As a citizens committee is formed to decide what projects San Antonio’s housing bond will fund, the San Antonio Housing Commission has approved a framework to inform how bond projects are selected.

An estimated $250 million in affordable housing projects will be part of the city’s $1.2 billion 2022 municipal bond for the first time. Committees made up of local residents tasked with determining specific bond projects will be appointed by City Council this week.

The framework approved Tuesday is intended to assist the committee in evaluating potential projects for inclusion in the bond. While the guide doesn’t lay out specific criteria for what kind of housing developments or initiatives should be funded, it provides context for what should be prioritized:

  • housing that improves a resident’s connections to work, services, and opportunities;
  • housing that improves public health outcomes, which would include housing that has or is close to recreational areas or health services; and
  • housing that fosters community “resiliency,” such as housing for economically disadvantaged residents, environmentally sustainable housing, and projects that don’t cause the displacement of residents.

The guide also emphasizes the need to leverage private, local, state, and federal funding to maximize the bond’s impact on households in need.

“We’re going to get a lot of one-off proposals,” said Mark Carmona, the city’s new chief housing officer, who doesn’t serve on the commission but attended the meeting. “… I think we should really highly value those proposals that are looking at a coordinated approach.

“Whatever funds will be allocated won’t be enough to [afford] what we actually need, so a coordinated system is going to be very important,” Carmona said.

The commission based the guide on the core elements outlined in the city’s overarching strategic housing plan, which is nearing completion after City Council approved its core elements in 2018, and incorporated community input recently gathered through virtual meetings, emails, and phone calls.

Housing Commissioners made minor tweaks to the evaluation framework before it was unanimously approved on Tuesday. Download the framework here.

There are about 95,000 households in Bexar County that spend more than 30% of their income on housing, an amount housing experts consider an unsustainable burden. The housing bond, in addition to other city initiatives such as job training, are directed at assisting those cost-burdened residents over the next 10 years.

The $1.2 billion 2022 municipal bond, as proposed, would be divided into six different categories — affordable housing, streets and sidewalks, drainage, parks and open spaces, municipal facilities and public safety facilities — that would ultimately become propositions on the May ballot. Five bond committees (municipal and public safety facilities would be combined) will cut and add to long project lists in each category as they prioritize spending.

The city is also working to finalize a draft of the Strategic Housing Implementation Plan (SHIP) in time for the housing bond committee to be able to consider.

“We’re hoping to get a very good draft into those bond committee members’ hands, that includes the evaluation framework along with everything else,” said Ian Benavidez, assistant director of the Neighborhood and Housing Services Department.

The SHIP is the implementation plan for the housing strategy that was approved by City Council in 2018. It outlines timelines, partners, specific action steps, and funding approaches to achieve the city’s affordable housing goals. City Council is slated to adopt the plan as early as November and by January at the latest, Benavidez said.

Committee members can use this evaluation framework and the SHIP draft to see how potential bond projects align with the city’s overarching affordable housing goals.

“The way that the housing bond will likely be put out to the public will be more in [spending type] buckets and not specific projects,” Benavidez said, but the specifics have not been finalized.

For example, the city could use some of the money for the construction costs of single-family homes or multifamily complexes and use another bucket of money to enhance rehabilitation programs that help homeowners repair and keep their homes.

The guide in its current form is text-heavy and lacks contextual information about who this bond funding should be helping, said former City Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales (D5), the Housing Commission’s new chair.

“Maybe we can get an example of what aging in place might look like or what naturally occurring” affordable housing means, Gonzales said during the meeting.

The guide will be sent to the city’s Government and Public Affairs department to give it a more visually friendly and storytelling format, city staff said.

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