A broken swing set on a playground at Alazán-Apache Courts on the city's West Side. Credit: Stephanie Marquez / San Antonio Report

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San Antonio City Council unanimously approved a new rule Thursday requiring new housing projects receiving City incentives to accept housing vouchers.

The Housing Voucher Incentive Policy is aimed at increasing access to housing for people who have vouchers, which are federal subsidies for rent, through the San Antonio Housing Authority (SAHA) and the Housing Authority of Bexar County.

One barrier voucher holders could face is source of income discrimination, when housing providers refuse to accept a tenant based solely on their use of a voucher to help pay rent.

Under the policy, if a tenant is otherwise not qualified to live at a property, the landlord can still reject them – but it can’t be because of the voucher, said Verónica Soto, director of the City’s Neighborhood and Housing Services Department.

“The language as proposed in the ordinance is to be incorporated into incentive agreements moving forward,” Soto said. The policy will not apply to the thousands of units that have already accepted City incentives such as fee waivers, tax reinvestment grants, bonds, and other housing incentive programs.

About 53% of new voucher recipients request an extension to continue to search for housing beyond the 120-day search period, according to SAHA, which administers most local vouchers. The Bexar County region is allocated more than 15,000 vouchers per year from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The City will use “progressive discipline” when a housing provider is found in violation of the new law, Soto said.

Violators will be given a written warning and required to undergo compliance training on the first offense. A second offense comes with more training and a $500 fee to cover compliance monitoring. A third offense will result in a letter warning the violator to comply with the rule by a certain date. If the housing provider still refuses, the City will take back all the City incentives the provider received and it will be ineligible for any incentives in the future.

Complaints can be reported to 311, the Office of Equity, or the housing department, Soto said, but enforcement won’t rely on complaints.

“Besides the complaint basis, we would do some proactive testing as well” at 10-15 different properties per year, she said.

State law prohibits a city-wide ban on source-of-income discrimination, but affordable housing advocates say San Antonio’s rule is a step in the right direction.

“This is a milestone on a never-ending road to progress. We are celebrating, while at the same time marching forward to the next battle of increasing renters rights and eliminating barriers to housing,” said Rich Acosta, president of nonprofit housing organization Mi Ciudad es Mi Casa (My City Is My Home), who led the charge for the rule change.

“Renters have very few rights to combat their housing barriers. Source-of-income discrimination with this ordinance is still present with landlords that don’t have tax incentives, but at least this will allow an opportunity to revisit landlords to reconsider their discrimination practices as the City of San Antonio has done today,” Acosta said.

San Antonio Housing Commission, San Antonio Housing Trust, South Alamo Regional Alliance for the Homeless, SAHA, and the San Antonio Apartment Association supported the measure. The Housing Trust approved a similar rule as part of its tenant protection policy earlier this year.

“Hopefully this action today will lead to deeper conversations about potential improvements to voucher programs that our state and federal teams can lobby for,” Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) said.

In the meantime, the housing department will work with SAHA to create an inventory of properties that accept vouchers to assist families in finding housing, Soto said. And the department is actively asking housing providers to voluntarily adopt policies to accept vouchers.

“There are some that have indicated that they would comply,” she said.

Iris Dimmick

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and workforce development. Contact her at iris@sareport.org