Will Housing Justice be a Reality in San Antonio?

Just nine months after San Antonio's Housing Policy Framework rolled off the presses, co-author María Antonietta Berriozábal said she is afraid the key recommendations are languishing and at risk of joining three decades of previous plans, on a shelf, forgotten, gathering dust.

As one of five Housing Policy Task Force members, she got up to speed by reading each of the 11 housing plans written since 1990.

“Many of the recommendations are never implemented. Somebody picks and chooses what is implemented, and then I noticed that the things that are implemented are things that are going to make money for somebody,” she said.

Berriozábal said she has yet to see the newly reconstituted Housing Commission act on urgent suggestions from the Task Force, such as "Immediately creat(ing) an executive position in the City Manager’s office to lead housing and neighborhood-related activities and integrate with all city functions."

So far, she said, the most important recommendations "have not been done... This beautiful report that I’m so proud of can be one more that just sits there.”

Her comments came at the Socially Reposnsible Investment Coalition's summit on Housing Justice, where community and faith leaders explored this history of inequity and called for renewed advocacy and collaboration to combat displacement and homelessness and to build and preserve more affordable housing.

Affordable housing in the city has been taken on by a group of more than 40 religious leaders through the Interfaith San Antonio Alliance, an organization formed about two years ago. Collectively the leaders have made advocating for affordable housing and combating homelessness part of their moral mission and obligation.

“For generations, San Antonio has suffered a severe housing crisis...This crisis has resulted in homelessness, lack of affordable housing, and the problems of gentrification. So many of our city live in poverty and squalor,” said Rabbi Samuel Stahl.

But part of creating a path for improvement is understanding the history of the city’s housing landscape -- how housing in the city got to be in its current state.

In San Antonio, one of the country’s most economically segregated cities, the differences between neighborhoods are obvious.

In some places, there is no sidewalk, no drainage, crumbling infrastructure, and houses on small lots of land. In other places, homes have sprawling yards and well-maintained public works.

Christine Drennon, a professor and  Director of Urban Studies at Trinity University, said the difference can be traced back to deed restrictions, redlining and disinvestment that date back to the 1900s.

“We have to know where we've been and how we go to the situation that were in now,” Drennon said.

In her presentation, Drennon showed images of deeds that stated that the sale of the house to any “Mexican or person of Negro blood” would result in the forfeiture of the home.

Drennon showed how certain areas in the city were redlined and labelled high risk investments for banks. The designation made it difficult for people to acquire loans for housing and businesses purposes. The 1968 Fair Housing Act eliminated racist language from federal housing policies, but by that time, the inequity and disinvestment existed for so long that the effects can still be seen in neighborhoods today.

Stahl said religious leaders are being called to preach about affordable housing from the pulpit, organize congregation-wide projects, and working with city officials to address people's housing needs.

He said during the invocation prayer, “Home is where the heart is. If we have our home, we have our heart. If we lose our home, we lose our heart...Oh God, fire us with zeal and passion to combat this blight of homelessness.”