This article was originally published by the H.E. Butt Foundation’s Folo Media initiative in 2017.
The $850 million bond package on this year’s ballot is the largest ever put before citizens of San Antonio. City officials are asking voters to push it through so that capital improvements — upgrades to sidewalks and streets/drainage, parks and libraries — can occur throughout the city.
Except for $20 million. That is the amount tied to Proposition 6, the Neighborhood Improvements portion of the bond. That portion will fund what’s known as the Urban Renewal Plan.
That’s not a big part of $850 million. Why does it matter?
Unlike Propositions 1 through 5, whose projects are distributed throughout the entire city, Proposition 6 monies will be used to address blighted properties within 12 areas of town designated as “distressed.” The City of San Antonio has never before issued bonds in this way.
A block of the East Meadows mixed-income apartments on the East Side nears completion in early April. Ben Olivo / Folo Media
How would it work?
City officials say the Urban Renewal Plan will do two things:
1. Address properties that are distressed or dilapidated.
2. Add more affordable housing stock.
First, the $20 million in bond money would be used to acquire distressed properties and get them ready for a development. The properties would then be sold to a developer — either for-profit or nonprofit — to build affordable housing, which could be multifamily, like apartments, or a single home. The housing could look like the 414-unit, mixed-income East Meadows apartment project on the East Side that’s replacing the old Wheatley Courts under a federal Choice Neighborhood grant.
A property on East Southcross Boulevard across from E.H. Gilbert Elementary School is marked by the city as a potential site for new affordable housing. Wendi Poole / Special to Folo Media
Why is this part of the bond?
The effort is an attempt to address a much-noted shortage of available affordable housing. A 2013 study conducted by the City of San Antonio showed a need for more than 153,000 new housing units by 2016. (The city says roughly 5,000 units have since been added.)
If successful, more housing bonds could be presented to voters in the future to try and put more of a dent in the lack of affordable and low-income housing.
“We anticipate there’s a good chance we would issue housing-related bonds that are more broadly applicable,” said Richard Keith, assistant director for the Department of Planning and Community Development.
A property on Castroville Road and 38th Street could potentially become affordable housing under the Urban Renewal Plan. Wendi Poole / Special to Folo Media
So, there are 12 blighted areas. How much of the $20 million does each area get?
The city doesn’t know exactly how much of the $20 million will go to each project. But it anticipates each investment from the city could account for between 5 to 15 percent of the overall cost.
It’s not necessarily important that the city make a profit on each deal, Keith said.
“It depends on the kinds of proposals that we get and how big the gap appear[s] to be,” Keith said. “What is needed for that project to be successful? And how strategic is that property for us in terms of our affordable housing goals.
“Any revenues that are generated would be reinvested into the program. And that way this $20 million can become more than $20 million by reinvesting revenues of the sale.”
A vacant lotat Castroville Road and 38th Street could become affordable housing under the city’s Urban Renewal Plan. Wendi Poole / Special to Folo Media
What parameters exist for the work?
The City of San Antonio says there are several things the Urban Renewal Plan will not do:
» acquire properties through eminent domain.
» displace existing residents.
» tear down historic structures.
» build outside the current zoning parameters.
» rehab existing dilapidated homes (which the city is already doing through grants from the Department of Housing and Urban Development).
San Antonio has a lot of blighted areas. How were these areas selected?
The 12 areas were selected through a lengthy process that involved talks with developers and a community panel. They are mainly located in the traditionally poorer neighborhoods in the West, South and East sides of town.
Keith made sure to mention that not all 12 areas will be developed. “In fact, there are a lot of residential properties we will never touch,” he said. So, the 12 areas are a starting point.