The Mission Escondida Apartments are under construction at 1515 Mission Rd.
The PACE program allows property owners to obtain financing for clean energy projects that makes loan repayments part of an owner’s property tax bill. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

A continued influx of Latinos and millennials from around Texas and the nation is driving San Antonio’s population boom, according to various population figures. City Council members want a way to use that data to help the City prepare long-range plans for housing and transportation needs.

Sociologist and demographer Rogelio Sáenz, a professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio, briefed the Council’s Comprehensive Plan Committee on Wednesday about recent population trends in the city.

According to the Texas Demographic Center, Bexar County’s total population is projected to hit 2.09 million in 2020, and 3.34 million in 2050. The county’s Latino population is projected to rise to hit about 1 million in 2020, and nearly 2 million in 2050.

With city elections next month, discussion about the influx of people into San Antonio has surfaced in debates between Mayor Ron Nirenberg and challenger Greg Brockhouse, the District 6 councilman. Brockhouse has contended that city leaders need to focus more on the needs of San Antonio’s current citizens rather than on people who may move to San Antonio years from now.

With San Antonio already one of the nation’s fastest-growing cities, Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales (D5) and other committee members said the figures presented by Sáenz could help the city’s leaders learn exactly what is needed to better serve current and future San Antonians.

“We at the City are trying to look at housing, public safety, transportation, sustainability, and things I know that are important to me,” Gonzales said. “How do we use this information to direct the City along these lines?”

Sáenz said there has been emphasis on millennial newcomers ages 18-34 and less attention on the current total population that will be responsible for much of the projected long-term growth.

Sáenz told the Committee that most millennials in San Antonio either were born here or are coming from other parts of Texas for job opportunities. According to a 2018 Brookings Institution report, the San Antonio-New Braunfels metropolitan area was second only to Colorado Springs in the percentage growth (14.4 percent) in people ages 18-34 between 2010 and 2015.

“In the media, this is very much the presentation that we see, that [we’re] being driven by the millennial population,” he said, “and this is a very important population and one that’s very valuable because of the economic resources they stimulate along with social, political, and cultural activities here in San Antonio.”

However, Latinos, which make up a majority of San Antonio’s population, are what Sáenz called “the engine of the city’s demography.”

Among the nation’s top cities in population growth between 2016 and 2017, only San Antonio, at 64.1 percent, has a Latino population that makes up at least half the city’s population. Much of the Latino population increase is homegrown.

Sáenz also pointed to the increasing numbers of young Latinos both born in San Antonio and those moving to town for the first time. Among the top 10 U.S. cities in millennial population growth, only San Antonio has Latinos representing the majority of millennials, with 58.5 percent.

Overall, San Antonio’s 24,208 additional newcomers between 2016 and 2017 edged out Phoenix for the top spot among the nation’s largest cities with the fastest growth. San Antonio’s total population grew from 1.33 million in 2010 to 1.51 million in 2017.

San Antonio saw its total Latino population increase by more than 115,000 between 2010 and 2017, by far the largest population growth of any local ethnic group in that timeframe.

As a whole, most newcomers are coming to San Antonio from other major Texas metro areas. Between 2014 and 2017, more than 33,400 people moved here from the Austin/Round Rock region. Another 27,580 moved to town from the area that includes Houston, The Woodlands, and Sugar Land. Others have been coming from areas around Dallas/Fort Worth, McAllen, Corpus Christi, El Paso, and Laredo.

In that same time period, the Washington, D.C., and Northern Virginia area was the leading out-of-state region to see the most residents migrate to San Antonio – nearly 8,000, representing many military, cybersecurity, and other federal personnel.

Sáenz provided figures from different sources, including the U.S. Census Bureau and the American Community Survey.

Committee member and Councilman John Courage (D9) said he would love to see more data about the economic buying power of newcomers to San Antonio.

“I think that’s a really important ingredient in trying to anticipate [demand for] housing, for example,” Courage said. “If the economics of the vast majority of people who are coming are such that they can easily afford to buy a $200,000, $300,000, or $400,000 home, then we understand the need for those [housing types] to be built.”

However, if most new residents can’t afford a $200,000 home or monthly rent of $1,000, less-expensive housing needs to be a focus, Courage said.

Edmond Ortiz, a lifelong San Antonian, is a freelance reporter/editor who has worked with the San Antonio Express-News and Prime Time Newspapers.