The Soap Works apartment complex.
A proposed renters' commission would advise City Council on matters such as access to affordable housing and renters' rights. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

A new City Council committee will soon consider creating a formal group that would serve as a voice for San Antonians who rent their homes.

The Culture and Neighborhood Services Committee, a group of five City Council members that was established earlier this month, will consider whether a proposed renters’ commission would be separate from the current Housing Commission, or become a subcommittee, among other options. The Housing Commission is tasked with overseeing implementation of the City’s 10-year housing policy plan approved in 2018.

“Making sure we are listening to as many voices as possible … that’s at the heart of this commission,” Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) told the Council’s Governance Committee on Wednesday as it agreed to forward the discussion to the Culture and Neighborhood Services Committee.

He initially called for the creation of a renters’ commission in June 2019 that would advise City Council on matters such as access to affordable housing, transportation, green space, land use, and renter laws and rights. 

The City plans to establish a hub that outlines what City and partner agencies are working on relating to housing. City staff wants to ensure that a renters’ commission would not overlap – or duplicate – the authority and mission of the Housing Commission, which currently has 10 members, two of whom are renters.

Waiting for an implementation plan, which is slated to be presented in June, is unnecessary, Treviño said. “If you wait until June to start addressing these things, I’m afraid it’ll get wrapped up in many other things that will never see the light of day.”

The Housing Commission and other groups have been working on renters issues, Esperanza Peace and Justice Center Director Graciela Sánchez said, “but it’s not enough.”

Roughly 46 percent of housing units in San Antonio are occupied by renters, according to U.S. Census data, and nearly half of renters spend more than 30 percent of their income on rent.

Residents living paycheck to paycheck are vulnerable to eviction and could become homeless, Nirenberg said. That makes it hard for them to participate in public processes regarding policies that directly impact them, he added.

“The deck is stacked against them,” Nirenberg said. “I think we’re all in agreement that we’ve got to do something about that.”

Councilman John Courage (D9), who serves on the Governance Committee, suggested that a renters subcommittee could be created for the Housing Commission rather than create a separate group.

Another concern, voiced by the San Antonio Board of Realtors (SABOR), is that a commission comprised of entirely renters won’t fairly represent the perspective of landlords and management companies.

“This really does go against the mayor’s housing policy framework,” said Cortney Gill of SABOR.

But renters are a historically underrepresented, vulnerable demographic in San Antonio and therefore deserve an elevated voice in the interest of equity, said Councilwoman Ana Sandoval (D7).

Gentrification and displacement issues in San Antonio were brought to the forefront of policy discussions in 2014 when City Council approved a zoning change that allowed the Mission Trails Mobile Home Park to become a multifamily luxury apartment complex, Sandoval noted. “A forum like this is a place where we might get ahead of those issues before they get away from us,” she said.

“[However] I think there is still a number of questions about how this commission [would] work that still need to be answered,” she said.

Treviño chairs the Culture and Neighborhood Services Committee, which also includes Councilwoman Jada Andrews-Sullivan (D2), Councilwoman Adriana Rocha Garcia (D4), Councilman Clayton Perry (D10), and Courage.

The Governance Committee on Wednesday also briefly considered changes to the way members of the Ethics Review Board are selected.

Currently, City Council members appoint members of the Ethics Review Board. The proposal would have various groups such as the League of Women Voters, chambers of commerce, and interfaith groups provide recommendations to City Council for who should serve on the Ethics Review Board.

City Attorney Andy Segovia said the proposed changes, suggested by Treviño and Garcia, may require changes to the City’s charter.

“There may be some gray area there where we can implement this,” Segovia said, depending on the intent and language used.

Changing the charter requires a public election and it can only be changed every two years; the next City Charter election could take place in 2021. Treviño and Garcia said the intent was to modify the process without requiring a change in the charter.

The committee forwarded the issue to the Ethics Review Board for a more in-depth review.

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and mental health. She was the San Antonio Report's...