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San Antonio City Council unanimously approved on Thursday sweeping structural changes to the San Antonio Housing Trust, a nonprofit created to create and incentivize affordable housing, and three affiliated entities.

“This is something that we’ve been working on for a very long time,” said Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran (D3), who serves as board president of the trust’s public facility and finance corporations and was attending her final regular council meeting.

The changes were approved two years after a study by the National Association for Latino Community Asset Builders (NALCAB) found little coordination among the entities that resulted in a lack of common goals as well as “real and perceived imbalance of authority” between elected officials and appointed citizens that comprise their boards.

“There is a lack of clarity about what public policy objectives the housing trust entities currently prioritize as well as how they strategically align with one another and with other housing resources in the City of San Antonio,” the NALCAB report states.

Undertaking a review of the Housing Trust, established in 1988, was one of the dozens of recommendations made in 2018 by the Mayor’s Housing Policy Task Force.

Part of the restructuring — which includes new bylaws for the San Antonio Housing Trust, San Antonio Housing Trust Foundation, San Antonio Housing Trust Public Facility Corporation, and the San Antonio Housing Trust Finance Corporation — includes a new statement of purpose:

“The San Antonio Housing Trust will be committed to creating and preserving housing that is primarily affordable, accessible, attainable, and/or sustainable to residents in the City of San Antonio; and to support community development efforts that build and sustain neighborhood, empower residents, and provide for positive equitable outcomes.”

Since September 2020, a transition committee comprised of three senior members of the trust/foundation boards and three senior members of the public facility/finance corporation boards met to establish recommendations on how to realign its governance.

Currently, the San Antonio Housing Trust and its foundation comprise 11 board members appointed by City Council members who serve four-year terms. Meanwhile, the public facility and finance boards comprise five council members. They also serve four-year terms.

Under the new structures, each entity will have five council member representatives, three housing experts, three community representatives, and one City advisor. The terms will be staggered and members will “draw straws” for two- or four-year terms.

This table provides an overview of existing and approved governance structure for the San Antonio Housing Trust entities. Credit: Courtesy / City of San Antonio

The community advisors will not be able to vote unless they are elected by their colleagues to serve as an officer, said Pete Alanis, executive director of the trust.

This structure allows for community representation on the public facility and finance corporations while giving deference to elected officials, Alanis said. “The NALCAB recommendations clearly stated that the primary authority of these powers should reside with the elected officials.”

The Housing Trust and its entities have supported nearly 9,500 housing units that are already built or planned with various income restrictions. Of those, nearly half are reserved for residents who make 60% or less of the area median income (AMI), but just 207 (a little over 2%) of those units were reserved for the city’s poorest residents who earn 30% AMI or less.

Housing advocates have criticized the trust for not seeking projects that meet those lower affordability thresholds.

Alongside Viagran, council members Adriana Rocha Garcia (D4), John Courage (D9), Shirley Gonzales (D5), and Roberto Treviño (D1) also serve on the public facility and finance corporation boards.

After Thursday’s vote, Mayor Ron Nirenberg told reporters that the Housing Trust’s issues were a symptom of a larger, uncoordinated housing system.

“They inherited a mess,” Nirenberg said of the board members. “And we’re trying to make the best of it.”

He doesn’t blame board members for the dysfunction, which partly stems from a patchwork of federal, state, and local entities.

“We have 30-plus entities that are all implementing housing in San Antonio,” he said. “Now that we have the housing framework adopted with … coordinated and aligned systems underneath it, we can recalibrate [and] in some cases dissolve some of the duplicative groups that are implementing housing policy.”

The application process under the new structures will launch in July through the City Clerk’s Office. City Council is slated to approve new members in August.

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