By Kristian Jaime
Mayor Ron Nirenberg touted an ambitious vision for San Antonio, which included the formation of a new housing task force, crime prevention, transportation investment, and economic development.
Nirenberg is on a mission to provide affordable housing for working families despite vigorous economic growth in San Antonio. With much of the city undergoing housing reinvestment, increased property values are inadvertently pricing out local citizens from their traditional neighborhoods.
Lourdes Castro-Ramirez, former CEO of the San Antonio Housing Authority (SAHA), will lead the Mayor’s Housing Policy Task Force. Members of the committee are private and public sector housing investment experts, including: Jim Bailey, María Antonietta Berriozábal, Gene Dawson, Jr. and Noah Garcia.
“They are going to begin to work very soon and they will develop a framework,” said Mayor Nirenberg. “That work will be fed through technical groups that will be developing policy initiatives, and will then have to be vetted and approved by City Council. It is a big lift, but I think that once that we have the framework, all the day to day activity will be seen in the housing space in San Antonio.”
The 2010 Census determined that over 19 percent of San Antonio residents were living in poverty, with most renters unable to afford average apartment rents. One City-funded analysis shows there is an immediate unmet demand for 142,000 affordable housing units, and that number is expected to grow dramatically.
Last month, SAHA announced that it was closing enrollment in its Section 8 subsidized housing voucher program because more than 30,000 families seeking to participate could not be accommodated.
The Mayor’s Task Force will work with city and agency staff to develop policy recommendations.
The Mayor’s Office expects that “technical working groups” will also be formed to support the task force on topics, including: strategies to protect neighborhood stability and assist owners to address short-term hardships in high-demand areas, incentives for private and public development of affordable housing in high-growth areas and revamping policies and regulations to ensure housing is constructed with long-term quality and maintenance in mind.
Additional focus areas include: changes to parts of the City’s Unified Development Code that now hinder affordable housing development, changes to city policies related to State tax-credit supported affordable housing to ensure alignment with areas targeted for future development, alignment or reorganization of agencies to support city housing and development strategies and strategies to preserve and rehabilitate existing apartment complexes that provide quality affordable housing.
While former Mayor Ivy Taylor initiated a housing task force, the current administration looks to expand the scope of the latest iteration under Mayor Nirenberg. It also aims to use federal programs to support city strategies, ensure future master plans incorporate affordable housing strategies and establish future governance and oversight of housing policies.
“We need to protect and connect neighborhoods amid incredible growth and expand the housing choices for our residents, no matter what their income. Our local housing policies must work for consumers who want to keep their homes, but also be profitable for industry,” continued Nirenberg.
An integral part of San Antonio’s long-term viability is working to improve the education system to create a strong workforce pipeline. This includes the SA Works program, which is partnering with local businesses to provide students with internship and work opportunities. In addition, working adults also get a second chance to earn a college degree.
The city plans to grow biomedical research and manufacturing industries by targeting new companies, and working responsibly with available natural resources, existing businesses and a municipally served consumer markets, to make the economy increasingly “green.”
Mayor Nirenberg also noted working on creating global economic opportunities meeting with local, state and international leaders to discuss how to ensure that the next variation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is beneficial for San Antonio. NAFTA 2.0, as touted by the Mayor, would reaffirm the Alamo City as America’s gateway to Central America despite the rhetoric on the agreement by the White House.
The City is improving the streets budget by over 50 percent this year, up to $99 million, while focusing more of those resources on under-served areas. They are accelerating lane striping from once-every 20 years to once every two to three years. The city is also prioritizing the construction of bike lanes and extending sidewalks.
At least 150 cars are being added to area roads every day. By 2040, there will be half a million new cars on local roads. A modern transit system, including bus service, hopes to connects communities and supports sustainable development that will help move the local economy forward. In the FY2018 budget, the city is working to improve VIA bus routes and frequency with an additional $4.3 million.
With the increase of crime in San Antonio, Nirenberg is adding the Texas Anti-Gang Initiative, where over 100 law enforcement officers will begin conducting focused activities on drug and gang threats to public safety. This year’s budget adds an additional 40 officers to the force.
Mayor Nirenberg is working with Police Chief William McManus to participate in monthly conversations with community members across the city to understand what they see as a breakdown in relations.
Mayor Nirenberg said he has been pleased by the broad agreement expressed by City Council that action is needed immediately and said he looks forward to working with his colleagues to implement the strategies that emerge from the initiative.
“We are community made of the young mother who works two, sometimes three jobs, so that her children have [basic necessities.],” concluded Nirenberg. “We are the veteran serving strangers at the VFW soup kitchen. We’re the entrepreneur determined to risk all she has to bring her product to market. We are the intern, the new energy executive, and the public school teacher. It’s time.”