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San Antonio one step closer to historic housing bond

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Paul Flahive
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Texas Public Radio
A housing bond committee member holds up a green card or a "Yes" vote on one of the many amendments proposed to city staff recommendations.

One hundred and fifty million dollars for affordable housing in San Antonio took a big step towards being realized Wednesday night, when the Housing Bond Committee approved the populations and programs the city should target with funds. The final bond ballot language for next May’s election will be determined in part from committee recommendations, city staff, and community feedback in the next two months.

The vote concludes a two-month, four-meeting, deliberation that both aired animosity over the city’s past investments in high-priced developments, as well as hopes to direct millions to create affordable housing and maintain the city’s older housing stock.

“I feel it went fantastic. We didn't get everything we wanted, but we got our big aims,” said Richard Acosta, board member and president of My City is My Home, a nonprofit helping people with housing.

San Antonio Housing Bond Committee short on time and — for some — short on trust

San Antonio has never been able to directly invest in housing with bond dollars before. In 2017 it used $20 million of the bond to buy property to be used to create housing in low-income areas. San Antonio voted to approve changes to the city’s charter to allow the housing bond earlier this year. Housing is just a small portion of the $1.2 billion bond, which is essentially a detailed list of how the city will use its credit card the next five years.

The 32-member bond committee tentatively approved $85 million for projects and programs that make up to 30% of the area median income (AMI) level. In San Antonio that is a family of four making less than $22,000 a year.

“If you make less than $1,500 a month in San Antonio, more than likely you're gonna have to go to homeless services,” said Acosta.

If approved by council, $45 million will go toward renovating and preserving homes owned by people who can’t afford upkeep, targeting homeowners at 50% AMI but prioritizing 30% AMI. The funding comes at a time the city has received increased criticism of its use of code enforcement and how it has vacated people from their homes at a much higher rate than other major cities, a charge the city has denied.

Another $40 million will go towards rental unit preservation and rehabilitation that serve the 30% income level. This income level will largely be served through rental units that will be maintained or created with the bond dollars.

Not everyone thought the narrowing of funding to serve just 30% was a good thing though and could make it more difficult to address the housing need.

“I think in some cases, it made it harder,” said Jennifer Gonzalez, bond committee member and executive director of Alamo Community Group — a nonprofit builder of affordable housing. “It really narrowed the scope.”

City figures show their is great need for people making this amount of money, but Gonzalez said that the narrow focus could have undesired consequences and make it difficult for projects like the ones they build to get funding when they also have units for people making 40-60% of AMI.

Twenty-five million dollars will be put towards permanent supportive housing, which often serves the most vulnerable population — people experiencing chronic homelessness. These housing facilities include supportive services like childcare, employment assistance and mental health care. The city estimates it needs 1,000 more units like this to address its current needs.

“I think it’s huge,” said Nikisha Baker, president and CEO of SAMM Ministries, which serves many at-risk and homeless populations. “I think it’s going to have a tremendous impact.”

Baker estimated the money could almost double what the city already has.

Unlike the other four bond committees, the housing bond committee is the only one to not vote on specific projects, but instead on populations and strategies to target.

The difference gives much more power to council and city staff over the historic bond in terms of language and what gets approved later.

The bond committee also approved six bond funding parameters that stressed targeted populations, income levels, neighborhoods, and protections from displacement.

A small but vocal portion of the bond committee failed to push bond dollars directly to the San Antonio Housing Authority. The public housing provider has said it is in desperate need of money to renovate and maintain its current public housing properties. The organization had for weeks been trying to persuade other board members through online public events and with the help of organizations like the Texas Organizing Project and the Historic Westside Residents Association.

It did manage to reframe and tailor funding categories towards public housing. The funding areas also had changed to focus more on income-based housing, or housing costs that could change based on life changes, like if someone lost a job.

“The bond itself is not a bond specifically for the (San Antonio) Housing Authority. This should serve all San Antonians. And we can't forget that there are housing needs, you know, all across the spectrum,” said Gonzalez.

Next year’s vote on these bond dollars are part of a 10-year strategy to produce or retain nearly 30,000 affordable units. According to the city’s yet-to-be passed Strategic Housing Implementation Plan, more than $3 billion from a variety of sources will be used to this end.

The city has identified 95,000 households who are at risk of becoming homeless and more than 60,000 more who are cost-burdened, or spend more than 30% of their income on housing. The city hopes to meet the needs of 95,000 not accommodated through affordable housing by helping them to increase their wages with its job training programs and an additional 45,000 with private sector homes and public assistance. All this assuming the document is approved by council.

The plan calls for another $150 million housing bond to be passed in five years as well as $277 million in city funding over the next decade. Most of the funding ($2.3 billion) comes from so-called “leveraged funds” including “primary funding for affordable housing projects,” housing tax credits, HUD, conventional debt and private activity bonds.

In the end while historic, the housing bond is just one small part of a massive need and response.

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Paul Flahive can be reached at Paul@tpr.org and on Twitter at @paulflahive