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S.A.’s lack of affordable housing bad for business

September 5, 2018

Over the past 20 years, the city’s housing costs have increased faster than the median household income. And that’s a problem.

When housing costs are too high, discretionary spending decreases, keeping dollars from circulating in our local economy.

Both buyers and renters are suffering from the cost created by the lack of affordable housing.

The Mayor’s Housing Policy Task Force has put a much-needed spotlight on the situation, collecting a vast amount of real-time data since Mayor Ron Nirenberg launched the panel a year ago.

The housing task force also crafted important strategies and recommendations that will help prevent San Antonio’s affordability problem from becoming a full-blown crisis.

San Antonio’s low cost of living is one reason that the city is attractive to newcomers and a growing number of businesses. If the lack of affordable housing is allowed to become a crisis, the city will lose a major economic development advantage.

Soaring housing prices are a national problem, but San Antonio can’t afford to become like other struggling American cities else if we want to maintain our impressive economic momentum.

And while San Antonio remains more affordable than most cities, the task force reported that the lack of affordable housing pushes workers to spend more on transportation as they gravitate to cheaper housing farther away.

High housing prices also prevents San Antonians from spending dollars on goods and services in other sectors of the economy.

The task force also found that the cycle of overspending on housing and transportation leads to “diminished regional spending … and negatively impacts business, which means wages stagnate and jobs are lost.”

Without a doubt, employers and workers alike would benefit from the approach to increasing San Antonio’s affordable housing stock recommended by the housing task force.

A way for the city to make housing a priority is to provide enhanced government structure and investment to ensure affordable housing is available.

While officials have made some steps forward in recent years, a coordinated housing system — to include a decision-making executive position in the City Manager’s office— is crucial to making the most efficient use of resources and proposed efforts, such as development incentives and reducing bureaucratic hurdles.

Regulatory barriers include minimum lot sizes, minimum home sizes, maximum densities and exclusionary zoning.

The effort must stimulate the construction of new affordable housing for those who want to own a home as well as rental units.

The task force also recommended programs to increase the rehabilitation and preservation of existing owner-occupied and rental units.

Amid these efforts, the task force plan would also address rising property taxes with measures such as tax exemptions, preservation districts and other strategies to prevent any resident displacement and protect neighborhoods.

More funding would be directed toward housing from the city’s general fund, bonds, fee waivers and property tax exemptions. The public funds would be leveraged to attract private investment in affordable housing. The vast majority of funds would come from private investment.

The proposed coordinated housing system would work to ensure accountability and follow-up action steps.

This comprehensive set of proposals plan would reverse the decrease in home ownership and make living in the city more desirable for newcomers, who today are gravitating to areas outside the city if they choose to buy a home.

While the number of jobs in the city grew by nearly 15,000 a year from 2005 to 2016, the number of households increased by only 6,500 annually.

During the same time-period, 88 percent of the San Antonio’s new households unfortunately became renters.

The housing strategy proposed by the Mayor’s Housing Policy Task Force would bring more stability for workers in the service sector jobs that pay less than $15 an hour as well as those in higher paying professions.

We can’t maintain our economic advantage if workers are priced out of the housing market.

The task force’s report is eye-opening and a road map for avoiding growing pains that would thwart our economic viability. The recommendations merit City Council’s support.

Taking concrete action to thwart an affordability crisis will help San Antonians in all walks of life, preserve established neighborhoods and create a healthier city economy in the coming decades as we continue experience massive growth.

Ramiro A. Cavazos is president and CEO of the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. He served as the Director of Economic Development for the City of San Antonio and is the past chairman of the San Antonio Housing Authority.

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