Before the risk mitigation policy heads toward a City Council vote on Thursday, the newly-revamped Housing Commission added its own revisions to it this week.
The policy, which aids eligible households that have become displaced or who are about to be displaced, must operate as a pilot program, the Housing Commission voted on Tuesday. The program also must incorporate an “internal outreach campaign” toward residents facing displacement; impose more eligibility requirements for property owners, to match eligibility requirements for households; and stress the program is part of a larger displacement plan by the city.
“It is important, in this plan and guidelines, to couch it in the context of: This is one strategy that is connected to a much larger effort, and the city is committed to doing that,” Housing Commission Chairwoman Lourdes Castro Ramirez said at the meeting Tuesday. “But we also recognize that families are impacted right now, and we want to address the issue now.”
Veronica Soto, director of Neighborhood Housing and Services Department (NHSD), the city department that crafted the policy, said her staff would be preparing a new draft with the Housing Commission’s requested revisions for next week’s council vote.
Here’s how a household qualifies for the risk mitigation policy.
Resident Relocation Assistance Program
The rent increase in a 12-month period must be:
» 5% for households at or below 60% AMI
» 7% for households making between 61%-80% AMI
» 10% for households making between 81%-100% AMI
Assistance a resident can receive:
» up to $3,000 (multi-family home); up to $7,000 (mobile home park)—for households making less than 80% AMI
» up to $2,250 (multi-family home); up to $5,250 (mobile home park)—for households making between 81%-100% AMI
Short-Term Emergency Assistance
The funds are paid to the landlord or property manager on behalf of the renter.
» up to $3,500 for rent and up to $1,500 for utilities or other emergency expenses (renters); up to $1,500 for utilities or other emergency expenses (homeowners)—for households making less than 80% AMI
» up to $2,625 for rent and up to $1,125 for utilities or other emergency expenses (renters); up to $1,125 for utilities or other emergency expenses (homeowners)—for households making between 81%-100% AMI
Note: The assistance in this program now applies to mortgage payments, according to Ian Benavidez, NHSD’s coordinated housing system and policy manager, and will be written in an upcoming draft of the risk mitigation policy.
The $1 million risk mitigation policy dolls out various amounts to eligible households depending on their situation. For example, if a family is forced to move because rent went up by a certain percentage, the program would pay out up to $2,250 or $3,000, depending on the income level.
Commissioner Marienne Kestenbaum suggested the risk mitigation policy should be tracked once San Antonio residents start using the $1 million from the city’s general fund, a suggestion which lead to the commission’s vote to frame the policy as a pilot program.
“We want to get it right,” Kestenbaum said. “It certainly gives some flexibility if this is considered a pilot or term-limited policy that will be reviewed.”
Ramirez, who also chaired the Mayor’s Housing Policy Task Force, said if each person received maximum funding from the policy, it would serve only around 200 residents, giving the city an opportunity to monitor the policy’s effectiveness.
Keith Hom, a commissioner who also serves as the Deputy CEO of VIA Metropolitan Transit, was concerned the amount of residents needing displacement assistance could exceed the $1 million allotted for the policy, creating a scenario where NHSD would be forced to turn people away.
“My sense is that you’re going to get many more than 200 applicants,” Hom said.
In response, David Nisivoccia, president and CEO of the San Antonio Housing Authority (SAHA), who also serves on the commission, said the commission and NHSD would learn how much demand there is for assistance from residents after the risk mitigation policy’s fund was used.
“There’s going to be more resources in the future dedicated to (the program),” Nisivoccia said. “Sometimes the timing doesn’t always match up with the number or line up with the budget.”
Ramirez asked NHSD to add more requirements to property owners and landlords using city incentives, such as the Center City Housing Incentive Policy, in their developments.
“The burden on qualifying (for the risk mitigation policy) is on the family that has been impacted,” Ramirez said. “There’s not a lot of clear expectations on the landlord and or property owner.”
Soto said adding more requirements—or, forcing property owners, landlords or developers not seeking city incentives to comply with the risk mitigation policy—would be challenging without a “direct benefit,” and she would expect pushback. After the meeting, Soto said her department would write the revision anyway.
The AMI for a family of four in the greater San Antonio area (including New Braunfels) is $66,800, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Here’s how it breaks down for lower-income households:
» 80% – $53,440
» 60% – $40,800
» 50% – $33,400
» 40% – $26,720
» 30% – $20,400
Jessica O. Guerrero, who also serves on the commission, said outreach to residents who receive assistance from the risk mitigation policy is necessary once the policy goes into effect. She also suggested outreach to residents in apartments like Soap Factory in west downtown so they know they can use the policy.
“I believe the people most impacted by the policy will be the best judgment of its success,” Guerrero said.
After the commission voted to move the risk mitigation policy to City Council with revisions, Maureen Galindo, who was displaced from the Soap Factory apartments, said displaced residents needed to be included in the policy’s developments.
“We can’t really create this displacement mitigation policy, or (know) how to implement it efficiently, if we’re not going directly to the people,” Galindo said.
At the meeting, NHSD also addressed recurring criticism of the risk mitigation policy that the city is not doing enough to prevent displacement, especially in the fast-changing neighborhoods around downtown.
Soto, while presenting the policy to the commission, said NHSD and the mayor’s office are working on a comprehensive displacement prevention plan, of which the risk mitigation policy is one component.
The comprehensive displacement prevention plan has four components: neighborhood empowerment zones, a coordinated housing system, city property tax relief, and supporting housing rehabilitation programs—such as the “Under One Roof” program.
NHSD has been developing the risk mitigation policy since last October, after the Mayor’s Housing Policy Task Force recommended such a policy in its report published in August 2018.
For more on the topic of displacement, read:
» Is San Antonio doing enough to address displacement?
Setting It Straight: An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified Jessica O. Guerrero as being a member of the Esperanza Peace & Justice Center. She is not.