San Antonio's new $1 million displacement policy already in high demand

by Gaige DavilaMarch 21, 2019
At least three households from the Soap Factory apartments, shown here in 2017, when it was known as SoapWorks, have tapped into relocation dollars provided by the city or federal government. Folo Media Archive

So far, 60 San Antonio households who have contacted the city for rental assistance are eligible to tap into the city's $1 million risk mitigation fund, a brand new policy that helps households pay for moving costs if they've become displaced because of development or rent increases—or are on the verge of such a situation.

What's AMI?
The area median income (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

This was before the City Council unanimously approved the program this morning.

Because of the council's action, the $1 million, a slice of the city's general fund, is immediately available for disbursement to eligible households.

Veronica Soto, director of city's Neighborhood & Housing Services Department (NHSD), estimated the fund could help about 200 households seeking rental or relocation assistance.

Of the 60 families already in line, Soto said, 50 likely qualify for the federal Short-Term Rental Assistance program, another pot of money the city administers that's similar to the risk mitigation policy, but with slightly different eligibility requirements.

Soto said NHSD will know by the end of the week which households of the 60 will qualify for the new fund—one of five pots of money the city has at its disposal to help residents with moving costs in the event they're uprooted.

“Some money might go more quickly than we anticipated,” she said during a phone interview with the Heron.

Soto said the new policy will be tracked as funds are disbursed, and funds can be shifted between its three subsections—the $600,000 to help pay for moving costs, $350,000 to help pay emergency costs that would have displaced people, and $50,000 to help people with bad lease histories (eviction, broken lease, felony charges, etc.) find new housing.

Council members applauded the risk mitigation policy for its immediate need, but they also acknowledged the need for a larger displacement prevention policy, the timing of which has become contentious between the city and community organizing group COPS/Metro Alliance.

Who qualifies?

Here's how a household qualifies for the risk mitigation policy.

Resident Relocation Assistance Program

The rent increase in a 12-month period must be:
» 5% for households at or below 60% AMI
» 7% for households making between 61%-80% AMI
» 10% for households making between 81%-100% AMI
Assistance a resident can receive:
» up to $3,000 (multi-family home); up to $7,000 (mobile home park)—for households making less than 80% AMI
» up to $2,250 (multi-family home); up to $5,250 (mobile home park)—for households making between 81%-100% AMI

Short-Term Emergency Assistance

The funds are paid to the landlord or property manager on behalf of the renter.
» up to $3,500 for rent and up to $1,500 for utilities or other emergency expenses (renters); up to $1,500 for utilities or other emergency expenses (homeowners)—for households making less than 80% AMI
» up to $2,625 for rent and up to $1,125 for utilities or other emergency expenses (renters); up to $1,125 for utilities or other emergency expenses (homeowners)—for households making between 81%-100% AMI
 
Note: The assistance in this program also applies to mortgage payments.

On Wednesday morning, the council’s Comprehensive Plan Committee endorsed advancing a study to find the root causes of displacement in San Antonio. The move was in response to mounting pressure put on city officials—both elected and not—by the community organizing group COPS/Metro Alliance.

From the study, the city would then craft a plan that would address the causes of displacement in San Antonio.

That night, at a citizens to be heard session at council chambers, COPS/Metro told council members a displacement prevention policy was needed as soon as possible

“We don’t need a study, we need action,” COPS/Metro leader Maria Tijerina told the council as 200 supporters stood behind her. She was joined by Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller of the Archdiocese of San Antonio, who spoke as well.

The group said previous studies conducted by the city, and recommendations from the Mayor’s Housing Policy Task Force report, were enough to start putting together a preventative displacement plan now.

Soto said NHSD will be in contact with COPS/Metro, and said half of the group's recent recommendations were already being worked on by her department, but she did not elaborate.

Next week, NHSD will hire a contractor to determine the scope of work for the company that will ultimately be hired to develop a displacement prevention plan and preliminary study. The $500,000 study is expected to take at least a year to complete.

This morning at the council meeting, Mayor Ron Nirenberg referenced the big turnout by COPS/Metro during citizens to be heard, and characterized the risk mitigation policy a “safety net” in the framework that resulted from his Mayor's Housing Policy Task Force.

“We acknowledge the urgency which (COPS/Metro has) called for,” Nirenberg said.

NHSD has been developing the risk mitigation policy since October, after the Mayor’s Housing Policy Task Force. recommended it in its final report.

During public engagement meetings on the policy, hosted by NHSD, attendees regularly criticized it, saying the city was not doing enough to prevent displacement. The policy went through several drafts, using comments from attendees at the public meetings and, more recently, from the newly-seated Housing Commission during a meeting on March 12.

District 4 Councilman Rey Saldaña asked if the risk mitigation policy could be used specifically at the Soap Factory apartment complex, echoing a sentiment expressed by a former resident of the complex, Maureen Galindo, when she spoke at citizens to be heard.

Soto reminded the room the policy had to be available for residents all over the city, referencing the Whispering Heights apartment complex in District 10, for which NHSD had provided relocation assistance to all 51 households in the complex after the property manager failed to pay utilities.

After the meeting, Soto said the focus has now shifted into developing a broader displacement prevention policy, where NHSD will look at current city initiatives towards displacement prevention—city ad valorem tax relief; a coordinated housing system; more funding for housing rehabilitation programs; and developing “neighborhood empowerment zones,” or tax credits to residents in a specific area—as it conducts its “root cause” displacement study.

Previously published
» COPS/Metro to City Council on displacement: ‘We don’t want a study, we want action’
» Is San Antonio doing enough to address displacement?
» As COPS/Metro applies pressure, City Council will vote on displacement policies

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

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