Two weeks ago, San Antonio City Council considered a $250 million, five-year housing bond that received support from all but one of the elected officials. On Wednesday, City Manager Erik Walsh proposed dramatically reducing that number to $150 million.
Walsh recommended taking $100 million from housing and putting it toward park projects requested by council members. Without that shift, the park projects would likely have to be cut from the bond, he said.
Council members did not object. Much of their conversation was centered around prioritizing neighborhood-level projects over those considered to benefit the city as a whole.
Officials are confident that the city can still reach its affordable housing goals by utilizing other local and federal funding sources for housing production and preservation.
“The [affordable housing] objectives for the next five years will be met with the staff’s funding plan proposed this week,” Mayor Ron Nirenberg said in an email to the San Antonio Report.
Through that implementation plan, the result of Nirenberg’s 2017-2018 housing task force, the city aims to help about 95,000 households in Bexar County. These households spend more than 30% of their income on housing, which experts consider an unsustainable burden. The city’s plan to ease the burden involves building more affordable housing, preserving existing affordable housing stock, and raising incomes through job training over the next 10 years.
“The vision for the next five years for facilitating a healthy, affordable and sustainable housing market in San Antonio has not changed,” Nirenberg said, “and neither will the amount of resources we are dedicating to achieve that vision based on the funding strategy to include bond revenues as well as additional leveraged funding through other sources.”
The city estimates that it will have $1.6 billion to fund over the next five years to build or preserve the affordable housing it needs to meet half of its 10-year goals — without that additional $100 million from next year’s bond.
That $1.6 billion comes from combining the bond with the city’s annual housing budget, federal grants, and tax-reinvestment dollars as well as investments from the San Antonio Housing Trusts, San Antonio Housing Authority, tax credit equity, and other sources, said Lori Houston, assistant city manager.
The biggest contribution over five years will be an estimated $1 billion in tax credit equity, Houston said.
That funding is provided by the federal government, which gives developers tax credits for building housing units that, on average, a household making 60% or below the area median income (AMI) can afford. That’s someone earning $31,140 or a family of four earning $44,460.
“So they’ll get a tax credit over the next 10 years to be able to offset the operating costs associated with keeping those rents,” she said.
Former Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales (D5), who serves as chair of the San Antonio Housing Commission, said the $150 million housing bond will still have a big impact.
“We always knew that it was still to be determined where we would land with the housing bond [amount],” Gonzales told the San Antonio Report. “The $150 [million] is still a huge jump from the 20 million that we saw in 2017.”
The city included $20 million in its 2017 bond, but that money could be used only to purchase property and facilitate private sector development. Thanks to a voter-approved charter amendment, the city can now directly pay a developer or a housing provider to produce affordable housing, as well as pay for home and apartment repairs. The city is expected to have another sizable housing bond in 2027.
“What I hope to see in this bond that will be unique is to have a more interdisciplinary approach to how we use these funds … where we do housing, we’re also doing parks, we’re also doing connectivity, we’re also improving facilities,” Gonzales said.
The Housing Commission approved a framework this week to inform how bond projects are selected that would prioritize projects that improve resident connections to work, health services, and recreation while avoiding displacement.
During Wednesday’s Council meeting, Councilman Clayton Perry (D10) said the housing bond should be reduced further to $100 million.
That would still make an impact, but more money should go to “what people are really asking for,” such as street and drainage projects, Perry said.
Some community advocates were surprised that no one on City Council pushed back against decreasing the housing bond.
“Cutting the bond by 100 million is a step in the wrong direction,” said Sofia Lopez, a housing advocate who previously served on the Housing Commission and San Antonio Housing Authority’s board.
Nearly all of the $1.6 billion identified is money that the city already anticipated. The bond should be an opportunity to provide the lowest-cost housing for the most vulnerable residents, Lopez said. “Why wouldn’t we take an opportunity to make a dent where it’s needed?”
This money isn’t new, she said. “It feels like a weak justification where city staff is trying to show the biggest numbers possible … but it’s not going to materialize in the kind of housing that we know we need. None of those [funding] sources were solving the crisis before.”
The need for affordable housing in the bond has to be balanced with other community and council member priorities, Walsh told City Council on Wednesday.
Compared to the 2017 bond, funding for parks in 2022 would decrease by $52 million without the additional $100 million from the housing bond. Because a large portion ($126 million) of the 2022 bond is slated to fund the linear creek greenway trails, that leaves little for more traditional park funding.
“I felt like the cut [to parks] was too deep,” he said. But with $300 million in the parks bond, that would leave $174 million left for other parks beyond linear creek funding — still $13 million less than in 2017, but enough to fund dozens of projects.
Housing and parks will be just two of six bond propositions put to a vote in May as part of the $1.2 billion bond program, the largest in San Antonio’s history. Before City Council places each proposition on the ballot, citizen bond committees will review project lists and potentially make adjustments.
The housing bond committee’s public meetings will start next month.