Kayton Avenue in Highland Park
The burgeoning housing market in San Antonio will be put to the test as the city continues on track as the fastest growing city in the country. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

With San Antonio projected to grow by a million more people in the next 20 years, housing should be the cornerstone of the city’s future economic development, as much for the city as its residents.

“The factor that affects a family’s quality of life the most is housing,” Mayor Ron Nirenberg said Thursday while speaking at the housing forecast meeting of the San Antonio Board of Realtors (SABOR). And that’s why, he said, the City tripled resources devoted to supporting a healthy housing market in its 2019 budget.

Nirenberg focused on both affordable housing and transportation issues at the annual meeting, where hundreds of local agents, homebuilders, and developers gathered to learn what 2019 will bring in the residential real estate market.

The meeting featured speakers representing the Mayor’s Housing Policy Task Force, SA2020, VIA Metropolitan Transit, the Alamo Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (AAMPO), and a noted real estate economist.

Housing should be thought of as infrastructure, like water, energy, or transportation, said Lourdes Castro Ramirez, president of the University Health System Foundation and chairwoman of the mayor’s task force.

Credit: Courtesy / Mayor's Housing Policy Task Force

“When you don’t, you end up creating housing that is not well connected and not developed around families and their ability to prosper,” she said. “To continue to prosper, we have to plan. But first, we have to understand the problems and challenges.”

Housing costs continue to rise in San Antonio and homeownership rates are on the decline. However, according to real estate economist Mark Dotzour, who delivered an overview of the Texas housing market, it’s still a great time to buy a house.

Dotzour supported his view by saying the economy is “beginning its initial approach,” toward descent but not trending toward a crash or even a recession, according to the data he presented.

“Confidence has exploded” owing to the economic policies of President Donald Trump, he said, that have inspired both business confidence among investors and consumer confidence.

Household net worth exceeds $108 trillion and 30 percent of small business owners say now is a good time to expand. Corporate profits are up 16.1 percent, and taxes paid by U.S. companies are down 33 percent from a year ago. Unemployment also is down; there are 7 million job openings in America.

“All of the underlying fundamentals of the economy are in rocket mode,” Dotzour said.

Bexar County is the fastest-growing county in the state of Texas in terms of migration from other areas, AAMPO Director Isidro Martinez said at the SABOR meeting. But neighboring counties – Kendall, Comal, and Guadalupe – also are experiencing triple-digit percentage growth.

Many people make their homes in those counties but work in San Antonio, putting further strain on the infrastructure, and driving – literally and figuratively – the need for major ongoing and upcoming road projects.

In addition to a $375 million project to improve the U.S. Highway 281 North corridor, with the second phase starting this year, other major arteries seeing upgrades in the coming years include a $70 million upgrade to Interstate 10 West, and a $1.5 billion improvement to Interstate 35 North that will bring elevated lanes and stretch from downtown to Schertz. The northern stretch of Loop 1604 will see work starting in 2020 at a cost of $831 million, he said.

Flyovers are under construction at the intersection of Loop 1604 and U.S. Highway 281 as part of the 281 expansion project. Credit: Courtesy / Joseph Cook

Martinez added that high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes also are coming to San Antonio highways, initially as part of the 281 expansion, news that was cheered by the crowd gathered for Thursday’s meeting.

Expanded roadways won’t solve all the needs of the anticipated population boom, and because San Antonio’s growth is a result of people moving to the city – bringing their vehicles with them – VIA Metropolitan Transit is looking to face that challenge with a 2040 vision system plan.

The plan includes a “more efficient use of our transportation assets,” said Jon Gary Herrera, senior vice president for public engagement at VIA Metropolitan Transit. That means a better bus system, a rapid transit network, and smart transit.

“After housing, transportation is the No. 1 expenditure [for households],” Herrera said. Better public transportation can save families up to $10,000 a year plus reduce commute times and carbon emissions.

San Antonio is at once “a city on the rise” as well as one of the most economically segregated cities in the nation, said Molly Cox, president and CEO of SA2020. “But it’s important to see where we have challenges so we can work on them,” she said.

One role of SA2020 is to track and measure progress that the City and community partners and nonprofits are making toward meeting San Antonio’s problem-solving goals, Cox said. The organization’s annual report will be released Jan. 22.

Cox revealed a preview of the latest results, saying that of the 61 community indicators they have been tracking since 2010, progress has been made on 75 percent of them, which include things like housing, health, and education.

“We have work to do, but that’s the coolest part of our community, we know we do,” she said. “We’ve done it, we’re still working on it, and the time for conversation about what’s not working is over. We know what the challenges are in this community … but it also gives us an opportunity to do better, something to work toward.”

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Shari Biediger

Shari Biediger is the development beat reporter for the San Antonio Report.