This story has been updated.
Since December, community organizing group COPS/Metro Alliance has been pressuring the city on its housing policies and their effects on vulnerable communities, and officials appear to be listening.
The Comprehensive Plan Committee, chaired by District 5 Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales, earlier today moved to fast track a $500,000 displacement prevention study, which will examine the root causes of displacement in San Antonio, that was supposed to be launched in late 2020. Instead it will begin as soon as possible.
“We can’t afford to wait until late next year to address this issue which affects the oldest and most vulnerable parts of our city today,” Gonzales said in a statement.
The study will take 12-18 months to complete, officials said. After the study is completed, a displacement prevention policy will be developed, said Ian Benavidez, Coordinated Housing System and policy manager with the city’s Neighborhood & Housing Services Department. It’s unclear how long crafting a policy will take, he said, until after the study is completed.
COPS/Metro, however, believes the study can begin immediately.
“We feel, strongly, that there’s enough data,” COPS/Metro organizer Maria Tijerina said. “We need to (enact policy) now.”
On Thursday, the City Council will likely discuss moving the study along, as well as vote on the risk mitigation policy, a $1 million program from the city’s general fund that pays for a household’s expenses in the event they are displaced, or are on the cusp of being displaced. The policy, a recommendation of the Mayor’s Housing Policy Task Force, has been in the works since October.
[ Editor’s Note: For more background on the risk mitigation policy, read, “Is San Antonio doing enough to address displacement?” ]
Whereas the risk mitigation policy kicks in when a household is being displaced, or right before that moment, the displacement prevention study is intended to keep those situations from happening.
The accelerated timeline is supported by Mayor Ron Nirenberg and City Manager Erik Walsh.
COPS/Metro Alliance has been meeting with top city officials—including Nirenberg, Walsh and Gonzales—since December, when the City Council approved revisions to the City Center Housing Incentive Policy (CCHIP), which many consider the catalyst for the rapid change happening in some downtown-area neighborhoods.
Even though the city is moving up the schedule for its displacement prevention study, COPS/Metro Alliance says the 12-18 month timeline for its completion is too long.
In a recent op-ed published in the San Antonio Express-News, members of COPS/Metro said Nirenberg and the City Council needed to show more urgency toward the issue of displacement.
“It is time for Nirenberg and the council to display the same level of urgency for preventing people from being displaced from their homes that they showed in renewing CCHIP,” Jane Ann Slater and Linda Davila wrote on March 6.
It’s also been organizing at the neighborhood level for weeks.
In a recent meeting with Government Hill residents, members of COPS/Metro told attendees if they don’t like the direction of the city’s housing policies, such as CCHIP and the risk mitigation policy, they can create change by voting in new leaders.
The group has been organizing, using the May 4 municipal election as a leverage point to get city officials to accelerate the plan. It’s planning a big turnout—between 100 and 200 people—at 6 p.m. tonight (Wednesday) at the Council’s regularly scheduled Citizens to be Heard session at City Council chambers.
Gonzales said increased concerns by community groups, such as COPS/Metro, over city incentives that don’t address neighborhood affordability, and rising property valuations, prompted prioritizing the displacement prevention plan above other city housing initiatives.
NHSD Director Veronica Soto, in a statement to the Heron, said accelerating the study would not delay other components of the larger affordable housing business plan, a three-year process to increase affordable housing production in San Antonio while preserving existing housing through rehab programs.
Those components include:
» Establishing a “by-right” zoning policy—where projects, like affordable housing complexes, would need to meet only dimensional requirements of a zoning ordinance for approval and would not require prior city review.
» City fee exemptions—where affordable housing developments would receive fee waivers from the city and and from the San Antonio Water System (SAWS).
» NHSD’s Coordinated Housing System program, where the city would get together with more than 30 “housing partners” to identify where affordable housing is being developed or potential areas of development.
The risk mitigation policy would begin soon after the council’s vote tomorrow, assuming the body approves the policy.
NHSD will attempt to identify which neighborhoods have the most residents receiving assistance, and how much they are receiving, through surveying residents who received assistance.
The purpose, Deputy City Manager Peter Zanoni said, is to identify the demand for the assistance and, after a review from the Housing Commission, decide how much more money the risk mitigation policy needs in the next fiscal year. The $1 million will be given on a first come, first serve basis, and will be paid directly to an eligible renter’s or homeowner’s landlord, storage provider, hotel, or utility company, depending what assistance is needed. Zanoni expects the policy to assist only up to 200 renters and homeowners, prioritizing residents with the lowest incomes, but, if the $1 million is spent, the city will try to assist households with federally-funded programs, such as the Short-Term Emergency Rental Assistance Program in the Community Development Block Grant.
“If somebody’s in need, we can’t tell them ‘sorry, come back,’” Zanoni said.
At the meeting this morning, District 9 Councilman John Courage said he’s concerned about the lack of support or buy-in from the development community. He’s said there’s no stipulations for developers who aren’t receiving city incentives to participate in the program.
Zanoni told Courage the city has been engaged with the development community, but didn’t elaborate.
Though the Coordinated Housing System’s dashboard system and annual report are proposed for delay, NHSD will soon hire a director and assistant director to oversee the 6 current employees of the program. Zanoni expects to hire both positions in the next 30 days.