San Antonio City Council approved a $3 billion, 10-year housing plan Thursday that aims to help 95,000 households that struggle to afford housing.

The plan, known formally as the Strategic Housing Implementation Plan, or SHIP, is a sequel to the housing policy framework the council approved under Mayor Ron Nirenberg’s leadership more than three years ago.

It updates goals for the types of housing that the area needs and identifies specific strategies to achieve them, as many targets set out in the framework have already been reached.

“I am proud that the housing policy framework has served as the guiding document and foundation for the SHIP, which builds on the dutiful efforts by the Mayor’s Housing Policy Task Force, to produce a compassionate housing strategy for our city so that every resident, regardless of income, or circumstance, can afford a place to call home — a dignified place,” Nirenberg said.

“Affordable” is defined as spending 30% or less of a household’s income on rent or a mortgage. More than that is considered by experts to be an unsustainable burden.

“Housing supply is not keeping pace with growth and housing costs are outpacing incomes,” said Ian Benavidez, assistant director of the city’s Neighborhood and Housing Services Department.

Through private-sector construction, assistance programs and job training, the city estimates that nearly two-thirds of its target population of 95,0000 households could be helped.

For the rest, the city estimates that it will need to build or preserve 28,094 housing units, or 2,809 units per year, over the next 10 years. That’s an increase of nearly 10,000 homes over previous goals and includes 1,000 units for people experiencing homelessness.

Nearly half of the need identified is for households who earn 30% of the area median income (AMI) or below, so the new housing plan prioritizes the construction and preservation of rental units for that income level, Benavidez said.

A household of three making 30% AMI earns $20,010.

This table outlines the Strategic Housing Implementation Plan's targets for housing production and preservation by income level.
This table outlines the Strategic Housing Implementation Plan’s targets for housing production and preservation by income level. Credit: Courtesy / City of San Antonio

“The most affordable housing that the city currently has is the housing that exists,” Benavidez said, so the plan also prioritizes preservation.

Developed with input from more than 80 community and housing industry stakeholders, the plan identifies 36 strategies — from establishing a multi-family housing rehabilitation program to a land banking program — to reach its targets.

That includes making it easier for developers to create affordable housing without the need for public incentives or subsidies, by removing construction barriers through the Unified Development Code. That amendment process is currently underway.

On Monday, City Council fulfilled another strategy when it unanimously approved a new fee waiver program that will give preference to housing projects that include affordable housing units rather than issuing the waivers on a first-come-first-serve basis.

An attempt to delay fails

While work on the housing plan started about two years ago, it was sidelined by the city’s pivot to respond to the coronavirus pandemic, Benavidez said.

A few neighborhood leaders asked the council to delay approval of the plan to give residents more time to review an updated draft posted online Monday after minor changes were made to incorporate public comments.

Three days was not enough time for meaningful review by residents, or perhaps even city council members, “even in the best of times,” said Cynthia Spielman, a member of the Tier One Neighborhood Coalition who served on a housing plan committee.

“I think this is an amazing document, but I also believe that citizens have the right” to have time to review it, Spielman said.

The city hosted several public meetings that featured a draft of the plan, while an online open comment period, which started Nov.1, was extended by two weeks through Dec. 6.

Changes to the draft based on that feedback included the addition of the word “affordable” to a strategy that calls for the city to remove barriers to housing construction and preservation, plus a number of other “minor” changes and clarifications, said Assistant City Manager Lori Houston.

Councilwoman Teri Castillo (D5) moved to delay the vote until Jan. 13, citing concerns that her consituents have not had a chance to fully review the document.

“If we pass such a large housing plan without the full community confidence, implementation will be more difficult than it needs to be,” Castillo said.

Council members Mario Bravo (D1), Jalen McKee-Rodriguez (D2) and Clayton Perry (D10) joined Castillo in the unsuccessful vote to delay. The plan was approved by all council members save for Castillo, who abstained.

“The Strategic Housing Implementation Plan is a living, breathing document,” Nirenberg said in dissent of delay. “The San Antonio that we are experiencing today is not like the San Antonio we had four years ago when the housing policy task force was formed. Nor is it the same San Antonio we’re going see two and four and five years from now.”

The housing plan approved Thursday will act as a guide, Houston said. Policy, programs and initiatives that come out of it will require more public input and city council approval.

That could include policies such as the one suggested by McKee-Rodriguez, which would require developers to include a displacement impact assessment outlining potential degrees of resident displacement and plans to mitigate it, when they apply to build or rehabilitate housing that uses local funds.

Where the money comes from

The 10-year plan estimates it will require more than $3.3 billion in local, state and federal funding to implement.

Of that, $2.3 billion is expected to come from leveraging local funding with money from federal programs and private investment.

Local funding — about $1.1 billion — will come from the city’s annual affordable housing budgets, two $150 million housing bonds (the first of which will go before voters in May), local disbursements from the American Rescue Plan Act, Tax Increment Reinvestment Zones and the San Antonio Housing Trust.

This graph shows the funding sources for San Antonio's Strategic Housing Implementation Plan.
This graph shows the funding sources for San Antonio’s Strategic Housing Implementation Plan. Credit: Courtesy / City of San Antonio

A coordinated housing system

One of the key recommendations in the 2018 housing framework will continue to be prioritized by the newly approved plan: to develop a coordinated affordable housing system. For decades the city, Bexar County, nonprofits and private developers have operated without a formal way to address the city’s housing needs. A coordinated system could streamline those efforts.

“Today’s adoption was a major milestone in meeting that goal,” Houston told reporters after the meeting. “Within that plan, it identifies who’s responsible for what — that is a coordinated system.”

Bexar County, the San Antonio Housing Authority and the Housing Trust are all expected to approve the plan as well, she said. “This is not the City of San Antonio’s plan, this is our community’s plan.”

Another big step toward establishing this system was the hiring of Mark Carmona as the city’s chief housing officer in September.

The city is also looking into establishing a physical and online “one-stop” housing resource hub.

“It’s going to be virtual, there’s going to be a physical space,” Houston said. “It doesn’t mean it has to be one space … we could add one at every library in each district. There’s many ways we can achieve that,” she said, “and we’ll be talking to the community about that.”

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