As San Antonio continues to grow, private and public sector partners should work closely together to find creative ways to provide more affordable housing, said more than one speaker Friday at the 2016 Mayor’s Housing Summit.

Mayor Ivy Taylor kicked off the annual summit at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center, where more than 350 people gathered to exchange ideas and hear about the city’s current housing market and forecast.

In addition to finding funding sources for the creation of affordable housing, speakers touched on San Antonio’s planned 2017 bond election, and the importance of enhancing existing neighborhoods. Taylor said the audience, ranging from realtors and developers to advocates and neighborhood leaders, all have a part to play in ensuring a sound stock of quality housing.

City of San Antonio 2016 Mayor's Housing Summit keynote speaker John Fregonese speaks about public planning. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone.
City of San Antonio 2016 Mayor’s Housing Summit keynote speaker John Fregonese speaks about public planning. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone.

“Housing, any kind of housing, isn’t produced by any one person,” Taylor said. “’Home sweet home’ isn’t just a saying, it’s the way most of us feel about our personal space.”

Taylor said the private and public sector must increase the variety of options and opportunities within the housing market as San Antonio continues to evolve.

“San Antonio is in an enviable position as one of the United States’ most vibrant communities,” Taylor said. Among large U.S. cities, only Houston, New York, and Los Angeles saw population growth between 2014 and 2015.

“All that growth and momentum brings opportunities but also challenges,” said Taylor, adding that home prices have increased locally by 6% compared to the past year.

San Antonio Board of Realtors Chairman Bob Jacobs said San Antonio, the nation’s seventh largest city, is projected to grow another 7% by 2021.

“We are a big city with a small city feel with an urban profile that appeals to many people,” he said. It is important, he added, to understand the changing needs and desires regarding where and how people want to live.

San Antonio is the most affordable city among the major metropolitan areas in Texas. The local median home price is $194,000, whereas the statewide median is $210,000. But local home market demographics are shifting, due to the influx of Millennials. The current median age of first-time homebuyers is 31, and 53 is the median age of repeat homebuyers. The overall Millennial homeownership rate in San Antonio is at 61%.

Places such as Southtown, downtown, Government Hill, and Dignowity Hill continue to experience redevelopment and a surge in new residents. But neighborhoods further away from the inner city are seeing how young professionals are helping San Antonio to be one the nation’s hottest housing markets.

The 78247 zip code, on the Northeast Side, is – as Jacobs put it – one of the country’s hottest areas. Millennials make up 36% of mortgages in the area. Aside from overall affordability, access to major transit corridors and stable neighborhoods contribute to that area’s popularity, other speakers said.

Taylor and City Planning and Community Development Director Bridgett White said this is where the SA Tomorrow long-range Comprehensive Plan affects the layout and evolution of neighborhoods, as well as the diversity of housing options.

“Neighborhoods are the backbone of the San Antonio community,” said White, adding that neighborhoods must have a range of housing types.

The SA Tomorrow plan addresses issues related to affordable housing and connectivity, and touches on priority areas and infill development possibilities. Portland-based planning consultant John Fregonese, who gave the keynote address at the housing summit, said housing policies must keep up with shifting market needs.

“The future is going to be dominated by Millennials and (baby) boomers over the next 20 years,” he said.

Texas’ overall population is one of the youngest in the nation at an average age of 37. San Antonio’s overall average age is now 33. Following that trend, demand for urban living as well as walkable communities is only going higher.

Fregonese said the SA Tomorrow plan guides local officials in reviewing the existing stock of housing and neighborhoods and how best to meet market demands. Half of the existing homes in San Antonio are single-family structures on large lots, a standard where Fregonese expects little change. However, the number of, and demand for, single-family homes on smaller lots is on the rise. Here, Fregonese said, “infill (development) will be increasing.”

Housing is not only a basic human need, Fregonese said, but can be a route to wealth to help expand opportunities for prosperity for those who live in a quality neighborhood.

“I started my business from my home investment,” he said.

Other speakers at the summit said the public and private sectors must consider different strategies – from zoning and codes to alternative funding sources – to accommodate infill development, and new, affordable housing.

The City is readying an $850 million bond package for May 2017. That package will propose, for the first time, funding to improve neighborhoods by fighting blight through the purchase and redevelopment of deteriorating properties.

San Antonio’s City charter does not permit issuance of general obligation bonds for housing. Instead, the City looks to propose using its urban renewal agency, Office of Urban Redevelopment (OURSA), to deliver $20 million in bond-funded housing projects.

Voter-approved bonds would support buying specific properties, as well as a demolition, environmental cleanup, extension of utilities, and construction or repairs of sidewalks and curbs around those properties. Mixed-income and mixed-use development can be included affordable housing units.

Calvin Parker, executive director of the Local Initiatives Support Corporation’s San Antonio office, said affordable housing should be seen as a positive thing, not something that has carried negative connotations in past years.

Parker said affordable housing bolsters socio-economic diversity, reduces the risk of gentrification, and can even cut the strain on the city’s transportation system because more people would be encouraged to live, work, play and be educated in the same but higher quality neighborhood.

“In a growing place like San Antonio, it can enable that growth to happen in a smooth way,” Parker said. “It can also enable diversity to continue and for existing residents to thrive.”

In one of the summit’s breakout session, Parker and other experts spoke about the different ways a city like San Antonio could fund affordable housing. However, a housing bond is the most “straight-forward” way,” Parker added.

HousingWorks Austin Executive Director Mandy DeMayo recounted her city’s experiences with housing bonds. Voters there approved a $55 million housing bond in 2006, while private and public sector partners leveraged an additional $196 million.

The result was more than 3,400 new homes and apartments, nearly 1,400 new rental homes for low-income families, and more than 200 new, accessible and rental homes for disabled residents and low-income seniors, respectively.

But in 2012, a $78 million housing bond failed at the polls. The public and private sector partners rallied to grow their group, increase their campaign budget, and supported clearer ballot language for a 2013 housing bond, which voters approved.

DeMayo noted other ways the City of Austin encourages development of affordable housing, such as density bonus programs and a planned rewrite of its development code. She urged San Antonio to treat housing like basic infrastructure when it comes to funding it.

“Everyone needs housing that’s affordable,” she said.

“We don’t have the opportunity right now to do what Austin did,” said NRP Group President of Government Affairs Debra Guerrero. “But what we can do is take some of these blighted areas and prepare them for affordable housing.”

Taylor said by thinking outside the box, San Antonio can become even more competitive economically as long as it invests in basic needs, such as quality housing and safe, dynamic neighborhoods.

“We are challenging those long-held assumptions,” she said. “We’re bringing in new partners, we’re looking to innovative techniques and programs from around the country.”

Mayor Ivy Taylor listens to ¡Echale! A Tu Casa Founder Francesco Piazzezi speak about innovative housing options. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone.
Mayor Ivy Taylor listens to ¡Echale! A Tu Casa Founder Francesco Piazzezi speak about innovative housing options. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone.

Top image: Mayor Ivy Taylor speaks with San Antonio Housing Authority employees at the City of San Antonio 2016 Mayor’s Housing Summit.  Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone. 

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Edmond Ortiz

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