The City's Neighborhood Improvements Bond Committee meets for the first time at the Central Library. Photo by Camille Garcia.
The City's Neighborhood Improvements Bond Committee meets at the Central Library. Credit: Camille Garcia / San Antonio Report

The City’s Neighborhood Improvements Community Bond Committee met for the first time Thursday at the Central Library to take the first step toward developing an urban renewal plan for some of San Antonio’s most distressed or underutilized areas.

The committee, which is made up of two co-chairs and 30 people representing all City Council districts, is charged with determining which areas to allocate the $20 million in the City’s 2017 bond package allotted for affordable housing development and associated infrastructure improvements. The rest of the $850 million bond package is being allocated among four other committees that address parks, facilities, drainage, and streets/bridges/sidewalks.

Since the City charter does not allow issuance of general obligation bonds for housing, all such projects have to go through the Office of Urban Redevelopment San Antonio (OURSA), the city’s urban renewal agency that reports to the City’s Center for City Development Office.

Neighborhood improvements has not been included as a municipal bond committee since two bond cycles ago. City Manager Sheryl Sculley, along with City staff and other stakeholders, were present at Thursday’s meeting to explain the bond process and the role of the committee.

Through OURSA, the City can use the bond funds to acquire land for redevelopment, prepare land for development, demolish dilapidated structures, address environmental issues at a site, or extend utilities and infrastructure including sidewalks, curbs, and lighting. The City also can purchase land or property, prepare it for redevelopment, and then sell it at fair market price to a developer for either mixed-income or affordable housing. Mixed-use developments, which blend commercial and residential uses, is another permissible option.

All of the funds made from the sale of land or property will stay within the neighborhood improvements program to fund even more housing programs, said Deputy City Manager Peter Zanoni.

“The goal is to get these sites ready for development,” he said. But the main focus for these bond funds, he added, is housing. Affordable housing is already becoming more difficult to come by, and as San Antonio continues to grow – with an expected one million more residents to move to the city by 2040 – the problem will only get worse if no action is taken.

Considering various cases of displacement of San Antonio communities in the name of urban renewal, some committee members said they need to make sure that that focus on creating housing remains at the forefront of their recommendations, even though they’re not limited to housing.

“We’re already asking (the public) to take a leap of faith with us that we’ll do what we say we’re going to do,” said Committee Co-chair Jackie Gorman, who also is the executive director of San Antonio for Growth on the Eastside. “I’d be horrified if we did one of these clean-ups and it ultimately ended up not being housing.”

The group’s recommendations crafted over the next few months will inform an overall urban renewal plan, which is required by state law and will include general information such as the locations of specific target areas for redevelopment as agreed upon by the committee. More detailed information such as specific projects that will occur at each site and their costs will be determined once the urban renewal plan is adopted by City Council and approved by the Texas Attorney General.

“The plan for this housing program is to identify geographic areas and then we’ll present those areas” to Council,” Zanoni said. “After the bond election, our staff, working with OURSA, will develop proposals for cost considerations and what (specifically) we can do to improve those areas.”

OURSA will act as a partner with the City to complete the future projects.

City staff has already determined 15 different investment areas for neighborhood improvements for the committee to analyze. All are within Loop 1604, and the majority are within Loop 410.

The identified areas include: Near-West/Five Points (D1, D5); Near East (D2); Lincoln Park/Arena District (D2); East Southcross (D3); Southeast (D3); Roosevelt-Mission Reach (D3); South Park (D3, D4); Pearsall (D4); Former Fire Academy (D5); Westside (D5); Edgewood (D6); Northwest I-10 at Loop 410 (D7); Wurzbach (D8); Blanco Road at West Avenue (D9); and Naco Perrin (D10).

Courtesy of the City of San Antonio.
Draft Neighborhood Improvements Area for the 2017 bond. Courtesy of the City of San Antonio. Credit: Courtesy / City of San Antonio

Each of the areas meet at least one term in a set of distressed property criteria developed by the state making them eligible for housing bond funds. Eligible areas must be “detrimental to public health, safety, and welfare of the community,” have “deteriorating, dilapidating buildings and structures,” or have “defective or inadequate streets,” among other things.

City staff has crafted another list of criteria that is meant to guide the committee on future areas of interest. The committee could choose to amend the boundaries of the staff recommended areas, add other areas that meet the eligibility requirements, or delete entire areas from the recommendation altogether. Some of the staff’s criteria include the area being near public transit and City parks, being located in a HUD Qualified Census Tract or Low Income Housing Tax Credit area, or tracts of land that have vacant, dilapidated, or underutilized industrial or commercial developments.

Staff also recommends gathering housing stakeholder input on each proposed property and ensuring each development is compatible with the City’s recently adopted SA Tomorrow plan.

Click here to download Thursday’s PowerPoint presentation, which includes more information on each of the areas staff has already identified and a complete list of the distressed property requirements.

Over the course of the next few months, the Neighborhood Improvements committee will evaluate City staff’s recommendations and work up a proposal to present to City Council on Dec. 14. It will be the first of the five bond committees to present its recommendation. There will be a required public hearing process on the recommended target areas in the plan in January, followed by final Council adoption in February.

The 2017 bond election will take place on May 6, 2017.

There will be four more Neighborhood Improvements Community Bond Committee meetings, which are open to the public and on select Thursdays from 6-8 p.m. at the Central Library auditorium.

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