The City Council on Thursday approved the Strategic Housing Implementation Plan (SHIP), a framework document with the overarching goal of helping 95,000 households in San Antonio who spend more than 30% of their monthly income on housing, or what’s known as being cost-burdened. The 10-year plan received mostly praise at the council meeting, but there was also concern the city needed to provide a few more weeks for the public to weigh in on the latest revisions, which were released on Monday.
Reaching the plan’s goal will cost $3.37 billion over 10 years—$1.07 billion in local public dollars, which city officials say will generate an additional $2.3 billion from the private sector. One local funding source is the $150 million housing bond, part of the larger 2022-2027 $1.2 billion bond package scheduled to go before voters in next May.
The SHIP document includes 36 strategies aimed at the production and rehabilitation of apartments and single-family homes, the infusion of more housing vouchers (or, similarly-crafted tools) in San Antonio, and the raising of wages through job training programs, most notably the SA: Ready to Work Program. Some of the strategies have begun, while others will take shape via future public input processes, city officials said.
For example, on Thursday, the City Council also changed its policy for dolling out city development and San Antonio Water System fee waivers. Instead of issuing the waivers on a first-come, first-serve basis, the city will now prioritize affordable housing developments. For apartment projects, for example, half of the units must be reserved for people making up to 60% AMI. Fee waivers save developers hundreds of thousands of dollars, and help lower the cost of the home for potential buyers or renters.
[ Scroll down for a chart showing AMI levels. ]
Of the 95,000 cost-burdened households identified in the SHIP, 75% make 50% or less of the area median income, or AMI, in the San Antonio-New Braunfels region, which is $33,350 for a family of three. Nearly half make 30% AMI or less, according to the SHIP document.
To reach the 95,000 figure, city housing officials and a consultant named Economic and Planning Systems used Census data to calculate the difference between the number of cost-burdened people at different levels of the area median income, and the number of units available to them at their levels.
Most vulnerable households by area median income, or AMI
The SHIP document is five years in the making. The process to address this city’s affordable housing needs began in the fall 2017, a few months after Mayor Ron Nirenberg was elected, with the convening of his Mayor’s Housing Policy Task Force. A year later, the five-member task force produced San Antonio housing policy framework, the antecedent document to the SHIP.
“Even though we are on tract to surpass the original housing goals, the SHIP is absolutely necessary because the work is not done and the need continues to grow,” Nirenberg said during the council meeting.
The SHIP document is expected to also be adopted by the San Antonio Housing Authority, Bexar County, and the San Antonio Housing Trust, which is a city nonprofit.
[ Related: “San Antonio’s affordable housing discussion continues as city fields criticism on 71-page plan” | Nov. 17, 2021 ]
During the discussion, District 5 Councilwoman Teri Castillo, who’s made housing her top priority, made a motion to delay the vote until mid January, saying everyday residents needed more time to review the highly-technical document.
In a statement, Castillo said she made her gesture was “on behalf of community members for whom housing is still their mission even between 8 to 12 hour shifts at the taqueria or between lectures at a local university. For folks who do not have staff, and do not get paid to dabble in housing policy. They do it out of love for their neighbor and for their community.”
Castillo’s motion was backed by District 1 Councilman Mario Bravo, District 2 Councilman Jalen McKee-Rodriguez, and District 10 Councilman Clayton Perry, but it wasn’t enough. She then abstained from the main SHIP vote.
Cynthia Spielman, a member of the Tier 1 Neighborhood Coalition, and one of 80 or so stakeholders who helped shape the SHIP, said she supported the plan, but thought the city wasn’t giving citizens enough time to review it and offer feedback on its latest iteration.
The city extended the public input deadline and the date the council was due to approve the SHIP by a at least week in response to the same criticism last month.
The city first posted the plan on the city’s website on the afternoon of Nov. 1, the same night it hosted the first public input session on the SHIP, giving the public mere hours to review it. The meeting was also held on Dia de los Muertos on the West Side where many families observe the Mexican holiday by attending one of four cultural celebrations in the area, privately at cemeteries, or in other ways.
City officials have since said the timing of unveiling the SHIP on that day was a mistake. City officials agreed that the SHIP document benefited from additional input, which included clarifying that the strategies at play were meant for “affordable housing,” which the city now defines as housing for renters making up to 60% AMI, and not just “housing,” which would have potentially opened the door for for-profit developers to benefit from the SHIP.
They’ve also told the Heron in previous interviews that the SHIP is an amalgamation of previous housing or housing-related studies that have gone through their own lengthy public input processes, and that they thought the public input leading up to Thursday was adequate.
That hasn’t sat well with some neighborhood and housing advocates.
Jessica O. Guerrero, a housing advocate and former Housing Commission chairwoman, also served as a SHIP stakeholder.
“The mayor and city staff’s statements that the SHIP was developed by people with lived experience in housing insecurity is misleading,” Guerrero wrote in a letter to the City Council Thursday morning. “The vast majority of SHIP participants were individuals pursuing their industry’s, organization’s or institution’s agenda—a small minority of them may have experienced housing insecurity in their lives, but not within the last 5-10 years. Their access to the SHIP was based on their current affiliations with housing industries, city staff preferred non-profit organizations, and housing and governmental institutions.”
The 80 or stakeholders, who met over the summer, included people representing the nonprofit housing development community, for-profit developers, some nonprofit housing advocacy groups, and those in the public sector such as the San Antonio Housing Authority, and other groups.
Kristin Davila, president and executive director of Merced Housing Texas, a local nonprofit housing developer, and one of eight SHIP stakeholder co-chairs, told council members that the stakeholders “actively participated” in the process.
“It is important that while we prioritize … households whose income is less than 30% of the area median income, we not loose site of the other 50,000 households in need of support whose incomes are greater than 30%,” Davila told the council. “The 36 strategies in the SHIP provide a path to preserve and produce housing units for families and individuals across the extremely-low to moderate-income spectrum.
Davila and some other nonprofit housing providers have clashed with housing advocates who have argued the SHIP plan, and the $150 million housing bond, should emphasize, if not only address, the most vulnerable populations—those making 30% AMI or less.
Meanwhile, Councilman McKee-Rodriguez attempted to amend the city’s process for doling our incentives by baking in a displacement study into the scoring process for developments near “historically displaced” communities. The motion failed after Assistant City Director Lori Houston told council members that the city was working on a displacement policy, and would return to the council for either feedback or approval.