Displacement policy headed for City Council vote next month

by Gaige DavilaFebruary 21, 2019
The city of San Antonio's risk mitigation policy is meant to mitigate displacement, officials say. FOLO MEDIA FILE PHOTO

The Comprehensive Plan Committee on Wednesday voted to send the latest draft of risk mitigation policy to City Council for approval on March 21.

Since September, the city’s Neighborhood Housing and Services (NHSD) department has been developing the policy, which is intended to assist households facing displacement. The policy, which was a recommendation of the Mayor's Housing Policy Task Force, has drawn critics during the process—predominately from local housing advocates who say the strategy doesn't do enough to address the root causes of displacement.

NHSD staff has consistently answered these concerns at its public meetings by saying the policy isn't intended to prevent displacement or address the negative effects of gentrification, and that other initiatives in the works will do so.

At the meeting, NHSD staffers presented the latest draft, which assists in two types of displacement cases:

» Residents on the verge of being displaced because of an unexpected emergency expense would receive funding and counseling from a area of the policy referred to as emergency assistance for housing stabilization.

» Residents directly displaced by redevelopment or rehabilitation projects—or by a code enforcement action that deems an apartment or home unlivable—would receive assistance relocating from one home to another from a strategy called the resident relocation assistance program (RRAP).

NHSD Director Veronica Soto said the risk mitigation policy is a more flexible way to assist struggling households in San Antonio, because the money comes from the city’s general fund and is not tied to federal dollars, which tend to have stricter eligibility requirements.

The short-term rental assistance program that's funded using federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) dollars, for example, has an income eligibility requirement below 80 percent of the area median income (AMI), which is $53,440 for a family of four in the greater San Antonio area as defined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

People applying for assistance through the city-funded risk mitigation policy can make up to 100 percent of the San Antonio area's AMI and be eligible.

The latest San Antonio-New Braunfels metro area AMI is $66,800, according to HUD.

The risk mitigation policy will be funded by $1 million from the city’s general fund over the next two years: $650,000 for the resident relocation assistance program; $300,000 for short-term emergency assistance; and $50,000 for a rental incentive fund (a pilot program where the city and property owners and management communicate to "remove barriers of access to affordable housing" to potential tenants who have been displaced from another property).

Households using federal assistance, like a Section 8 voucher, are not eligible to tap into the risk mitigation policy, but can receive housing counseling. People have already reached out to NHSD to take advantage of the policy, Soto said, but they've been directed to federal programs for now.

The current draft of the risk mitigation policy, which can be viewed here, has some noteworthy updates to its eligibility requirements and what the money can be used for.

...

About 50 people attended a displacement policy meeting on Jan. 16 at the Ella Austin Community Center. BEN OLIVO | HERON

Emergency assistance for housing stabilization

To be eligible for these funds, the resident must prove hardship by providing pay stubs that show reduced hours or wage, or receipts for emergency expenses, such as a funeral, car repair, home repair, etc.

What's AMI?
The AMI for a family of four in the greater San Antonio area (including New Braunfels) is $66,800, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Here's how it breaks down for lower-income households:
» 80% - $53,440
» 60% - $40,800
» 50% - $33,400
» 40% - $26,720
» 30% - $20,400

The amount of assistance a renter receives depends on their income in relation to the AMI. Applicants who have a household income between 81 and 100 percent of the AMI can receive up to $2,625 for rent and $1,125 for utilities, according to the policy. Any household below 80 percent can receive up to $3,500 for rent and up to $1,500 for utilities. The funds are paid to the landlord or property manager on behalf of the renter.

For homeowners, assistance is limited to utility expenses—water and electricity bills specifically—with up to $1,500 for households making between 81 to 100 percent AMI, and $1,125 for a household below 80 percent AMI. The funds are paid directly to the utility companies.

The city is giving the most funding to households "with the greatest need," according to the draft.

Resident relocation assistance program (RRAP)

A household is eligible if it receive an eviction notice or if it's notified that its rent will increase by a percentage twice the city's average rent, which the city estimates to be 3-4 percent based on local real estate data from CoStar.

NHSD wants property owners planning to serve eviction or rent increase notices to first notify the city 10 days before.

Once the property owner notifies NHSD, the property owner must provide the notices in English and Spanish to their tenants and give renters or homeowners in multifamily developments a minimum of 90 days to vacate and those in mobile home parks 180 days. Property owners also must organize two meetings with NHSD and tenants facing eviction or a rent increase, where they’ll be told what funding assistance and city housing navigation services are available.

According to a previous draft of the risk mitigation policy, a developer who receives $15,000 in city incentives, and whose project displaces five or more apartment or mobile home households, is required to help pay moving costs, as well as give the tenant additional time to find housing.

Soto said that developers using city incentives who violate the risk mitigation policy will face "clawback" provisions, where the developers must pay back any incentives they’ve received from the city. She also said NHSD has met with an entity called the "development process task force," a group, Soto described, that's composed of representatives in the "developer community" who will get more developers to opt into the policy even if they're not receiving city incentives.

Incentives include the Center City Housing Incentive Policy (tax abatements, development-related fee waivers, and loans), tax increment financing, and direct city funding in the form of loans or grants.

Households can receive up to $3,000 if they’re moving from an apartment or house and $7,000 if they live in a mobile home, as long as their income is 80 percent or below AMI. If a household has an income between 80 and 100 percent AMI, they can receive up to $2,250 if they live in an apartment or home, and up to $5,250 if they’re in mobile homes.

As with the emergency assistance for housing stabilization, the most funding will go to households "with the greatest need."

Making adjustments

Receiving assistance because of code enforcement actions was not included in previous policy drafts, but was added after NHSD met with members of Esperanza Peace and Justice Center, according to Soto.

District 4 Councilman Rey Saldana said he had hoped code enforcement actions were getting less severe on homes that are at risk of being displaced because of mounting violation fines.

Jessica Guerrero, who assisted the former residents of Mission Trails, the community that was uprooted in late 2014, early 2015, told council members at the meeting former residents were still calling her. They still face difficulties more than four years since their uprooting that made way for the Mission Escondido luxury apartment complex, she said.

"I think there is a general consensus and acknowledgement that (displacement) has happened (in the past)," Guerrero said. "But let's also please acknowledge that the impact of that displacement is still very much ongoing."

Guerrero said the city should pay attention to the Mission Reach and the San Pedro Creek redevelopment and study how these major public upgrades will impact residents in the area.

"There is a real lack of understanding of what displacement is, how it comes about, and how to prevent it and mitigate it," Guerrero said. "And if we don't put a priority on both of those, then we are not serving the communities that we claim to be serving."

Guerrero suggested that NHSD should have "targeted" meetings with displaced residents and residents who are at risk of displacement.

In a Feb. 2 interview with the Heron, Soto said NHSD is planning to host community meetings called "platicas," but has not offered more information since, such as when they'll start, at the request of the Heron. Some participants of the early risk mitigation policy meetings in September and October stopped going because those conversations didn't include people who have faced the issue.

Setting It Straight: The original version of this article mischaracterized the development process task force was being new; it's been active for around 10 years. Also, because of information erroneously provided to the Heron, the date the City Council will consider the risk mitigation policy was incorrect. Finally, the eligibility requirement for the resident relocation assistance program was misstated—a household must either receive an eviction notice, or receive a notice stating that its rent will increase by a percentage twice the city's average rent, which the city estimates to be between 3 and 4 percent.

Contact Gaige Davila: 956-372-4776 | gaige@saheron.com | @gaigedavila on Twitter

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