CALVERT FIGHTS BACK

San Antonio, Texas - To Bexar County Taxpayers: On Tuesday, February 13th, 2018, the County Judge and the Bexar County Commissioners Court will be hearing and discussing a new County incentive plan that will give away tens of millions of dollars to only the top 10.6% of businesses. The goal is for Commissioners Court to take up the proposal for adoption of the new policies on March 13th, 2018.

It appears that they don’t want to hear what you think and vet the issue for a public hearing. We need to hear from you the taxpayer.

 

To add insult to injury the current incentive plan proposal will give Bexar County taxpayer dollars for job training and allow only the top 10% of the largest businesses to train and hire 75% of people FROM OUT OF TOWN after you give them $250,000 for workforce training.

 

 

The staff will roll out the plan in the name of workforce development with the veneer of trying to elevate wages for the people of Bexar County. However, when the proposal allows businesses to train 75% of the people in the Bexar County program with your taxpayer dollars, that is completely unacceptable and is exactly the attitude that has persisted for too long—that San Antonio does not believe in its own people.

The County recently put a stop to incentive policies. The community raised valid concerns in response to Credit Human. Nevertheless, the court hasn’t heard what I have which are community concerns about the average taxpayer not being able to get a return on their taxes paid for their homestead like the federal government gives us.

 

Many wonder why can’t they receive taxpayer dollars for owner occupied home rehab when they see the county give $85 million dollars to renovate the AT&T Center?

The latest incentive proposal will stop incentives for development near the core, which is a big mistake, and now give it to benefit employees who could be trained from out of town.

Our communities have been complaining about higher property taxes after the county incentive policy over the last decade has driven up property appraisals by incentivizing only the highest rent and highest mortgage properties. We call it market rate housing but the county never had a policy that would benefit the overwhelming majority of working people.

 

The County is not to blame for rising property taxes—that’s the Texas Legislature—but we could play a market role in leveling out these forces as we have surely played a rule in increasing them for neighborhoods like King William, Government Hill, Tobin Hill, and Dignowity Hill—all areas I represent.

When I asked the court to work with me to provide a market incentive to balance the decade long policy where Bexar County only gave tax abatements for multi-family developments that called for the highest rents and highest mortgages and put in place policies that benefit the vast majority of working people, the staff and court has provide inaction and excuses.

 

That is, I called for us to create housing of the same price range as the average household income of $51,000 per year; I got blank stares and no action.

When I asked the Court to work with me to expand our housing policies to include building housing for the 60% to 80% of the working people to be able to save 3.5 percent to 30 percent for down payment on a home and make us more competitive to build housing that would be attractive to millennials, like myself, the response was "No". Now we are going to give incentives only to the top ten percent of corporations.

Not having a city with a density of young people in the core—with mid rises and housing is part of what keeps others calling San Antonio lame and makes young people leave for counties that will.

Today, the City, CPS, SAWS, and the County’s policies together have led to an increase of around $50,000 dollars to the average new home price which they are passing to the consumer.

Gene Dawson recently told me that we are building 7,000 less homes per year. This started when government began to increase development fees.

The average home in Bexar County cost about $148,000 per year. We used to have 60 percent of new housing starts prices from $150,000 and below just a few years ago. Now it’s less than 1 percent of new housing starts. Our market is out of equilibrium but if the business community and homeowner want help from Bexar County, their answer is to tell you to get a better job through training so you can afford a more expensive home.

 

Yes we should encourage better jobs—I’m not saying otherwise. I’m just saying our policy mix must be deeper and deal with a myriad of issues.

Government doesn’t even have to give away money to make a solution to solve that problem.

Bexar County, SAWS, CPS, and the City of San Antonio could lower development fees to the same rate they were prior to the rise a few years ago for 60 percent of new housing starts if the developer commits to build a home that is priced below $175,000. The 7,000 less homes per year crisis would be solved from the market, probably in the next year without government having to spend a dime.

 

We went from building 16,000 homes per year to 9,000 homes per year because we are not building new homes at a price most San Antonians can afford, which is around $150,000.

Do you know what the number one source of revenue for the County is?

 

The answer is property tax revenue from homeowners.

 

But yet the majority of our incentives went for homes or rental properties for the top wage earners in our County, instead of the majority of wage earners in our County.

 

Imagine how much more revenue the County could use toward fixing potholes, creating jobs, and public safety if we were making it easier for the average working person in San Antonio to own a home?

Not to mention that all of the neighborhood leaders who complain that renters aren’t keeping up the properties would be relieved because people could save to own the homes rather than being forced into rent-bondage by high rent prices.

 

As a court, we are missing the forest from the trees.

 

It will have serious long-term negative economic implications. It already is.

People are being put into rent-bondage. High rents are creating economic stresses on families.

People are selling drugs. Parents are not able to save for college and are telling their children because of high rent that they shouldn’t apply to institutions of higher learning.

 

San Antonio’s poverty rate continues to rise because policy makers are ignoring that the number one way for a poor town to build wealth is through homeownership.

 

Some on the Commissioners Court believe it has no state law basis to provide for housing, even though it participates in housing in dozens of ways, including financing large developments for developers at lower interest rates.

 

The Commissioners Court, which oversees a justice system where 500,000 of Bexar County residents have been through the criminal justice system and have a hard time staying out of crime because those with a conviction are often not allowed into housing, says we have no justification to help for housing. That makes no sense to most of us.

 

The same court that has its jail occupied by 20-30 percent of people who are mentally ill says, that it has no reason to build assisted living or housing where the mentally ill can be stabilized to stay on their medicine, get counseling, and get back to work; says it has no reason to build housing. That makes no sense to most of us.

 

Does the court really believe that expensive and frequent incarceration for people who are mentally ill and don’t really belong in the jail is not a reason to do housing?

However, we do have a reason to support building a minor league baseball stadium in an election next year? Give us a break!

 

This community just passed by a 70 percent margin tens of millions of dollars to help with workforce housing. The plan the city proposed and was passed by voters could have been much better but the electorate knew we had to start somewhere in light of our challenges and thanks to you; you passed it when others tried to secretly torpedo it.

 

The electorate is way ahead of the majority of the court. This is a time for residents of Bexar County to speak up and be heard.

 

I know many people want to see incentive policies changed--addressing our real long-term community needs. But the proposals coming to the court on incentives are not as comprehensive as they ought to be and your input should be taken and implemented.

 

The court logic is that if everyone would just pull themselves up by the bootstraps and get a high demand job, then they would be able to pay for the expensive apartments and houses the County has incentivized.

That was literally the answer I received from staff. There are school districts, non-profits, and other stakeholders who should be able to apply for workforce grants, not just the top ten percent of businesses. Let’s not agonize over these half-baked policies; let’s organize to improve them.

 

Yours for Change, Commissioner Tommy Calvert, Bexar County, Precinct 4

 

 

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