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City Council members officially called the May municipal election Thursday, adding a charter amendment to the ballot that would expand the use of bond money to include affordable housing projects.

Council members voted 10-1 to include the proposed charter change after revisiting concerns about the potential for developers to be the main beneficiaries of the amendment. Councilman Clayton Perry (D10), who missed a Feb. 3 discussion on the matter while recovering from the coronavirus, was the lone vote against the measure.

Perry said he did not want to see bond money “siphoned” away from infrastructure requirements in the city – namely, streets, drainage, and sidewalk improvements.

“Right now, we’ve got over 400 miles of F streets – that means failed streets – with a ticket of over $800 million to fix,” he said. “D streets that are getting close to being F streets: $284 million. Drainage projects – out in your communities, people still experiencing flooding. Two billion [dollars] out there. Over $500 million in sidewalk requirements.” 

In the 2017 $850 million bond program, $594 million was dedicated to basic infrastructure. But that wasn’t enough to repair all of San Antonio’s streets and there won’t be enough funding in the 2022 bond program to meet all of the city’s infrastructure needs, Perry said.

“I just think that this language is too broad,” Perry said of the proposed charter amendment. “I have a philosophical difference on what our bond money should be going to … towards our critical core requirements here for San Antonio.”

Councilwoman Ana Sandoval (D7), who also had requested more specificity in the charter amendment language but for the purpose of ensuring that bond money went toward affordable housing projects, said she considers housing to be one of the City’s core functions.

“I know that we have a lot of streets that need a lot of repair,” she said. “But I’d rather have a dirt road and someone in a house than have the most beautiful streets in the world and not have people have a home.”

If voters approve the charter amendment in May, bond money would be used for “for permanent public improvements or for any other public purpose not prohibited by the Texas Constitution or the general laws of the State of Texas, to include affordable housing programs in scope and breadth as determined by ordinance of the City Council.” The last clause about affordable housing was added to address council members’ concerns about bond money not being used as the charter amendment intended. Current language in the city charter limits bond money use to “public works.”

Even if voters approve the amendment, the City is still restricted from applying bond funding to certain housing projects, City Attorney Andy Segovia said. For example, another section in the city charter prohibits the city from selling land for the use of public housing, which means city-owned property can’t be transferred to the San Antonio Housing Authority for public housing projects. But the City would theoretically be allowed to construct affordable housing on its own.

“[The charter amendment] gives us the possibility of working with SAHA … on projects where we’re not transferring property and then our properties aren’t being used for public housing agencies,” Segovia said. “So at least it opens the possibility. It doesn’t open the road completely, but at least it gives us a potential opportunity to work with [SAHA] on projects.”

City staff anticipates having recommended bond projects by August and calling the bond election in early 2022. That election would take place in May 2022.

This year’s May election, in addition to deciding all 10 council seats and the mayoral contest, also will include a ballot proposition that asks voters to decide whether to repeal the state law that gives police officers and firefighters collective bargaining rights. Fix SAPD, a policing reform organization that led a petition drive to get the measure on the ballot, argues that repealing that law would improve police accountability. City Clerk Tina Flores certified the petition, telling council members that more than 20,000 signatures were found to be valid, surpassing the required threshold of 19,337 signatures.

Councilmen Manny Pelaez (D8) and Roberto Treviño (D1) both applauded the signature gatherers for participating in the democratic process.

“We’ve got a large group of citizens who went out and engaged,” Pelaez said. “I may disagree with the merits, but I totally encourage citizens – when they go out and petition and they collect the correct number of signatures, they are worthy of a big high five.”

A different petition group, SAWS Accountability PAC, did not meet the requirements to put a proposition on the ballot.

The general election will be held on May 1, with early voting from April 19-27. A runoff election, if needed, will be June 5.

Jackie Wang covered local government for the San Antonio Report.