Yes, Infill housing can be compatible, sustainable and affordable

infill development inconsistent with the surrounding neighborhood

By Anisa Schell

Infill housing can be designed in a way that is compatible, sustainable and affordable, as I demonstrated in this presentation to the Tier 1 Neighborhood Coalition meeting on Sept. 22, 2018.

We know that in order to accommodate San Antonio’s growing population, we need more housing. Infill housing is one solution to accommodate more people in our near-downtown areas. Often neighborhoods fight this infill because what is being built is not compatible with the surrounding neighborhood, or because the infill housing that is being built is luxury housing, which contributes to problems like speculation and displacement.

My presentation discusses the challenge to provide more affordable housing in the urban core as outlined by the Mayor’s Housing Policy Task Force. It can be surprising to learn that thoughtful design can actually increase the density in an area in a way that neighborhoods are ready to support.

Watch the video of the presentation here, or scroll down to read the presentation notes. Click on the links in the presentation notes to jump to that spot in the video.

Click on the links in the presentation notes below to jump to that spot in the video.

What is affordable?

  • Affordable housing is housing that costs no more than 30 percent of a household’s income.
  • For rental housing, monthly housing costs include rent and utilities. For owner-occupied housing, monthly housing costs include mortgage interest and principal, insurance, property taxes, and utilities.
  • Transportation costs (bus fare and/or car loan payments, insurance, gas, and maintenance) should also be included in the calculation of total monthly housing costs for renters and homeowners.
  • AMI = Annual Median Income. For San Antonio, in 2017 this was $55,044 per household. In San Antonio, the typical household is a parent with two children.
  • Affordable housing depends on income.
  • Affordable housing is attainable housing.


Mayor’s Housing Policy Task Force

Who is affordable housing for?

  • The task force focus was on housing for people earning 60-120% AMI (again, this is a three-person household - a parent and two children).*
  • Affordable housing is workforce housing, attainable housing.
  • A school teacher earns 80-100% AMI*
  • This is housing for firefighters, police officers, healthcare workers…

*Source: Average household size (2016 ACS 5-Year Estimates, Table DP04), AMI Max Income amounts calculated using FY 2016 HUD Income Limits calculation for the San Antonio-New Braunfels Metro Area and 50% AMI as the base, City of San Antonio percentage of households (2016 ACS 5-Year Estimates, Table B19001), Monthly Rent calculated by 30% of monthly income, and Top Occupations for each AMI Category (BLS Occupational Employment Statistics as of May 2016 for San Antonio-New Braunfels, TX)

Note: Calculations for a 3-Person Household corresponds to 2016 ACS 5-Year Estimates for San Antonio’s average household size of 2.88. Average family size is 3.61.

Defining the need

*Source: 2016 ACS 5-Year Estimates, HouseCanary for Median Sale Value HUD for LIHTC Units Eligible to Expire.

The Mayor’s Housing Policy Task Force came up with 5 overarching recommendations:

  • Develop a coordinated housing system
  • Create a one-stop location for housing services and providers, create an online portal
  • Increase City investment in housing
  • This includes programs like CCHIP and Fee Waivers (formerly ICRIP)
  • Increase affordable housing production, rehabilitation and preservation.
  • I will focus more on this recommendation later in the presentation.
  • Protect and promote neighborhoods.
  • This is focused mainly on helping renters avoid displacement
  • And helping house San Antonio’s special populations (elderly, disabled, homeless, youth aging out of the foster system, etc.)
  • Ensure accountability to the public
  • This includes using the Housing Commission and the SA Housing Trust to provide accountability.
  • To make sure that promises for affordable housing are kept and that housing provided is actually affordable.


Increase Affordable Housing Production, Rehabilitation and Preservation (see pages 36-40 in Framework)

  • Stabilize homeownership rate in SA by increasing the production, preservation, and rehabilitation of affordable housing.
  • Prioritize city funding/incentives for ownership housing affordable to households up to 120% AMI.
  • Increase funding for down payment assistance and homebuyer counseling; increase funding for housing rehab programs including Owner Occupied Rehab, Under One Roof, and Minor Repair
  • Increase rehabilitation, production and preservation of affordable rental units.
  • Prioritize city funding/incentives on rent-restricted units affordable to households up to 60% AMI, with a graduated reduction in funding/incentives from 60-80% AMI.
  • Prioritize funding for new rental units in communities that are linked to transportation, jobs and cultural assets.
  • Create housing opportunities for the most vulnerable resident (including homeless, seniors, youth aging out of the foster care system, and people with disabilities).
  • Increase funding for service-enriched housing.
  • Removing barriers to the production of affordable housing
  • Undertake an inclusive public process to determine standards and criteria to allow by-right zoning for housing developments in which 50 percent of units are affordable.
  • Exempt affordable housing units from SAWS impact fees
  • Revise the UDC to remove regulatory barriers to affordable housing.


