San Antonio voters approved all six propositions in the 2022-2027 $1.2 billion municipal bond Saturday, including $150 million dedicated to affordable housing.
Unofficial results showed every proposition passed with roughly 60% of voters or more approving. Turnout was lower than expected, less than 8%, even with two state constitutional amendments on the ballot aimed at addressing property taxes.
Supporters of the bond, the largest in city history, cheered what they see as a major first step toward addressing the city’s growing need for affordable housing. Proposition F included $35 million to build and buy rental housing and $45 million to help homeowners repair dilapidated homes.
Speaking to supporters of the bond at an election watch party Saturday evening, Mayor Ron Nirenberg said the proposition was “an effort to make sure that we are staying in front of a housing crisis that has swept the nation.”
This is the first bond to include affordable housing measures — following a change to the city charter that voters approved in 2021. Because it is a new approach to addressing housing needs, it was widely viewed as the most controversial element of the bond package. It passed with just under 60%, according to unofficial results from the Bexar County Elections Department, getting the least support among the six bond propositions.
“That’s the proposal that’s had the most issues,” said Bexar County judge candidate Peter Sakai, a Democrat who supported the affordable housing proposition. “I think some people just don’t see that as infrastructure.”
The biggest chunk of the bond — $471.6 million for streets, bridges and sidewalks — passed with 71.4% of the vote, and the proposition for drainage and flood control won approval with 72%. The $271.9 million parks and recreation portion of the bond passed with 64.7%, the library and cultural facilities proposition with 64.7% and the public safety facilities proposition with 65%.
“No matter where you live, the bond program will improve your community,” stated City Manager Erik Walsh, who highlighted the bond’s $15.7 million dedicated to public art and 21 miles of new greenway trails. “The voters agreed that there is tremendous need in our community and the city is going to move quickly to make all 183 projects a reality.”
Including affordable housing funding in the bond allows the city to avoid some taxes on affordable housing projects, making them less expensive, said Bill Avila, a San Antonio attorney who focuses on bond elections.
“Once it’s in the charter, then it becomes part of the city’s governmental mission and there’s a way to structure it so it’s not a drain on the city’s budget,” said Avila, who helped the city of Dallas craft a similar plan for moving affordable housing into its charter.
“There’s such a demand and the availability in the private activity bond markets is very very limited,” said Avila. “So this allows [the city] to do it with more affordable rates.”
Nirenberg told reporters the approach of using bonds to fund affordable housing improvements brings San Antonio “up to par with all the other major metros in the state of Texas,” which have been using similar mechanisms.
Proposition F included $40 million for acquisition and rehabilitation of rental housing, $25 million for supporting housing services and $5 million for home construction. The city will ask for another $150 million for these efforts on the next bond in 2027.
“A good portion of that [money] is going to go toward repair, rehabilitation and preservation of existing stock,” said Nirenberg, who added that those projects could begin “almost immediately.”
Saturday’s vote came as residents and elected officials are both expressing increasing alarm about the rising cost of living and availability of housing in San Antonio.
But critics of the proposition said the city isn’t equipped to take on a major role in affordable housing.
They also worried that passing the $1.2 billion bond will prevent the city from being able to lower its property tax rate enough to offer meaningful property tax relief for homeowners.
Here are some of the projects in each bond proposition:
- Streets, bridges and sidewalks ($471.6 million): This proposition included more than $100 million for street repair — something leaders say is desperately needed. The money is aimed at reconstructing some of the 457 miles of streets the city has deemed in need of “extensive rehabilitation.” It also sets aside $12 million for sidewalk construction and other projects aimed at increasing walkability, and $10 million for bicycle facilities. Proposition A will tackle 62 projects spread across the 10 council districts.
- Drainage and flood control ($170 million): This money is primarily aimed at upgrading storm drains, including $15.8 million for a project near Marbach Road. Another $15.4 million will go toward installing an underground storm drain near parts of Wilcox Avenue, and $20 million for installation of an underground storm drain near Peggy Drive.
- Parks and recreation ($272 million): Eighty-two projects were included. Hemisfair Civic Park will get $18 million for improvements, Brackenridge Park facilities will get $8 million for projects, including $5 million for renovating the Sunken Garden Theater. The Sunken Garden project was among the more controversial in the bond package, with some residents living near Brackenridge Park objecting to plans to expand the capacity of the 92-year-old outdoor theater.
- Library and cultural facilities ($58 million): The nine projects include $12.5 million to renovate the Carver Branch Library, $11.5 million to renovate the Ella F. Austin Community Center, just over $5 million for Las Palmas Library and $10 million for Tower of the Americas improvements.
- Public safety facility projects ($78 million): This proposition provides $19 million for a new police substation on the Southeast Side, and $25 million to replace fire stations No. 10 and No. 33. Animal Care Services facilities will get more than $17 million, including $2.25 million for the K9s For Warriors program.
- Affordable housing ($150 million): Rather than specific projects, there are five housing priority funding categories. This plan includes $45 million for homeownership and preservation; $40 million for rental housing acquisition, rehab and preservation; $25 million for supportive housing services; $35 million to build and buy rental housing; and $5 million to build homes.