On May 7, San Antonio voters approved Proposition F of the bond package, dedicating $150 million to affordable housing in this city. The measure included funding to build, maintain and rehabilitate affordable housing stock in San Antonio. To put it simply, this is one of the largest investments in affordable housing in Texas history.

When it comes to the fundamental funding in the housing bond that community organizers have been advocating for for months, we are very proud of this victory. Hard-working families and individuals looking for affordable homes in our growing city should be excited. But our fight for equality is far from over. Housing should be affordable, but affordability does not mean much if renters do not have equal rights with landlords.

Speaking to tenants in San Antonio, I often hear the same questions: Is there a way to make sure my landlord actually fixes the repairs they say they will? Do I have an opportunity to cure or pay back the non-payment of rent before an eviction filing is made? Can landlords and management companies come into my space when I am at my most vulnerable? Where do I go if there are multiple things wrong with my rental space and my landlord won’t do anything about it? Why aren’t mandatory fees included in my rent?

A clear set of local rules established between landlords and tenants does not currently exist in San Antonio. And in the absence of clear rules, the scales of justice are often tipped toward those with wealth and power. The next stage of the fight for housing justice in our city must ensure protections for all renters via a San Antonio Tenant Bill of Rights.

What the proposed San Antonio Tenant Bill of Rights does:

  • Ensures that every unit rented in San Antonio meets minimum health and safety standards of basic utilities and facilities.
  • Ensures that all repairs done by landlords are made in a good faith.
  • Prevents  Military Veterans from being denied housing based on the Veteran’s lawful source of income to pay rent, which includes funding from a federal housing assistance program.
  • Requires a tenant to be given proper notice of a pending eviction, including an opportunity to cure for non-payment of rent before an eviction filing is made.
  • Gives the tenant a right to privacy and sets up guidelines for when management or landlords can enter into a tenant’s space.
  • Gives all tenants the right to organize, without ever having to worry about the threat of eviction or a decrease in services.
  • Creates a renter oversight commission that holds landlords accountable for their actions.

A San Antonio Tenant Bill of Rights will address the questions that so many tenants have about their rights. It will also make our city the most protected home for renters in Texas. An estimated 625,000 renters live in San Antonio, according to the 2020 Census. That’s more than 40% of the city’s population, and one in three of those renter households in San Antonio have children. With this many people renting in San Antonio, city leaders must focus on making tenant rights a priority.

I have been a renter in San Antonio since 1976 and during my almost half a century in this city, I have witnessed it transform into an environment where thousands pack up and move every year to try to find safe and affordable housing. I personally got involved in the housing justice movement because I felt an urgency for people who needed help putting a roof over their heads.

It was frustrating to watch real estate predators flip houses and make neighborhoods too expensive for the people who once lived there. The city that had been so welcoming and accommodating to me was quickly becoming deeply unaffordable for those of us who have been here for decades. Taking action, I became a board member of the Texas Organizing Project, and for many years we pushed for transformational spending for affordable housing.

The foundational shift from the housing bond approval has shown San Antonio at large what renters here have known for years: they are capable of making real change and getting their fair share. But alongside those dollars, an equal share of rights should be at the forefront of the city’s push for fair and equitable housing for all residents. Housing that does not protect tenants is just a building, but with rules and protections in place, these buildings become homes. They become places where families are rooted and communities are forged, where people feel safe. 

Our city leaders cannot stop halfway in the fight for housing justice. Affordability is just one component, but without these essential rights for tenants, all 625,000 San Antonio renters are subject to the mercy of just a few landlords, many who may not even live in our state. Let’s make sure San Antonians decide how we protect our own.

Everyone can join the fight for tenant protections by signing the petition calling for a San Antonio Tenant Bill of Rights. Let’s protect San Antonio renters today.

Kevin LeMelle

Kevin LeMelle is a lifelong San Antonio resident and a board member for the Texas Organizing Project.

David Wheaton

David Wheaton is the advocacy director for Texas Housers.