What is the City doing today?

* CCHIP & ICRIP (Fee Waiver) Updates – Goes to City Council October 11th

What is coming up?

  • Revise the UDC to remove regulatory barriers to affordable housing – Technical Working Group - October 2018
  • Mayor/City Council will establish a Technical Working Group composed of informed community members, as well as experts with technical knowledge in development, zoning and regulation.
  • Public process to determine standards and criteria to allow by-right zoning for housing developments in which 50 percent of units are affordable. - Committee - November 2018
  • Mayor/City Council to create a committee to coordinate a community-driven and inclusive public process to develop the vision, goals and criteria for enabling Form-Based Code and By-Right Zoning for affordable housing.

CCHIP & ICRIP (Fee Waivers)

ICRIP (Inner City Reinvestment/Infill Policy)

  • The city is proposing removing the boundary for this program and making it available citywide.
  • The name is changing to “Fee Waiver” program.
  • It will include 4 components:
  • Affordability
  • Owner Occupied Rehab
  • Historic rehab/legacy business (in business 30 years or more)
  • Business Development.
  • This means homeowners will have access to this program if they meet the criteria. Rehabs for short-term rentals will not qualify.

CCHIP (Center City Housing Incentive Program)

  • Began ins 2010 - Decade of Downtown. The focus was on adding housing downtown.
  • In 2012 CCHIP was adopted. The incentives were for any high-density housing project.
  • It was an “As-of-Right” program
  • If developers qualified, they received the incentives without going through the usual application process.
  • There were three incentives: SAWS Fee Waivers, Tax Reimbursement Grants (city taxes only) for up to 15 years, and a Low-Interest Loan Grant for a project that included Mixed Use.
  • The proposal is for the boundaries to be further reduced. The original boundaries were 36 square miles. These were reduced in 2016 to 5.4 square miles. The new proposal is just 2.6 square miles.
  • This is in response to neighborhood concerns of gentrification, as the program used to incentivize rezoning for infill
  • The new proposal includes more Neighborhood Preservation:
  • Removes areas of Urban Low Density and Urban Medium Density
  • Projects that require rezoning will not qualify
  • Projects will be subject to design review
  • No STRs
  • For more info about these programs, please contact Chris Lazaro at the city.


What is Form-Based Code?

"According to the Form-Based Codes Institute, by-right zoning is critically important to increasing housing affordability at all levels of the housing spectrum. To accomplish this, conventional zoning codes should be updated to form-based codes (FBC) that effectively prescribe the outcome desired by the community. FBCs regulate the form of the buildings in a prescriptive manner and at a sufficient level of detail so that the outcome is predictable. This means that the conventional design review process is unnecessary, enabling by-right review. To accomplish this, communities should:

  • create a detailed community vision
  • write prescriptive regulations
  • enable a by-right approval process."
  • “A form-based code is a land development regulation that fosters predictable built results and a high-quality public realm by using physical form (rather than separation of uses) as the organizing principle for the code."
  • “A form-based code is a regulation, not a mere guideline, adopted into city, town, or county law. A form-based code offers a powerful alternative to conventional zoning regulation.” - Form Based Codes Institute:* Form-based code specifies how developments must look.
  • Form-based code is predictable.
  • Streamlined process
  • Predictable outcome
  • Form-based codes address development patterns.
  • Development Patterns = geometry of buildings and spaces
  • * Similar to an NCD, the work is done at the outset of writing the code, to facilitate a streamlined development process with predictable results.

Infill Development and Preserving Neighborhood Character and Integrity Enhancing your neighborhood in the face of redevelopment pressure.

Design for Compatibility

  • Missing Middle Housing - Residential, multi-family building forms that are widely accepted as “compatible” with single-family detached development pattern.
  • Duplex, triplex, townhomes, etc.
  • We already have this in our neighborhoods. However, in places like Mahncke Park, it is being removed for luxury housing.
  • In this part of Mahncke Park, a near downtown neighborhood, there were many four-plexes and duplexes, the so-called “missing middle” houses, close to transit and businesses. These lots held actually affordable homes for renters. The four-plexes and duplexes were removed for individual, densely packed, skinny houses, tailored to those who are more affluent.
  • The increases in the rents for these new homes has caused speculation and further displacement.
  • These houses, while interesting looking, are not adding to their community. They are not compatible, sustainable, or affordable.

