Council Approves Sweeping Affordable Housing Program

City Council has approved a multi million dollar, long term plan designed to deal with the skyrocketing cost of housing in San Antonio, News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.

Gene Dawson of Pape Dawson Engineers, who was a member of the Mayor's Housing Task Force says the situation is dire.  

He says just ten years ago 75% of homes sold in the city were new homes, and half of them were under $150,000.

"Today, less than thirty percent of our homes are new homes, and zero are under $150,000," he said.

Mayor Nirenberg, who has made dealing with the city's increasingly unaffordable housing a key priority of his administration, says the situation has to be dealt with.

"One out of every three households in San Antonio that own a home, and one out of two who rent a home, spend more than 30% of their income on housing," he said.  "They are cost burdened."

The plan includes incentives for builders to put up more affordable housing, making sure that all neighborhoods and all groups of people are included in housing policy, creating 'down payment assistance' programs to help families overcome the challenge of the higher down payments which have been demanded by lenders since the 2008 housing bust, and creating a 'housing czar' in the mayor's office to supervise the city's housing affordability efforts.

Dawson said some 40,000 housing units are current vacant, 'for different reasons,' and he said those united could be fixed up under this plan and placed on the market.

"In multi family, we are at a 93% occupancy rate," Dawson said.  "That means 7% of our multi family units are empty.  The city could place those who are in immediate need into those units."

Dawson says affordable housing is every bit as important to the city's economic health as water, electricity, and other basic services.

"We spend billions on our fifty year water plan, billions on our thirty year transportation plan, and billions on creating new energy sources to support our growing population and job creation," he said.

Among those speaking out in support of the housing plan was former Mayor and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro, who said if you want to see what happens when cities don't tackle housing affordability, you should look to cities on the west coast.

"Listening to folks from Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, talk about the growing crisis of unsheltered homelessness, because of rising housing costs," Castro said.

North side Councilman John Courage said there is a direct correlation between substandard housing and expensive and dangerous conditions like higher crime, arson, and disease.

"The pillars of our society are education, employment, health and housing," he said.

Courage said if the city were really serious about lowering the price of housing, it would pull its support for charter schools, which he says starve traditional public schools of funding, and require that schools raise property taxes to make up the difference.  The Council last week approved loan guarantees for a charter school company to build a new school on the northwest side.

But support for the plan was not unanimous.

Northwest side Councilman Greg Brockhouse called out the city for being complicit in rising housing prices through 'overregulation, tree preservation ordinances, impervious cover regulations, and 'impact fees' on builders of new homes to hook up to SAWS water.

Brockhouse said in some cases, 48% of the cost of a house is government mandated fees.

Northeast side Councilman Clayton Perry said when government gets involved in the private sector economy, 'frequently things don't work out the way you would like.'

Perry was also worried about the long term burden that the housing plan will have on future general fund budgets.

There was also criticism from citizens about the city moving to destroy mobile home parks and public housing projects in the name of 'urban renewal,' and for subsidizing through tax breaks the construction of upscale luxury housing developments and apartments.

Brockhouse was also concerned about the fact that 13 new city staffers will be hired to manage the housing program."We're trying to build rooftops," he said.  "Not build the size of government."


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