I recently traveled to Washington, D.C., to attend the National League of Cities Congressional Conference with my colleagues Councilwoman Phylis Viagran and Councilman Clayton Perry. It was my first time traveling out of state since the start of the pandemic, and I wanted to take pictures to look back at later.
When I asked Viagran if she could take a picture of me in front of a beautiful window at our conference hotel, she had me reposition myself so she could adjust the framing to avoid focusing on the homeless encampment.
“What encampment?” I thought.
I had flown in late in the evening and had been indoors for the conference sessions all day, so I had missed the numerous encampments throughout our nation’s capital. But on our way to dinner, I saw every single one of them. Homelessness is present everywhere.
A few weeks later, as I took an extended weekend for spring break in Seattle, I arrived quite early, and this time, I did not miss one single encampment from the moment I left the airport. And there were many more than in D.C. — under bridges and on grassy knolls, next to buildings and underpasses connecting highways. In fact, I immediately recalled a piece written by San Antonio Express-News columnist, Nancy Preyor-Johnson about her visit to Seattle last year and it made me realize she had painted the exact picture through her words. In that piece, she wrote, “As our progressive city leaders work on recovering from the pandemic and deal with longstanding issues of homelessness, they must see downtown Seattle as a cautionary tale.”
San Antonio has the opportunity to address homelessness in our city by passing the first housing bond of its kind — one that would give residents more access to affordable housing, provide help with making home repairs and offer supportive services to people experiencing homelessness.
The housing bond as proposed dedicates $25 million to the construction of housing that includes supportive services to folks in the system who may otherwise not be able to live alone. To help residents who might be at risk of losing their homes, $45 million is dedicated to helping repair existing single-family housing. This assistance for homeowners who are senior citizens or retired veterans who live on social security and are not able to afford repairs to their homes — including the addition of often needed wheelchair ramps — could mean the difference between being able to stay in their homes or being forced out.
There’s $75 million for preserving, acquiring and building housing for vulnerable populations through partnerships with reputable, experienced housing providers while leveraging federal tax credit programs and other tools. Increasing housing production, while decreasing demand can serve to stabilize the exponential growth rate of our property taxes and home values, which have seen an increase due to the lack of housing inventory.
But residents are falsely being led to worry about affordable housing units being built in their backyards, when in reality San Antonio is experiencing a push for diversification of access to homes, as is evident in the move toward a mixed-income housing model.
As president of the San Antonio Housing Trust and Public Finance Corporation, I take great responsibility for making sure we produce housing at a pace that is needed to keep up with our growth. But rising property taxes — and rising rents as a result of this — are pricing people out of their homes. If we keep going like this, the folks priced out of a home will not only be folks in low-paying jobs, but folks who earn a decent living and still can’t keep up with rent, mortgage, or property taxes.
A new class of housing — and current gap in our market — becomes clearer. Many San Antonians’ incomes are too high to qualify for affordable housing but too low to afford market rates, leaving them with few housing options. We need to prepare for this housing shortage at our doorstep, and the time is now.
As my colleague Councilwoman Teri Castillo often reminds us, the most affordable housing is existing housing. Appropriation of funds within this bond will help us lend our neighbors a helping hand. This bond will do more than build housing for our growing workforce, it will allow those who wish to remain in their legacy homes the opportunity to do so, and not be tempted to sell to those California investors who keep calling them. As more and more neighbors take that option, it signifies a faster move toward the gentrification of our culture.
I won’t stand for it, and neither should you. This is San Antonio, this is my home, and I’d like my neighbors to all be able to keep and afford their homes. I voted yes on the housing bond. I voted with my conscience and an informed decision. I hope you can vote with your conscience and an informed decision, too.