Before a jointly convened San Antonio City Council and Bexar County Commissioners Court, a local strike force of elected and community leaders delivered on Tuesday its final report on the coronavirus crisis, a document set to help guide the region’s continued recovery from the public health crisis.
The COVID-19 Community Action Working Groups comprised five teams that developed dozens of recommendations for the report, meant to summarize the needs that still exist in Bexar County and make several recommendations for how to mitigate issues ranging from the affordable housing shortage and the potential influx of evictions to small business closures and gaps in access to internet services.
This report will be one of many used to decide how local governments should spend their federal coronavirus relief money and prioritize future budget discussions to address the long-term infrastructure and social service needs of the community, Mayor Ron Nirenberg said during City Council’s joint meeting with Bexar County commissioners.
“I expect that [the working groups’ report] will be a touchstone for policymaking,” Nirenberg said.
On Thursday, Council will review another plan, the COVID-19 Community Recovery and Resiliency Plan, which will include a proposed plan for spending the City’s $270 million package from the federal government. Council will also review the City’s budget and could have to make further spending cuts to make up for an estimated $200 million revenue shortfall this year.
Last week, Council received an overview of programs and issues the City was looking into funding. This week, Council expects to see dollar amounts associated with those programs. Next week, Council is slated to vote on the recovery and resiliency plan.
Council committees will resume their meetings next month and will continue the working groups’ discussions. The Intergovernmental Relations Committee will for the first time include two members of the Commissioner’s Court: Kevin Wolff (Pct. 3) and Justin Rodriguez (Pct. 2), who will serve as co-chairs with Councilman Manny Pelaez (D8).
San Antonio City Council reviewed the framework for the City’s COVID-19 Recovery and Resilience Plan on Wednesday.
Since March 30, the working groups were tackling the day-to-day challenges in areas of federal and state advocacy, food security and shelter, business and employment, and social services. All 10 council members and all four county commissioners served on at least one committee along with community leaders, such as business owners and service providers, and their staffs.
A fifth working group, one focused on philanthropy, will continue to enhance charitable giving from private individuals, corporations, and foundations to support residents and businesses as San Antonio begins to cautiously reopen its economy while suppressing the virus’s spread.
Locally, nearly $19 million in donations has been raised from major businesses, foundations, and individuals during the pandemic, said Gordon Hartman, who served as coordinator and manager of the working groups.
This working group was directly responsible for about $8 million of that, Hartman. “They were not there to form a new fund, but to enhance [others].”
The CARES Act funding won’t be enough, he said. “There’s nowhere near the amount of money necessary for the things that have been brought up through these working groups.”
Commissioner Tommy Calvert (Pct. 4), who co-chairs the social services group, and Councilwoman Jada Andrews-Sullivan (D2), who co-chaired the food security and shelter group, both emphasized the need for housing assistance in the wake of the pandemic. The statewide moratorium on evictions for nonpayment was lifted on May 18, but Bexar County justices of the peace will not be hearing those cases until June 15.
Andrews-Sullivan’s group recommended the City allocate $41 million in coronavirus relief funding to the City’s rental and mortgage assistance program.
Calvert encouraged the City to reexamine the controversial “right to cure” measure that would give renters another 60 days to pay late rent before landlords can start eviction proceedings.
After Council rejected that ordinance earlier this month, the City resumed work on a proposed tenant’s rights notification program that would inform tenants of their rights through the eviction process and connect them to assistance.
“We are reaching out to those individuals who are either filing for eviction or they are the subject of an eviction filing to let them know about our housing assistance program,” Assistant City Manager Lori Houston said.
Evictions that are not related to nonpayment – based on heath or safety concerns – were not included in the moratorium.
Calvert also stressed the need for a system-wide strengthening of internet access.
“Many believe that this issue is much like a new infrastructure issue and perhaps should be taken up even in future bonds because of the lack of connectivity in San Antonio,” he said, noting that his group recommended forming a digital inclusion consortium that includes school districts, universities, and local governments.
Keeping small businesses afloat during this time should also be a priority, City and County leaders said.
Part of that is ensuring that businesses have the necessary personal protective equipment to keep their employees and customers safe, said Councilwoman Ana Sandoval (D7).
“This is a recommendation that’s already underway with procurement of safety supplies and PPE,” she said.
At the Alamodome from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday, the City of San Antonio will distribute such supplies to help small businesses and nonprofits prepare to reopen their public-serving locations. About 4,900 businesses registered for the event. Registration for businesses with 25 employees or less is open here.
While much of the recovery plan is focused on the economic strength of the City, Sandoval said it should not lose sight of improving health outcomes in the long term such as reducing obesity and diabetes.
“I’m afraid we’re going to miss the boat on this one,” Sandoval said.
The short-term immediate health response to the coronavirus is what most funding is going toward now, City Manager Erik Walsh said. “That’s a higher, immediate need for us right now. … Ultimately I think it’s going to come to further conversation and prioritization by the Council.”
Long-term health initiatives won’t qualify for coronavirus relief funding, but other funding tools may be made available in the future, he said.
The City and County support health care and hospital systems, but the “third piece” to that equation is preventive health care, said County Judge Nelson Wolff. “We don’t do a good job on that,” he said. “I think maybe a City-County initiative on preventative health issues would be meaningful. We have to take some personal responsibility.”