San Antonio’s first-ever affordable housing bond cleared a key hurdle Thursday when the Neighborhood Improvements Community Bond Committee voted to send a list of 13 land parcels for recommended development to City Council.

Those 13 areas, located in eight of the 10 Council districts, have been identified as suitable for development as affordable housing. The suburban Districts 9 and 10 are not in the project. The committee’s decision was not unanimous. The final vote was 22-4 with one abstention.

City Council will discuss the proposed housing bond at its Wednesday, Dec. 14 meeting and vote the following day on whether to include the urban renewal project in the May 6, 2017 city election when voters also will decide on the various elements contained in the $850 million bond, the city’s largest ever capital spending initiative.

The bond committee began its work in October with consideration of 15 land parcels identified for consideration by City staff. A 16th parcel was added later. The process included a bus tour of the sites, public hearings and meetings with neighborhood association leaders, and a narrowing of the list to 12 geographic areas.

Once the areas are added to the urban renewal plan, the City’s Office of Urban Redevelopment San Antonio (OURSA) can use the housing bond funds to prepare land in those locations for redevelopment and then sell the properties to nonprofit or for-profit developers, who would have to consent to certain City stipulations. Affordable housing has been a key goal of Mayor Ivy Taylor, who lives in the Dignowity Hill Historic District, a near-Eastside neighborhood steeped in history and the city’s black community roots, but also scarred by blight and vacancy. Private sector market activity in the last five years has made it one of the hottest residential real estate markets in the urban core.

The $20 million in bond funds, if approved by voters, also could go toward mixed-income and mixed-use developments. City officials will probably have to define the terms of the project between now and May in order for voters to understand exactly what kind of projects will qualify.

After a lengthy discussion, committee members agreed to add an additional area to the list as suggested by the District 8 City Council office and District 8 committee members called Oak Hollow, which is situated near Babcock and Prue roads.

Along with a vacant parcel of land, the area includes the land where Oak Hollow Mobile Home sits, a mobile home park where residents have been exposed to open sewage and other unaddressed maintenance issues. The owner of the land where the mobile home park sits has been issued several citations by City inspectors, but has not been responsive, according to residents. District 8 committee members said the owner plans to evict the mobile home residents.

Several committee members viewed the potential evictions as an opportunity for the City to acquire the property and address the problems through redevelopment with current residents given the option of returning. Others on the committee opposed a last-minute addition that could hasten eviction of residents from their current housing, however undesirable.

We made a pledge from day one to build the confidence of the people and the voter that we will not displace them and (that we will) earn their trust,” said District 6 representative Bill McDonough.

At one point, the question came up whether to table the entire housing bond due to confusion and disagreement over the committee’s charge, which is limited to identifying suitable land parcels for affordable housing projects. The nature of the future development projects is not part of the committee’s considerations.

I don’t get impression from the majority that there’s confusion on their part,” said committee Co-chair Jim Leonard. “I do understand that some people still have some reservations but I think for the most part everyone has done an outstanding job and I feel like we’ve come up with a good list.”

Committee member Ricardo Jimenez opposed the final list, saying it should have been limited to three or four locations to ensure the bond’s approval. He was one of several committee members who said the project is likely to generate confusion among voters.

“There’s a lot of working poor out here in San Antonio, and they do deserve better, and I want us to give them better,” said District 10 representative Connie Marzalak, who abstained from voting, “but if we don’t think about it and (the bond) fails, they’ll never trust again.”

In the end, San Antonio’s crucial need for more affordable housing was reason enough for the majority of the committee to vote to move forward with the housing bond.

“The key point to me is affordable housing – we need to make this available,” said District 4 representative Rodolpho Carrizales. “I think we need to go ahead an continue with that.”

Camille Garcia

Camille Garcia is a journalist born and raised in San Antonio. She formerly worked at the San Antonio Report as assistant editor and reporter. Her email is camillenicgarcia@gmail.com