Members of the San Antonio Housing Commission to Protect and Preserve Dynamic and Diverse Neighborhoods are sworn in Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2015. Photo by Edmond Ortiz

Members of the City’s new Housing Commission to Protect and Preserve Dynamic and Diverse Neighborhoods convened for the first time Tuesday afternoon with an eye towards cutting down on gentrification. The appointed 15-member commission, born from the Mayor’s Task Force on Preserving Dynamic and Diverse Neighborhoods, has a task that will not be an easy one.

The advisory board, which includes a range of individuals with expertise on housing and urban development, is responsible for with developing and implementing 13 short and long-range recommendations that the City Council accepted from the Mayor’s Task Force in May. The ultimate goal is to produce policies that mitigate the impact of gentrification and increase affordable housing options and diverse neighborhoods in the urban core.

City staff spent much of the Commission’s two-hour meeting reiterating the board’s structure, timeline, and open meeting ethics and laws.

One main goal is for the Commission to flesh out the Mayor’s Task Force’s recommendations, including publication of an annual report on the state of affordable housing and neighborhood diversity. That report is intended to be the subject of wider community discussion at the annual housing summit, the first of which took place in May. A date has not been set for a 2016 summit.

John Dugan, Director of the City’s Department of Planning and Community Development (PCD), said on Tuesday that as more and more people are choosing to live in the San Antonio area, the demand for affordable, rental and owner-occupied housing is rising.

However, the City is receiving fewer housing-related resources from the federal government with each passing year, he added.

Michael Taylor, PCD planning administrator, said most if not all the recommendations will require substantial dialogue among Commission members.

See the Mayor’s Task Force report here, including the short and long-term recommendations. Those suggestions, including the creation of this new Housing Commission, are also listed below.

The final report from the Mayor’s Task Force did not arrive without controversy. The task force was originally sparked by the Council’s decision to let a developer to buy land that ultimately displaced more than 100 residents in the poorly maintained Southside Mission Trails mobile home park.

Task force members Maria Berriozábal and Nettie Hinton did not support the entire report, noting that it failed to address the conditions that lead to the displacement of the community’s most economically vulnerable residents. Other observers said they were worried about how the recommendations would be implemented.

Nettie Hinton stands in opposition of the task force recommendation. Photo by Iris Dimmick.
Task force member Nettie Hinton stands in opposition of the Gentrification Task Force recommendations as they are read to City Council on May 14, 2015. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

One of the recommendations covers how the City should protest residents of existing mobile/manufactured home communities. Taylor said displacement, particularly for mobile/manufactured home residents, is a major issue.

“Sometimes for some people, these communities are a last resort,” Taylor added.

Commission member Gabriel Velasquez, a design and planning consultant, said he and his colleagues should focus on preventing further incidents of gentrification, or at least discuss the conditions that could result in developmental displacement.

“That seems to be the angle of the entire conversation, that poor people will always live in poor neighborhoods,” he said.

Velasquez added that he often hears public discourse about developing more diverse neighborhoods with residents of “low to moderate income.”

“But in my neighborhood, where I live, there is just poor. That’s it,” he said.

PCD Planning Administrator Michael Taylor addresses the Housing Commission to Protect and Preserve Dynamic and Diverse Neighborhoods on Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2015. Photo by Edmond Ortiz
PCD Planning Administrator Michael Taylor addresses the Housing Commission during its first meeting. Photo by Edmond Ortiz.

“That is a conversation where you all could start from,” Taylor responded. “This is meant to be a starting point.”

While Velasquez suggested making gentrification a focal point for talks, the Commission has until next summer to recommend a formal course on action to a City Council Housing Committee. That committee will be, as Taylor put it, an outgrowth of the established Quality of Life Committee.

City staff has instead suggested a work plan, laying out schedule by which the new Commission could address each task force recommendation. In its next meeting Oct. 26, the Commission will get the City staff’s assessment on three of the recommendations: amending the zoning change notification process, developing a relocation assistance program for potentially displaced residents, and amending the Unified Development Code to support alternative housing types.

City staff proposed the Commission prepare a report on each recommendation by December. Meanwhile, the non-profit Local Initiatives Support Corp. (LISC), which just opened a San Antonio office, is slated to help the City and Commission examine the feasibility of a housing bond issue.

Among other efforts in communities, the New York City-based LISC mobilizes corporate, government and philanthropic backing to provide local development organizations with loans, grants and equity investments, as well as technical and management aid.

“(A housing bond) is something that could be brought forth as early as 2017,” Taylor said. “It is a conversation that has to start immediately.”

Housing bonds are a form of debt issued by state or local governments to raise money for affordable housing development. Housing bonds sometimes require voter approval and are repaid out of the government’s general fund or from a hike in the local sales or property tax rate.

The City of Austin has successfully issued two housing bonds, one for $55 million and another for $65 million. Dallas and Houston have included housing bonds as part of their respective economic development bond issues.

“It’s not something completely new to Texas, but it could be the first for San Antonio,” added Taylor.

The City staff’s suggested work plan does call for the Commission to engage in community outreach on each task force recommendation before formal action takes place at the Council level. Commission members want even more input. They asked City staff to include a way for the public to speak at Commission meetings. Tuesday’s meeting did not have citizens-to-be-heard segment.

By the end of the meeting, Commission Chairwoman Jennifer Gonzalez said she and her colleagues are eager to listen to all viewpoints on the issues that the new panel faces.

“I am especially looking forward to public input. I think people out there have plenty of things to say,” said Gonzalez. “I am interested, and I’m sure other members are interested, in hearing from people what will be most helpful to them, what’s going to impact them.”

Gonzalez said the Commission is committed to helping the City to improve the situation regarding affordable housing and the preservation of neighborhoods.

“I am optimistic and excited about that. I am certainly mindful of the work the Mayor (Ivy Taylor) has put into this,” she added. “I think we have some real opportunity here.”

Short-term recommendations:

  • Create a San Antonio Housing Commission (completed)
  • Amend the zoning change notification process.
  • Designate the City Housing Counseling Program and the Fair Housing Council of Greater San Antonio as primary resources for residents.
  • Develop a relocation assistance policy.
  • Plan and Host an annual Housing Summit (held May 15).

Long-term recommendations:

  • Conduct a systematic assessment of City ordinances and policies to determine their impact on displacement and neighborhood change.
  • Explore inclusionary housing policies of residential development.
  • Develop a plan and timeline for the issuance of a housing bond.
  • Identify ongoing sources of funds to be utilized by the San Antonio Housing Trust and Nonprofit Housing providers.
  • Amend the Unified Development Code to support alternative housing types.
  • Explore the development of a Community Land Trust.
  • Explore tools for the protection of existing mobile/manufactured home communities and residents.
  • Explore the creation of a neighborhood empowerment zone and other tools to provide targeted property tax relief for long-time residents.

*Top image: Members of the San Antonio Housing Commission to Protect and Preserve Dynamic and Diverse Neighborhoods are sworn in on Tuesday. Photo by Edmond Ortiz.

Related Stories:

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Amid Task Force Dissent, Council Approves Gentrification Guidelines

Council Hears Gentrification Task Force Briefing

Preserving Neighborhoods: The Human Element

Citizens Demand Bilingual Meetings on Gentrification

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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.