By year’s end, the City of San Antonio wants to designate a segment of the near West Side, and the near-East Side communities of Denver Heights and Government Hill, as neighborhood empowerment zones (NEZ), a Texas statute that allows home owners to have their city property taxes frozen for no more than 10 years.
The city’s Neighborhood & Housing Services Department (NHSD) wants to take at least one of the aforementioned communities to the City Council for approval in August, after the council’s summer break. NHSD Director Veronica Soto said she expects all three neighborhoods to receive the NEZ label this year.
The timeline is one that has been partially influenced by COPS Metro Alliance.
Earlier this week, COPS Metro and NHSD officials met to iron out concerns the community organizing group had about the city’s timeline for anti-gentrification policies.
Since December, when the City Council revised its downtown housing incentive policy, which many observers consider the catalyst for the area’s rapid growth in market-rate apartments since 2012, COPS Metro has demanded the city accelerate policies that are designed to keep people in their homes amid the development wave.
The group hasn’t been shy about its use of the upcoming May 4 election to spur elected officials to take action on these policies sooner rather than later.
“We said all along, we’re not against development, but it has to be done right,” Linda Davila, a leader with COPS Metro, said in an interview on Wednesday. “We’re protecting our neighborhoods at the same time. They don’t have to be mutually exclusive.”
Among the other measures NHSD is working toward:
» Hire a consultant to craft a larger displacement prevention strategy.
» Bolster NHSD staff to handle additional outreach efforts such as educating people who qualify for either a homestead or senior tax exemption.
“People are just failing to turn (the exemption forms) in,” Soto said. “We’re going to have a staffer who essentially does the navigator role to help people fill out those forms.”
Soto said NHSD will work with groups like COPS Metro to identify qualified residents who might need help filling out the form.
In late March, the City Council approved the risk mitigation policy, which is designed to help people who are in the process of being uprooted—or near that point—with moving expenses.
The day before the vote on March 20, some 200 members of COPS Metro packed City Council chambers during the weekly citizens to be heard meeting, and demanded the city scrap its plan to study the housing situation. Instead, it wanted an action plan to commence as soon as possible, which the city is now doing.
Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller was the main speaker, then it was COPS Metro leader Martha Tijerina, who said, “We don’t need a study, we need action.”
Nirenberg broke from protocol and addressed the packed house, “We hear you loud and clear.”
Tijerina mentioned studies already in place, including the final report by the Mayor’s Housing Policy Task Force and “An Analysis of Housing Vulnerability in San Antonio” by the National Association For Latino Community Asset Builders as baselines for the immediate formation of a displacement policy.
In an interview with the Heron two weeks ago, Nirenberg said the policy the city is working toward is a “generation too late.”
“It is sometimes frustrating to hear all the frustration during a time when for the first time in a generation we are making housing a priority, particularly displacement prevention,” Nirenberg said. “But that frustration is a result of the fact that people who have been waiting for a generation for change are now taking a seat at a table—that they belonged at 30 years ago—and they’re being heard and their voices are turning into action at the city. And, unfortunately, that action, no matter how fast it comes, is still going to be a generation too late.”
“In other words, it’s frustrating, but it’s also gratifying at the same time.”