Mayor Ron Nirenberg announced Friday the formation of a task force to develop a “comprehensive, compassionate” housing strategy for the city to deal with growth and rising median home prices.

“This is developing a new framework of policy that will deal with affordability issues, and directly address gentrification and displacement as a priority,” Nirenberg said following his speech at the North San Antonio Chamber of Commerce’s 2017 Mayor’s Vision for San Antonio event downtown.

The Mayor’s Housing Policy Task Force will be led by former U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Lourdes Castro-Ramirez. Other members include former City Councilwoman María Berriozábal; Gene Dawson Jr., owner of Pape-Dawson Engineering; Jim Bailey, Alamo Architects associate principal; and Noah Garcia, Vantage Bank senior vice president.

“They will be charged with assuring that San Antonio maintains its competitive advantage in housing affordability while we grow in a sustainable way,” Nirenberg said to a room filled with some of the city’s business and government leaders. “It is a diverse group of experts.”

Nirenberg said the task force is necessary to help ensure that the city gets the 500,000 new housing units needed to accommodate expected growth over the next 20 years, and to make sure that people aren’t priced out of the neighborhoods in which they grew up.

The mayor also noted that the city is facing an affordable housing shortage and needs 142,000 new affordable housing units. Meanwhile, the median sales price for homes rose in 2016 to exceed $200,000 for the first time.

“We have to face up to the fact that the housing paradigm in San Antonio must change,” Nirenberg said. “Currently … the kind of sustainable urban-core growth that is healthier, more affordable, and attractive, is only happening because it is subsidized. And to add insult to injury, while we use more of our public resources to build those units, more and more San Antonians are finding it unaffordable to live in the neighborhoods where they grew up.

“We need to protect and connect neighborhoods and make incredible growth, and expand housing choices for our residents, no matter what their income.”

Ron Nirenberg addresses the North SA Chamber luncheon guests at the Hyatt Regency Riverwalk.
Ron Nirenberg addresses the audience at the North San Antonio Chamber of Commerce luncheon at the Hyatt Regency Riverwalk. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

The task force will work with City and housing agencies in order to develop policy recommendations, including helping neighbors address short-term hardships, creating incentives for private and public affordable housing development, making sure long-term quality and maintenance are a part of housing developments, changing parts of the City’s Unified Development Code, and examining city policies related to State tax-credit support for affordable housing target areas.

“The committee looks forward to creating tangible and actionable strategies to expand affordable housing opportunities, strengthen neighborhoods and enable families to thrive,” stated Castro-Ramirez in a press release.

The statement also said that Nirenberg was pleased by the broad agreement expressed by City Council to take immediate action on housing.

Speaking to reporters following the announcement, Nirenberg said this housing policy will go beyond previous intiatives undertaken by the City.

“The [housing] commission that was created by Mayor [Ivy] Taylor was essentially vetting status quo,” he said.

Nirenberg believes that tangible evidence from the task force’s work will be seen soon.

“They’re going to begin working very soon,” Nirenberg said. “That work will be fed through technical groups that will really develop actual policy initiatives that will then have to be vetted and approved by council. It’s a big lift, but once we have the framework, all the day-to-day activity that you see in the housing space can be guided by better framework.”

The mayor had discussed some of his plans for a comprehensive housing policy earlier in the month during a luncheon hosted by the Rivard Report and the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and during his campaign.

“The campaign itself was a referendum on this vision for San Antonio,” Nirenberg said. “A better future in a lot of different areas: transportation, housing, equity, education, and I really wanted to lay that out [in the speech].”

Along with announcing the housing task force, Nirenberg said San Antonio had to do more to implement modern transportation systems, including mass transit such as light rail.

“In the [fiscal year 2018] budget, we will improve VIA bus routes and frequency with an additional $4.3 million,” Nirenberg said. “But these forms of multimodal transportation will only take us so far. We know the future that is in store with us if we do nothing to build a transit system here in San Antonio.”

Jeffrey Sullivan is a Rivard Report reporter. He graduated from Trinity University with a degree in Political Science.