After three hours of discussion Wednesday night, the Housing Bond Committee, tasked with divvying up $150 million to fund affordable housing projects and programs, unanimously approved a spending plan that will largely target some of the most vulnerable San Antonians.

It includes $45 million for home rehabilitation and preservation, prioritizing homes at risk for demolition; $40 million for rental housing acquisition, rehabilitation, or preservation; $35 million for production of rental units; $25 million to provide permanent housing for chronically homeless individuals; and $5 million to produce single-family homes.

The plan, along with project lists from four other City Council-appointed bond committees for a total $1.2 billion bond, will be reviewed by council next month. Council will finalize the ballot language in February that will ultimately go before voters in May.

Much of the discussion and disagreements throughout the committee’s four public meetings were centered around what household income level the bond funding should target.

“It’s about having hard conversations to get to the best result for the community,” said Katie Vela, executive director of the South Alamo Regional Alliance for the Homeless, who co-chairs the committee. “It is a tough decision when you’re looking at $150 million, and you know you can’t meet all the need with that.”

Affordable housing advocates and several committee members argued that the bond should be used to help households who make 30% or less than the area median income (AMI) — that’s a family of four earning $22,230 a year or an individual earning $15,570.

“This is a unique opportunity to address the inequities that we’ve lived with for so long,” said committee member Amy Kastley, a District 5 representative. “The bond money is unlike other sources of money, and we can actually serve the very poor.”

Others advocated for more broad parameters, for up to 60% or 80% in order to build affordable housing for people as they earn slightly higher wages.

“I feel strongly [about] continuing to keep that ability to move people up that [economic] ladder,” said committee member Peter Onofre, a District 4 representative.

But there are plenty of other programs — local, state, and federal — that fund other levels of authority, said committee member Rich Acosta, a District 9 representative.

The nearly completed Strategic Housing Implementation Plan (SHIP) outlines how public and private entities could spend $3.3 billion over the next 10 years to reach the city’s affordable housing goals.

According to city data, 95,000 San Antonio residents spend more than 30% of their income on housing, considered an unsustainable burden. The housing implementation plan aims to help those residents by building more affordable housing, preserving existing affordable housing stock, and raising incomes through job training over the next 10 years.

“If I had a trillion dollars, I would help out everybody [from] zero to 120% AMI,” Acosta said, “but in front of us now we have $150 million. And so [we should try] to get those dollars to help up the 44,000 [30% AMI] households that are the most needed.”

As a result of this back-and-forth, there were several votes to amend AMI targets in most of the five bond categories. The end result was a compromise reached on several items:

  • Homeownership rehabilitation and preservation for households making up to 50% AMI while prioritizing 30% AMI;
  • rental housing acquisition, rehabilitation, and preservation for public and income-based households making up to 30% AMI;
  • permanent supportive housing for people experiencing homelessness to facilitate a “housing first” approach;
  • rental housing production and acquisition to prioritize public and income-based housing for households making up to 50% AMI while prioritizing 30% AMI; and
  • homeownership production for households making up to 80% AMI while prioritizing those making 60% AMI and below.

There was a brief attempt to decrease the $25 million allocation for permanent supportive housing, but that was quickly withdrawn.

“Of all of the categories that we have here, permanent supportive housing is the most difficult to finance and the type of housing that needs the most unrestricted capital to go into it,” said committee member Jose Gonzalez II, a District 1 representative.

The bond committee also approved six different parameters that will further guide how the city spends its housing bond dollars. For instance, projects must serve San Antonio’s “most vulnerable cost-burdened low income populations,” prioritize neighborhoods with older housing stock and access to transit options, feature universal design (which accommodates people with diverse abilities), must not cause direct displacement of residents, accept housing vouchers, and follow tenant protection rules.

A successful amendment proposed by committee member Lawson Picasso, another District 2 representative, would (if approved by council) require developers to include a displacement impact assessment, which outlines potential degrees of area resident displacement and plans to mitigate it, when they apply to build or rehabilitate housing with bond funds.

That assessment would be tied to the scoring of those projects, incentivizing better plans, Picasso said.

The entire housing bond recommendations, including the parameters listed above as well as the amount each category receives, will soon be compiled into a resolution for City Council approval. The resolution will not be what’s sent to voters, City Attorney Andy Segovia explained. Voters will see a much shorter summary of what the bond could fund.

A majority vote of council can adjust the language, including the category funding or AMI targets.

Kastley hopes that council will respect the committee’s recommendations.

Several of the lower-income targets that Kastley wanted to see in the bond failed to make it into the committee’s recommendations, but she’s confident the resolution as-is will make a substantial dent in the city’s affordable housing problem.

“San Antonio, I believe, is at risk of really becoming like so many other cities where there is not housing available for our working people, the people who really run the city,” she told the San Antonio Report after the meeting. “So I’m so glad that we’ve made a commitment to provide that housing.”

Correction: This article has been updated to correctly reflect which City Council district appointed Jose Gonzalez (District 1).

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