Construction continues at the East Meadows site, the former Wheatley Courts Public Housing complex, on the East Side of San Antonio on Sept. 30, 2016. The neighborhood is being revitalized with mixed-income housing, replacing older, low-income-only projects. Photo by: Lisa Krantz
San Antonio must develop more than 500,000 new housing units to accommodate the projected influx of 1.1 million additional residents by the year 2040, city officials estimate.
How to best accomplish this was a major focus of Mayor Ivy Taylor’s Housing Summit, which drew a capacity crowd of 350 people to the Convention Center on Friday.
Having an adequate supply of safe, decent housing for residents of diverse income levels benefits the community as a whole, several housing industry officials said.
“Housing needs to be financed like infrastructure — like roads and bridges and electric systems,” said Austin Board of Realtors CEO Paul Hilgers. “Because the payback to the community is long term.
“To have a good, safe, sustainable community with a strong economy, you have got to have housing available for people where they need it. … If you have good, safe, decent, affordable housing, you have a chance to be healthier. You have a chance to get a better education.”
According to a city staff presentation last fall, San Antonio needs at least 153,000 affordable housing units.
San Antonio and Austin, like many cities, are seeing a dwindling supply of federal housing grants. That is forcing communities to get more creative on how they address their housing needs, said Mandy De Mayo, executive director of HousingWorks Austin, a nonprofit that works to preserve affordable rental housing.
Austin had to take a hard look at safeguarding the affordability of older apartment complexes built in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s that no longer commanded high rents, De Mayo said. “What we’re seeing is a lot of developers coming in, either tearing down apartment complexes or upgrading the apartment complexes and increasing the rent so they are no longer affordable,” she said.
In 2006, Austin voters approved $55 million in affordable housing bonds, the first such measure in Texas. Those funds were used to build or rehabilitate more than 3,400 homes in that city, De Mayo said. Austin voters approved another $65 million in affordable housing bonds in 2013.
Such a funding mechanism can’t be pursued in San Antonio anytime in the near future because the current city charter only permits bonds to be issued for public works projects.
But San Antonio voters will get to consider a proposed $850 million bond program in May that includes $20 million for “neighborhood improvements,” which would allow the city to buy deteriorated properties and prepare them for development. Those preparations could include demolition and cleanup, extending utilities to such sites and constructing sidewalks and curbs.
“We expect that the $20 million will allow us to ... demonstrate to voters that the city can accomplish an even larger housing bond in the future,” San Antonio City Manager Sheryl Sculley told the audience during the summit’s opening remarks Friday morning.
The proposed neighborhood improvements are an exciting step forward, Taylor said.
“We’re looking to innovative programs and techniques from around the country,” she told the crowd. “And I’m personally committed to these changes because I recognize that they’re essential to realizing that vision for San Antonio as a globally competitive city, where each and every person has an opportunity to prosper — not just some of us.”