This article was originally published by the H.E. Butt Foundation’s Folo Media initiative in 2017.
Every time Maria Berriozabal hears that San Antonio’s population will increase by 1.1 million by 2040, she has the same reaction.
“Each time I hear these statistics, they are so sobering,” Berriozabal, a former councilwoman and member of Mayor Ron Nirenberg’s housing task force, said at the group’s meeting Tuesday night.
The statistic is even more sobering when considering San Antonio’s current housing affordability crisis, and what it will look like a couple of decades from now.
Another wrinkle: 85 percent of the 1.1 million new San Antonians will be Latino. That’s about 935,000 people. And a “significant chunk” of that number will be homegrown, Dr. Rogelio Saenz, the dean of the College of Public Policy at the University of Texas at San Antonio, told the task force .
“So when we’re planning for housing for that population . . . what kind of housing are they going to need?” Berriozabal asked Saenz.
“Affordable housing is a major reality for the population,” Saenz responded.
What was unclear was exactly how many new affordable units San Antonio will need by 2040. A 2013 study (scroll to “Attachment D”) commissioned by the city said that San Antonio will need 150,000 affordable housing units by 2016. The city estimates 5,000 units have since been added.
Other pressing questions: What will all this new affordable housing look like? What is affordable housing, anyway?
Jim Bailey, a task force member and associate principal at Alamo Architects, asked twice during the meeting: Where will the housing go?
“Maybe the piece that’s missing is taking that 2013 study and figuring out where that need exists in San Antonio,” Bailey said.
With San Antonio’s older housing stock in notoriously poor condition, the preservation of homes dominated much of the conversation, just as it has in past task force meetings.
“Large spaces of the inner city way back when, they were being built in a haphazard way,” said Dr. Christine Drennon, director of Urban Studies at Trinity University and an advisor to the task force. “Now it’s actually housing the population that we’re concerned about that is having trouble accessing newer housing.”
She mentioned that many of these communities are located in, or close to, the inner city and therefore are susceptible to new development.
“The interesting thing is that we are concerned about a lack of affordable housing, and yet we have a housing stock that is affordable, that we’re allowing to deteriorate,” Drennon said.
Lourdes Castro-Ramirez, head of the task force, chimed in.
“Preservation of units in neighborhoods, there’s also preservation of housing affordability, meaning preservation of units that have subsidies — whether it’s a subsidy from the federal or state government — you have a number of buildings with expiring affordability covenants,” Castro-Ramirez said.
Dawn Hanson, a Beacon Hill resident currently fighting a proposal by District 1 Councilman Roberto Treviño that would rezone her neighborhood and others in the inner city, offered a different perspective.
“Sometimes preservation is given a higher grade than actually housing people,” Hanson said. “So when you talk about preservation in some of these higher opportunity neighborhoods, they glom onto that and then they start rejecting any sort of multifamily housing . . .
“Some of these houses may not be worth preserving, and they could be torn down for four-plexes, six-plexes and eight-plexes, where maybe the property owner partners with a developer and actually has a stake in the new development that happens, which is a good way to keep them in the neighborhood and also preserve affordability.”