Calls for spending all $150 million in potential housing bond dollars on San Antonio’s most vulnerable populations permeated the housing bond committee’s second meeting held Wednesday night at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center.
At the meeting, city officials also revealed that the city has committed to help fund infrastructure upgrades related to the San Antonio Housing Authority’s (SAHA) redevelopment of the aging Alazan Courts on the near West Side. Specific dollar amounts and funding sources will be decided once SAHA nails down more specific cost figures for the massive project, which will come after the agency gathers public input.
The housing bond committee, composed of housing experts, housing advocates and those representing the development community and landlords, is scheduled to meet two more times to hammer out which segments of the population—and what strategies to employee in serving those populations—should receive $150 million in housing bond dollars.
In May 2022, voters are scheduled to decide on the overall $1.2 billion bond package, which also includes millions more dollars for streets and sidewalks, drainage projects, parks and open spaces, and new municipal facilities.
Topics raised during the Wednesday meeting ran the housing gamut, and at times the conversation turned highly technical and adversarial.
Overall, the $150 million housing bond is one funding mechanism that interlocks with the city’s Strategic Housing Implementation Plan, or SHIP, which has identified 95,000 households in San Antonio as being cost burdened—meaning they spend more than 30 percent of their monthly income on housing costs. The plan calls for the production and preservation of apartments and homes for low-income families, the inclusion of more housing vouchers (or similar mechanisms) in San Antonio, and the lifting of wages mainly through the SA: Ready to Work program.
» Related: “San Antonio’s affordable housing discussion continues tonight as city fields criticism on 71-page plan” | Nov. 17, 2021
» Related: “San Antonio’s complex housing strategy met with criticism over transparency” | Nov. 4, 2021
The San Antonio Housing Authority (SAHA) offers its own set of metrics that help identify San Antonio’s housing needs.
There are 51,000 people on the housing authority’s public housing waiting list, and another 5,000 are waiting for Section 8 housing vouchers. The housing voucher waiting list, which reopened in September, is closed at the moment, or else that number would be much larger, SAHA President and CEO Ed Hinojosa Jr. told the Heron.
The meeting got contentious at times when two issues were broached.
One was the reduction of the housing bond total from $250 million to $150 million, after city staff had sought the City Council’s feedback on the original total at a B session meeting on Sept. 29. In a recent interview, Assistant City Manager Lori Houston told the Heron the $100 million was removed from the housing bond to meet council members’ requests for more funding in other bond areas. City officials, including Houston, have argued that San Antonio’s Housing Policy Framework (2018), the antecedent to the SHIP document, calls for $250 million in bond dollars over two bond cycles: 2022-2027 (the one the city’s is currently crafting) and 2027-2032.
Then, some committee members questioned the ethics of city officials for holding a meeting in early November with select members of the committee. At that gathering, the city says, committee members who are considered housing experts, and who participated in the SHIP process, strategized with city officials on how to make future housing bond committee meetings less technical and easier to digest, and had nothing to do with trying to subvert the democratic process, as some suggested.
However, two housing bond committee members who served on the SHIP, who are outspoken housing advocates, were not invited to the meeting.
Goals of the committee
At the meeting, city officials showed the audience a one-page document titled, “Priority Categories and Housing Strategic Objectives.”
The document outlines the bond committee’s charge as it meets in preparation of making recommendations to the City Council.
As opposed to other bond categories, such as streets and sidewalks, or parks and open spaces, the housing bond committee is not deciding specific projects.
The committee is supposed to decide on what populations on which to spend the $150 million, as well as what areas of town they may live and strategies for how to spend the money.
Here are some of the early findings the city culled based on the committee’s first meeting held Nov. 3.
When considering populations, the committee wants to prioritize households who make less than 50% of the area median income, or AMI. During the Wednesday meeting, housing advocates came out in force to demand that all of the $150 million be spent on households making less than 30% AMI on either new construction or rehab of new homes or apartments. More on that discussion in a minute.
It was also noted that the committee did not want bond dollars to go toward the construction of single-family houses for families making between 80 percent and 120 percent AMI.
Bond strategies include acquiring land, also known as land banking, for future below-market housing projects; funding or incentives for building apartments for people making less than 50 percent AMI; the preservation of single-family homes for households making less than 50 percent AMI; and incentives for builders of homes reserved for people making between 60 percent and 80 percent AMI.
