The City’s Neighborhood Improvements Bond Committee met for the second time Thursday to learn more about the 15 potential areas City staff identified as viable for the development of affordable housing.

Each area meets at least one state definition of “distressed” and are thus eligible to receive some of $20 million housing bond.

The 30-member neighborhood committee is only determining geographic locations around the city for affordable housing creation and not specific projects to occur at each location, Deputy City Manager Peter Zanoni reminded the group. By the end of the entire process, the committee will have ranked each geographic area in the order they think they should receive bond funding.

“We tried to look at areas where targeted reinvestment would have a catalytic effect wherever possible,” said interim Assistant Director of the City Department of Planning and Community Development Richard Keith, who gave a presentation detailing each of the locations, which all are within Loop 1604 and the majority within Loop 410.

That presentation can be downloaded here.

Some areas, such as the Near West-Five Points corridor pictured below, are deemed more suitable for multi-family or mixed-use development as opposed to single-family, but nearly all feature dilapidated structures or vacant lots/buildings that could be demolished or rehabilitated.

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An example of a targeted area for neighborhood improvements. Credit: Courtesy / City of San Antonio

Staff also analyzed each location’s proximity to public transportation, whether they are situated in a HUD Qualified Census Tract or Low Income Housing Tax Credit area, and whether it contains publicly-owned property, increasing the possibility for the City to save money when purchasing land.

“It’s not uncommon for the City and the County and (other public entities) to trade or sell properties to each other to achieve their own goals that align with their missions,” Keith said. “This is something that makes an area more advantageous (in this process).”

None of the proposed strategies include permanently displacing residents.

Under the Office of Urban Redevelopment San Antonio (OURSA), the city’s urban renewal agency that will implement the Urban Renewal Plan formed by the committee, the City could implement single- or multi-family housing, as well as mixed-use development with low- or mixed-income units.

Another set of 10 or so criteria was assembled by City staff for the committee to consider as a way to be more strategic when identifying areas. One of the criteria is compatibility with the City’s SA Tomorrow plan.

One of the main concerns voiced Thursday by the committee was the need to ensure frequent collaboration between City staff and neighborhood associations throughout the process. Even through these preliminary plans, staff should still gather input from those stakeholders about what sorts of development – if any – they’d like to see in their neighborhoods.

“I think we should talk to them (before we create a plan) because I’d hate for us to impose something on the community that they don’t even have a desire for,” said committee member Joy McGhee, garnering applause from some of the 40 or so citizens seated in the audience.

Bridgett White, City Planning and Community Development director, said that the City anticipates cross-referencing goals and neighborhood plans with neighborhood associations once the bond is passed by voters in May 2017, allowing them to then determine what specific projects will occur in each area and see “how (each one) fits in with surrounding neighborhood.”

A number of people who spoke during the citizens to be heard portion of Thursday’s meeting and whose neighborhoods have been targeted by the City for potential housing or mixed-use projects said they haven’t been approached by the City for their input.

Brady Alexander of the East Pyron-Symphony Lane neighborhood said that he and his neighbors oppose any multi-family, subsidized rental developments in the Hot Wells area, which is one of the targeted areas for such development. Terry Ybañez said that though the City can choose to which for-profit or nonprofit developer they sell their land to once it’s made ready for development, many developers don’t consult the surrounding communities about their plans as they should.

“In the past they have not spoken to neighbors and when they did come to speak to the community they were very condescending to us,” she said.

Other committee members worried that the $20 million would not be enough to complete significant projects in any of the areas, but Zanoni reminded them that under the Urban Renewal Plan the City can sell properties and those monies would go back into the Neighborhood Improvements program.

The City’s Housing Commission, he added, recommended that City Council start small and only allot $15-20 million this bond cycle so that the group is more likely to demonstrate success with the projects. This would make voters more likely to approve funds again to similar housing efforts in the next bond cycle, he said.

Concerns about not being able to formulate plans for specific housing projects or provide cost projections and estimates on land acquisition by the City until after the bond passes also were raised.

Zanoni reiterated to the committee that their main goal is to ready properties for affordable housing development. The $20 million in bond funds allotted to the committee could be used to buy land for redevelopment, prepare it for development, demolition, and remediate environmental issues.

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Credit: Courtesy / City of San Antonio

Other projects can take place, too, such as improving sidewalks, curbs, or lighting in neighborhoods.

Committee member Beverly Watts-Davis suggested a more thorough examination of each area by each committee member in order to have a more well-rounded and accurate representation of the development needs and opportunities of certain neighborhoods.

Committee Co-chair Jim Leonard said a good opportunity to do this would be on the bus tour the City will conduct with the committee to each of the 15 areas discussed, tentatively scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 29.

After that, the group will meet three more times and complete an online survey to prioritize neighborhood improvement areas, ultimately informing the Urban Renewal Plan draft to be presented to the City’s Housing Commission and later to City Council for adoption.

Citizens can voice their concerns at a public hearing, which must occur 30 days before the bond election and will take place on Jan. 18, 2017.

neighborhoodbondmeetingschedule
Credit: Courtesy / City of San Antonio

For a schedule of all of the meetings for the five community bond committees, click here. For a Spanish schedule, click here.

Camille Garcia

Camille Garcia is a journalist born and raised in San Antonio. She formerly worked at the San Antonio Report as assistant editor and reporter. Her email is camillenicgarcia@gmail.com