The City of San Antonio’s new housing commission members met for the first time Friday over the objection of District 5 Councilwoman Teri Castillo.
On Thursday, Castillo lambasted the appointment of Shirley Gonzales, her predecessor on the council, as the chair of the Housing Commission and said she was disappointed that the public and city council did not have the opportunity to weigh in on that decision.
“It shows a total disregard for open, good-faith discussion and looks shady at best,” she said during City Council’s regular session.
The Housing Commission is made up of nine board members, five of which are community members appointed by the mayor. The remaining four seats are filled by the CEO or executive director of the San Antonio Housing Authority, the San Antonio Housing Trust, Greater: SATX (formerly known as the San Antonio Economic Development Foundation), and VIA Metropolitan Transit. The commission oversees the implementation of housing policy recommendations.
Castillo acknowledged that the mayor has the authority to appoint Housing Commission members but said in the future City Council members should have to approve of those selections. She pointed to protests from some housing advocates over Gonzales’ appointment and called it “cronyism,” saying that Mayor Ron Nirenberg failed to address her concerns from District 5 residents about it. Nirenberg did not respond to her comments.
Despite Castillo’s criticism and request, Gonzales led the first meeting of the Housing Commission since Nirenberg appointed new members to the group. The commission discussed the Strategic Housing Implementation Plan (SHIP), which still needs to be finalized, and the upcoming 2022 bond, which will include funding for housing bond projects for the first time after voters approved a charter amendment in May. In order for the bond community groups to have an idea of how to evaluate potential projects, the Housing Commission is charged with recommending a set of guidelines for them to use.
Asked about Castillo’s criticism, Gonzales said “there is urgency” in the Housing Commission’s work, as the 2022 bond election is next spring.
“I do feel quite a responsibility, because this is a mayoral appointment and all of us here are working on behalf of the mayor and city council,” Gonzales said. “I feel an urgency to produce a quality product that they then can feel confident going to the community with.”
The housing implementation plan will be updated with new census data before staff brings the plan back to the Housing Commission next month for approval. The commission should work on having a bond project evaluation framework finalized by the time the city begins gathering community input on the 2022-2027 bond, said Jamie Lalley Damron, the housing bond administrator. Though the amount for the housing bond next year hasn’t been determined, staff is recommending $250 million, she added.
Gonzales said she recognizes the importance of creating guidelines with which to judge potential bond projects, especially as the beginning of community discussion over the bond starts soon. But she emphasized that the role of the commission is purely advisory, as it will put forward only recommendations to the full City Council to do with as it pleases.
“If the council and the mayor are not supportive of the work that we’re doing, then that would be reflected in their unwillingness to adopt policies,” she said.
Community input meetings about the next municipal bond are anticipated to start in October. The 2022 bond will be the largest in San Antonio history at $1.2 billion.