Locations include the 13 regional centers outlined in the city’s SA Tomorrow growth plan, neighborhoods with high equity scores (the city says there’s a typo on the document), and historic neighborhoods.
30 percent AMI debate
According to HUD figures, 30 percent AMI for a family of three is $20,010.
The SHIP document prioritizes 30 percent AMI households and below, but the most vocal housing advocates say such a population should receive all bond money. Of the 95,000 households identified by the city as being cost burdened, 44,734 earn less than 30 percent AMI—27,264 renters, 17,470 homeowners.
Most vulnerable households by area median income, or AMI
“Housing bond funds should be prohibited for anything above 30 percent AMI,” Rebecca Flores, a housing advocate who lives south of downtown, told the committee on Wednesday. “Policy guidelines should be clear regarding the leveraging of other funding sources used for housing production and preservation. And ballot language for the 2022 housing bond should explicitly (for) extremely low-income housing.”
There were many calls for the bulk of the $150 million to go to the San Antonio Housing Authority and its mission to produce and preserve public housing in San Antonio, a reverse in the agency’s policy since Hinojosa took over SAHA’s reins earlier this year.
» Related: “Hinojosa Jr. named president and CEO of San Antonio Housing Authority” | July 15, 2021
“We need to fix up the current public housing that exists so that individuals can live in quality housing,” said Graciela Sanchez, the director of the Esperanza Peace & Justice Center. “And secondly we need to use these dollars to build new public housing if we are ever going to make a profound difference in the lives on our gente who are the backbone of this city, the essential workers, the ones who clean homes, cut our lawns, work in the … tourist industry. Then we need to put our tax dollars to support public housing and the preservation of existing housing for the working class and working poor.”
In a letter dated Oct. 18, 2021, City Manager Erik Walsh made a commitment to help foot the bill for infrastructure costs directly related to the Alazan Courts redevelopment, similar to the city’s role in funding the East Meadows mixed-income development on the East Side, where the Wheatley Courts public housing community once stood.
“Once the master plan is complete and has more detail on the vision for the project and related required infrastructure, we can work together to develop the strategy,” Walsh wrote.
The plan for the Alazan Courts is to retain all 501 public housing units—whether the units are rehabilitated, or demolish and rebuilt remains to be seen. But the strategy differs from that of East Meadows, where in recent years the Wheatley Courts were demolished and replaced by mixed-income units.
At the meeting, the latter strategy was championed.
Committee member Celine Williams (District 6), who owned a property management company, and who serves on the San Antonio Apartment Association board of directors, agreed that preservation of existing housing stock is important, and that housing should be built using the universal design method, meaning housing is accessible to anyone including those with disabilities.
But she pushed back on the notion that public housing should get the majority of the funding.
“The public housing model is not the best model in my opinion,” Williams said. “We’ve seen it doesn’t work. Centralizing poverty in one specific area sometimes will create more issues. Again, having a mix of income a lot of times is more successful. … There are so many different ways to put a project together that if you say ‘only do public housing for SAHA,’ now you’ve put this band around the city. … You are limiting the amount of affordable housing for those that need it—not just the zero to 30 percent AMI, but those hard-earning wage earners.”
During the meeting, there were calls from housing advocates to bring SAHA forward to convey their role in the overall strategy, as Hinojosa sat in the audience. Committee co-chairs Shirley Gonzales, the former District 5 councilwoman and current chair of the Housing Commission, and Katie Vela, director of the South Alamo Regional Alliance for the Homeless, said they’d rather hear from more than one housing partner, not just SAHA, and Hinojosa was never asked to speak.
Committee member Jennifer Gonzalez (District 8), executive director of Alamo Community Group, a nonprofit developer of affordable housing, said that the discussion should not lump the zero-to-30 percent-AMI population into a single category.
“You look at a zero percent household, a household who is not earning anything, who is possibly homeless … the needs for that individual or family beyond just the housing unit are greater than for someone who is on SSI (supplemental security income), and yet someone who is on SSI still falls within that 30 percent AMI range,” Gonzalez said.
“You can’t lump zero to 30 percent AMI and say, ‘build housing over there,’ because it’s different,” she said.
Committee member Mia Loseff (District 2), regional director for Texas Housers, a statewide housing advocacy group, said the zero-to-30 percent-AMI conversation should not be limited to apartments.
“As far as I know, there are a lot of people who are 30 percent AMI homeowners, and the need for rehab is very strong,” Loseff said. “Homeowners don’t get the repairs they need.”