Is your neighborhood’s “Missing middle housing” missing? Or, is it there already, and just missing from your neighborhood’s REDEVELOPMENT projects?

  • “Missing Middle Housing” offers Compatibility with Single-Family Development Pattern
  • They work great as infill projects or to provide a transition from single family homes to a commercial area. But they must be designed in a way that is compatible.
  • Let’s look at some local examples of missing middle housing that already exists in our neighborhoods; Alta Vista, Mahncke Park.
  • Single-family homes are can be infill too. There are a number of good examples of this in Dignowity Hill, where single-family homes have been built on vacant lots.
  • They are compatible because of the design. The setback, the massing, the scale all match with the surrounding homes.
  • Note that these examples are in a Historic District.

Infill development that is designed to be respectful of the surrounding neighborhood.
Case Study: E. Mistletoe Duplexes, Tobin Hill North
This one is across the street from me, and I’m intimately familiar with this development. These two lots had two 1940s brick duplexes on them. The lots in this part of the neighborhood are pretty deep, and parking for the four units was at the rear of the lot. The lots here are all 50 feet wide, and there is about a 25-foot setback on the surrounding single story homes. The few two-story homes in the area are on the corners and have significantly larger setbacks. There are no alleys here, so the fence line at the back of the property is shared with the homes on the next street.

There was nothing wrong with the duplexes, and they were occupied until they were purchased in 2016; however, the developer obtained a demolition permit, and cleared the lot for their infill project.

The layout they proposed is one many of us are familiar with. The developer’s proposal included rezoning the lots to Infill Development Zone (IDZ), and placing six two-story houses facing a center drive. The two houses along the street would be setback only 10 feet from the property line. In Denver, they call them slot homes, and recently that city passed an ordinance that does not allow them to be built there any longer.

Our neighbors talked with the developer over the course of several months about the proposed site plan and design of the project. We took photos of other projects the developer had done and gave our feedback, hoping to find a compromise that would contribute to the neighborhood. Initially, the neighbors were very opposed to six units here. There just didn’t seem to be enough room. Everyone was concerned about density and parking.

Nearly a year into the discussions with the developer, Jim Bailey of Alamo Architects reached out to the neighbors to find out our concerns. After listening to us, and considering what the developer’s needs were, he offered a new design for the lots. We’ll call this the Compatible Design.

The Compatible Design still included six units, and it had the same number of square feet that the developer wanted to achieve for the project. But the Compatible Design looked completely different. In showing the design to the neighbors, they all had a VERY positive response. Some said it was like night and day.

The difference is that Compatible Design is incremental growth. The houses in the Compatible Design retain the original setbacks. The parking is in the rear of the main houses, not out front and not attached. The design is complemented with the established development pattern on the street. The front part of the houses in The Compatible Design are single-story, going up to two stories in the rear. They are at a scale that the neighborhood and street could sustain. The design includes two small units at the rear of the property, which could have replaced the affordable housing that was torn down, something that is needed in our neighborhood. When presented with thoughtful design, the neighborhood said they would support it.

Unfortunately, the developer didn’t accept the design. They are building their proposed layout of six two-story homes, setback only 10 feet from the front property line and five feet from the sides and rear. They are nearly done with the exteriors now.

Regardless, through this process, my neighbors and I discovered that there is room for infill if it is designed in a way that is compatible, sustainable and affordable.


  • Technical Working Group (TWG) for UDC Revisions - October 2018
  • Committee to discuss by-right zoning and form-based code - Nov. 2018

What actions can you take?
Join the TWG or committee and/or attend the TWG and committee meetings

  • Start the conversation within your neighborhood
  • Anticipate development
  • Know your neighborhood, identify where you have room for development
  • Establish or reinforce your vision, goals, and development criteria for your community
  • Know your resources and tools
  • Get familiar with Legistar & CoSA’s websites, zoning, land use, neighborhood plans, NCD standards, Historic Guidelines…
  • Create a digital portal of knowledge and resources
  • Make it simple for homeowners and developers to access you and your vision for your neighborhood
  • Encourage developers to approach your neighborhood in the early stages of planning
  • Maintain open communication with City offices and Council representatives