While City Council was lauded for approving its first-ever homestead property tax exemption last week, which will save homeowners a modest amount of money, the effort did little to help renters, who make up about 46 percent of housing units in San Antonio and face rising rents while property values increase.
In an effort to help renters, Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1), that same day, filed a request for Council to consider creating a Renters Commission that would advise it “on matters related to affordable housing accessibility, transportation, green and other public space, land use, renter laws/rights, public health and safety, education, economic growth, and life in San Antonio.”
The Council’s Governance Committee could consider the request any time after the July break from regular meetings. Councilwoman Jada Andrew-Sullivan (D2), Councilwoman Melissa Cabello Havrda (D6), Councilwoman Ana Sandoval (D7), and Councilman Manny Pelaez (D9) already signed their support to discuss the idea.
As chair of the Governance Committee, Mayor Ron Nirenberg has full discretion of what gets on its agenda. Given that Nirenberg removed Treviño from the Governance Committee this week, and the two have been at odds over bike lanes on Broadway, it’s unclear if the mayor will make it a priority. Nirenberg could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Treviño’s request for the Renters Commission was timed alongside the homestead exemption discussion, he said, but the idea started to take root last year amid protests from residents of Soapworks and Towne Center Apartments (now Soap Factory Apartments) about increased rents in the wake of new ownership and the San Pedro Creek improvements nearby. At the same time, the Mayor’s Housing Policy Task Force was meeting to create comprehensive policies surrounding housing insecurity, which were ultimately approved by Council.
“We learned how many people, renters, were asking for a voice … and more direct access to City Council,” Treviño said.
Click here to download Treviño’s request.
A study published in the Urban Affairs Review found that renters are twice as likely to be displaced in gentrifying neighborhoods.
Most members of the commission, he said, should be renters themselves as other groups – such as developers and landlords – have plenty of representation.
Composition of the commission is up for discussion, he said. “I want to be inclusive and have a diverse commission – just not at the expense of renters feeling like they have a voice.”
The Mayor’s Housing Policy Task Force evolved into a new Housing Commission after the policy framework was approved. That group reviews the implementation of those policies and makes recommendations to Council on affordable housing projects.
The Renters Commission also would make recommendations on policies – but provide a clearer perspective from renters, Treviño said, especially as the City develops a coordinated housing system.
Princeton University’s Eviction Lab, which used 2016 data, found that more than 9,800 evictions took place in San Antonio that year. The city’s eviction rate (evictions per 100 renter homes) is 4.1 percent, roughly 2 percentage points above the national average.
The causes and circumstances surrounding evictions, Treviño said, would likely be a priority topic for the commission, if it’s created.
“If we’re not talking about them, then how can we be proactive?” he said.