Loseff cited a University of Texas at Austin School of Law released this week, titled “Ousted: The City of San Antonio’s Displacement of Residents through Code Enforcement Actions,” which says that from 2015 and 2020, the city “issued close to 1,000 orders to vacate and orders to demolish single-family homes, including at least 626 orders for occupied homes.”
“You can’t build your way out of the housing crisis,” she continued.
Before we get to the controversial part of this report, a few quick bullet points about how you can offer your feedback on the housing bond and the SHIP document.
2022-2027 housing bond
» Meeting 3: 6-8 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 30, Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center, 900 E. Market St.
» Meeting 3: 6-8 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 8, Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center, 900 E. Market St.
Free parking at the Convention Center Parking Garage, 41 Bowie St.
Strategic Housing Implementation Plan (SHIP)
» Meeting 4: 10 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 4, Mission Branch Library, 3134 Roosevelt Ave.
» The city has extended the public comment period on the SHIP to Monday, Dec. 6.
» The date the City Council was scheduled to adopt the plan has been moved from Dec. 2 to Dec. 16.
Ways to engage
The city’s Neighborhood and Housing Services Department is receiving feedback on the SHIP via email at email@example.com.
Here’s where residents can also pick up paper surveys and SHIP materials:
» NHSD office, 1440 S. Flores St.
» Financial & Housing Recovery Center, 600 Soledad St.
Closed door meeting
On Oct. 26, Veronica Soto, director of the city’s Neighborhood and Housing Services Department (NHSD), send a letter to six committee members, who are considered experts in the housing field, asking to meet. The Heron obtained a copy of the email. It reads:
“All, Congratulations to all of you on your appointment to the Housing Bond Citizen Committee. We very much look forward to visiting with you soon and the request for a meeting is to talk about the work with folks who are more familiar with the city processes than perhaps some of the other appointees. Thank you for agreeing to serve on this Committee!!”
The email has since circulated among the housing bond committee members, and was brought up by committee member Linda Ortega (District 5), a housing activist, who questioned the meeting’s purpose, implying its purpose was to exclude some of the more vocal committee members.
“Are we here, or are we just wasting our time?,” Ortega told the committee. “It’s very disturbing. What are we, a bunch of fools?”
Lori Houston, who oversees the NHSD department, said the meeting’s purpose, which was scheduled for either Nov. 1 or 2, was never meant to subvert the process.
“The email was sent to individuals who were part of the SHIP process, because they were very involved in creating the SHIP and we wanted to make sure that our presentation was not too technical,” Houston told the committee.
She continued, “It was not about excluding, it was about making sure everybody at this table had all the information they needed to be successful on this committee.”
However, housing advocate Kayla Miranda (District 5) and Rich Acosta (District 9), executive director of My City is My Home, a housing education nonprofit, are housing bond committee members and were not invited to the meeting.
After Houston gave her explanation, Miranda, a single mother and resident of the Alazan-Apache Courts, responded.
“I worked on SHIP a lot, and I was not invited,” she said. “How I am not an expert, I don’t know. Some people are considered not expert—this is my living experience.”
After learning both Miranda and Acosta served as two of 80 or so stakeholders during the SHIP process (a list NHSD has yet to distribute publicly), the Heron asked Houston via email why the two were excluded from the meeting. Houston did not respond.
Leilah Powell (District 1), executive director of LISC San Antonio, said she couldn’t remember the exact discussion, because she’s participated in many meetings, as a member of the housing bond committee, and as a major player in how affordable housing is financed locally, in recent weeks.
Houston said meetings with all housing bond committee members have been held in recent weeks to help guide them through the process.
Brett Finley (District 10), government affairs director at the San Antonio Board of Realtors, confirmed Houston’s description of the meeting.
“Our discussions involved better preparing and providing feedback for the housing bond community meeting,” Finley wrote in an email.
Jennifer Gonzalez of Alamo Community Group said she did not attend the meeting.
Thad Rutherford (District 3), president of SouthStar Communities; Art Reinhardt (District 9), head of transportation for engineering firm WSP USA’s San Antonio office; and Jose Gonzales II (District 1), a tax credit consultant for Alamo Community Group; did not respond to an interview request.
Full disclosure: Graciela Sanchez, Jennifer Gonzalez, Mia Loseff, and Jose Gonzales are past supporters of the Heron.
Setting It Straight: Due to incorrect information provided to the Heron, the number of people on the San Antonio Housing Authority’s public housing waitlist was incorrect.