The new department plans to form a connection with residents and their communities to address concerns when changes to their neighborhoods are discussed.

Veronica R. Soto Courtesy City of San Antonio

The City of San Antonio recently formed a department that will manage the $20 million, bond-funded Urban Renewal Plan and the city’s housing programs — including Community Development Block Grant and HOME Investment Partnerships Program — and that will also focus on neighborhood engagement.

Heading the Neighborhood and Housing Services Department will be Veronica R. Soto, who previously served as director for the City of El Paso’s Community and Human Development Department. She begins July 10.

The Urban Renewal Plan is designed to remove blight and add affordable housing units to some of the more distressed parts of town. The city will use the $20 million — bond dollars approved by voters in May — to purchase properties, prepare the sites for development and then sell the land to a developer for affordable housing.

The new department will also engage communities when changes are proposed to their environments. Often, neighbors worry about character of their communities and have complained about not having enough input from the city, or a strong dialogue with the city.

“Veronica is doing similar things in El Paso but on a smaller scale,” said Peter Zanoni, the city’s deputy city manager. “She has a good sense of engaging with people and has an ability to connect with (them). She’ll be great in that aspect.”

The affordable housing gap is another major issue in the community — a 2013 city study showed there was a need for more than 153,000 affordable housing units by 2016. The new department will help open a dialogue between neighbors and developers.

“How do you form a collaboration between housing providers and neighborhoods, and housing buyers,” Zanoni asked during a Housing Commission to Protect and Preserve Dynamic and Diverse Neighborhoods meeting Tuesday.

Developing housing types to meet residents needs is a priority for the department, said Zanoni. “Big houses that cost a lot of money” and seem to be the majority of what is developed is not what is needed, he said.

This article was originally published by the H.E. Butt Foundation’s Folo Media initiative in 2017.

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