Landlords, realtors, and property managers showed up in force to a public meeting Saturday to call for representation on a proposed Renters Commission for the City of San Antonio.

Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1), who proposed the commission last year, said it should be comprised of renters, but landlords at the public input meeting said there should be a “balance” of representation – otherwise, the commission would only push for policies that ignore the needs of property owners, businesses, and the housing market such as rent control.

“The key word [used] today was balance – the irony is that there’s an imbalance of realtors here,” Treviño told the Rivard Report after hearing questions and comments from the crowd.

An overwhelming majority of the more than 150 people at the meeting identified themselves as a landlord, property owner, realtor, or property manager. Treviño said he and his staff will try to get better renter turnout for the next public input meeting in April.

“[I] will continue to push for a commission that is made up of renters,” he said, adding he is willing to compromise and have others represented on the commission, perhaps as ex-officio members. “My goal is to find a way to yes. I don’t want the perfect to be the enemy of this entire effort.”

Community activist Antonio Diaz noted the tense environment in the room. A few realtors chuckled and interjected while renters spoke.

“[That’s the] reason why we need a renters commission embodied by renters,” Diaz said. “They are in the majority. … We need a balance.”

Community activist Antonio Diaz. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Renters make up about 46 percent of housing units in San Antonio and they are more likely than homeowners to be displaced and burdened by the cost of housing, Treviño said. Renters and landlords that attended the meeting seemed to at least agree that more education is needed surrounding tenant rights.

Many challenged the need for such a commission – which would serve in an advisory capacity to City Council on matters related to renter laws and rights, affordable housing accessibility, transportation, and other policy issues.

Two renters currently sit on the nine-member Housing Commission, which is tasked with overseeing the implementation of the City’s affordable housing policy, noted Kimberly Bragman, chair of the San Antonio Board of Realtors. A renters commission would be “redundant,” she said.

But if it is created, it should be called the “Rental” Commission, and property owners and managers should have a seat at the table because they can “speak to the unintended consequences some of these propositions or proposals might put into action,” Bragman said.

Councilman John Courage (D9), who attended the meeting, said the Housing Committee should have a sub-committee on rental issues.

“The Housing Commission has too many things they need to work on,” Courage said.

The Renters Commission – or sub-committee – should include six renters and four people representing property owners, he said.

“Everybody who lives in some kind of a rental unit lives in a property that is owned by somebody else,” he said. “So my view is that we need an opportunity to have all the stakeholders have some say in policy conversations.”

Some renters at the meeting said the commission wouldn’t have enough power.

“On the other hand, the realtors are feeling that this commission somehow [will have] the authority to control rent and have legal powers. That’s just not so,” Treviño said, noting that the commission will have a purely advisory role in the policies that City Council considers.

Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) speaks in front of a crowded room during the town hall. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

A commission established in Seattle advocates strongly for rent control and better rent increase notices. That commission is made up entirely of renters. Texas and Washington state laws prevent rent-control policies, but the Washington Legislature will consider lifting that ban this year.

“We’re going to shape it how we think it fits San Antonio best. … We don’t copy anybody, we create our own things here,” said Treviño, who modeled his council consideration request on Seattle’s commission. “We reference Seattle because that’s the only other Renters Commission that exists.”

Treviño said he would prefer that each Council member appoint a member to the board that lives in their district and represents a unique renter perspective. The goal of these public input meetings is to collect feedback on how the commission will be structured and clarify what the commission will and will not do.

“[The commission will] provide a safe place for renters to speak their mind without … retaliation, without fear [and] help us to identify some of the things we can do,” he told the crowd.

The Renters Commission proposal will be considered later this year by Council’s Culture and Neighborhood Services Committee, which Treviño chairs. If approved, it will then be considered by the full City Council.

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