine Drennon, an associate professor at Trinity University who has researched San Antonio’s urban housing issues, supported the recommendations as a whole, but agreed that “the process was flawed and probably too quick.”
Drennon said the main concern of the task force is preserving a safe, affordable housing stock, so there should be more mechanisms that help low-income residents maintain their homes without a disproportionate penalty of rising property values/taxes.
“Developers receive incentives to build,” Drennon said. “Residents must receive incentives as well to invest in their homes.”
The main thrust of the report is to protect low-income, often older residents from being priced out or kicked out of their homes or apartments without fair notice or a financial safety net. As more inner-city neighborhoods see an influx of apartments, condos, and home development to accommodate the influx of urban core newcomers, older, neglected properties will potentially see an increase of property values and therefore taxes for owners.
Some short-term recommendations include the creation of a Commission for Preserving Diverse and Dynamic Neighborhoods (check that off the list); amending the zoning change notification process to allow for more information and more residents to be notified of zoning hearings; and developing a relocation assistance program for projects that receive city tax/rebate incentives.
Another short-term recommendation the City can cross off its list is planning and hosting an annual Housing Summit. Friday, May 15, the Convention Center will host the 2015 Housing Summit. Starting with breakfast at 7:30 a.m., the summit agenda includes research presentations, panels with City officials, and work sessions. The idea is to incorporate information gathered at these summits into the new commission’s work.
Long-term recommendations include developing a housing bond to pay for affordable housing projects and programming for voters to approve as soon as 2017; and consideration of creating a community land trust that would collectively own land and empowerment zones that provide tax breaks for long-time residents in certain neighborhoods. Click here to download the draft report (a final report is yet to be finalized after Council’s minor amendments).
*Featured/top image: Nettie Hinton stands in opposition of the task force recommendation. Photo by Iris Dimmick.