Mayor Nirenberg announces housing task force

By Ben Olivo, Folo Media

Keeping a promise he made while on the campaign trail, Mayor Ron Nirenberg announced today the formation of his Housing Policy Task Force, a five-member group responsible for addressing San Antonio’s affordable housing shortage and for crafting policies that will prevent displacement of residents because of gentrification.

“They will be charged with ensuring that San Antonio maintains its competitive advantage in housing affordability, while we grow in a sustainable way,” Nirenberg said as part of his vision-for-San Antonio speech at a luncheon hosted by the North San Antonio Chamber of Commerce.

Leading the task force will be Lourdes Castro-Ramirez, a former assistant secretary at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development under President Barack Obama. The other members are Maria Berriozábal, former City Councilwoman; Gene Dawson, president of Pape-Dawson Engineers; Jim Bailey, associate principal at Alamo Architects; and Noah Garcia, senior vice president at Vantage Bank Texas.

Neither Nirenberg nor Castro-Ramirez offered a timetable for the task force’s first meeting or when a framework for the policy will be completed.

It was also unclear which — if any — of the current affordable housing initiatives will be folded into the upcoming framework.

For example, the $20 million housing bond, approved by taxpayers in May, is intended to kickstart the construction of affordable housing units across large parts of the city. City officials have discussed how to grant SAWS impact fee waivers — an incentive that could be worth up to hundreds of thousands of dollars per project — to all future affordable housing developments.

Though the number fluctuates, San Antonio is in need of roughly 142,000 affordable housing units, Nirenberg said.

Nirenberg’s task force could also be the beginning of a push from City Hall to urge developers to build affordable housing units in all parts of the city — this includes affluent areas, not just communities already distressed.

“At the end of the day, creating a pipeline to produce units in different parts of the city, and maybe connected to areas where we see already investment happening, will be really important,” Castro-Ramirez told Folo Media after Nirenberg’s speech.

Displacement of residents — either homeowners or renters — is another top priority for the taskforce. The most publicized example came in 2014, when dozens of residents of the Mission Trails mobile home park on the South Side near Mission Concepción were uprooted. In May of that year, City Council voted to rezone the riverfront property, giving the green light for the property owner to clear the 21-acre tract and all who lived there for the construction of luxury apartments.

Nirenberg says the task force must solve how to keep displacement from happening while encouraging investment into these budding communities.

“Our citizens have said they want to invest in our future, but if we don’t have a comprehensive housing strategy that deals with affordability issues that protect people from being displaced in revitalized areas of town, then we’re taking the cart before the horse,” Nirenberg told reporters after the speech. “We have to make sure we protect affordability, that we are addressing the shortfall and affordable homes and we’re doing so in a way that business can drive some of the growth.”

In a press release, the mayor’s office also listed other objectives. They include possible changes to the city’s Unified Development Code “that now hinder development changes to city policies;” and ways to preserve current apartment complexes that provide affordable housing.
San Antonio’s two previous mayors presented similar affordable housing initiatives during their terms.

In 2014, shortly after the Mission Trails vote, then-Mayor Julián Castro created a housing taskforce to address displacement. The next year, Mayor Ivy Taylor created the Housing Commission to Protect and Preserve Dynamic and Diverse Neighborhoods.
“The commission created by Mayor Taylor was essentially vetting status quo,” Nirenberg said. “It was existing policy that really didn’t move us forward in any of these measures.”

This article originally appeared in Folo Media at http://folomedia.org/stories/mayor-nirenberg-announces-housing-taskforce/

Folo Media reports on the challenges and opportunities for vulnerable communities in San Antonio, Texas, one of the most inequitable cities in the United States.