The area median income, or AMI, for the San Antonio region is now $71,000 for a family of four, according to the latest figures released by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
It's a significant increase—6.3 percent—from the 2018 AMI of $66,800 for a family of four.
Another way of looking at the figure: If you were to line up all the wages of all the households in this region, the middle income is the AMI.
Why is this important?
For starters, AMI is how we define levels of affordability when city officials, developers, observers, citizens, etc., talk about housing in San Antonio. Market-rate housing is defined as housing for people making between 80 and 120 percent AMI. Homes or units for those making 80 percent AMI or less are considered "affordable."
Here's a breakdown of the AMI for families of four in the S.A. area based on the $71,000 figure:
» 80% - $56,800
» 70% - $49,700
» 60% - $42,600
» 50% - $35,500
» 40% - $28,400
» 30% - $21,300
HUD defines the greater San Antonio area as the following counties: Bandera, Bexar, Comal, Guadalupe and Wilson.
The formula for reaching the AMI is complicated and one I don't fully understand, to be honest. It involves the 2016 American Community Survey 5-year median income estimate, the area's consumer price index, and other factors that are then thrown into a calculation which HUD lays out here. (You may have to select the San Antonio region from a drop down menu.)
The San Antonio area's AMI was debated late last year, albeit quietly, when the city of San Antonio revamped its policy for downtown housing incentives, also known as the Center City Housing Incentive Policy (CCHIP). Criticism surfaced from some in the housing advocacy community who said the AMI figure, which is set annually by HUD, didn't truly represent the median wage of the average San Antonian. By including communities such as Boerne and New Braunfels, HUD is skewing the figure in the context of San Antonio being one of the most economically segregated cities in the U.S., critics said.
The Mayor's Housing Policy Task Force, in its final report released last August, makes this point. In the report, the task force said the figure of $49,268, which is taken from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey 1-year estimate for San Antonio in 2016, is more representative of San Antonio's median wage.
Supporters argue a higher AMI, inflated by wealthier communities outside San Antonio, means a greater number of San Antonians can qualify for HUD programs that use AMI as its benchmark.
The AMI is an important figure because when city officials and developers describe apartments being priced at 80 percent AMI or 60 percent AMI, etc., as affordable, you have to know what is it they're talking about. Then you have to ask yourself if you can afford the units they're labeling as "affordable." Once you make that assessment, you can decide whether or not you agree with policies such as CCHIP.
CCHIP will be revisited in about two years, so these conversations will resurface in the future.
It's also worth noting that the CCHIP program, which is responsible for the apartment boom in the downtown area the last 10 years, is now tied directly to AMI. This was one of the revisions the council passed last year.
Now, developments that receive CCHIP incentives must cap the rents for its affordable units (80 percent AMI and below) based on HUD's rent limits for this region. HUD bases these rent limits on 30 percent of a household's gross income. So, future CCHIP projects' rents for affordable units can not surpass the following figures:
In other words, if you were a married couple without kids, and you made, say, 80 percent AMI, and you rented an apartment that received CCHIP incentives, which has an affordable housing requirement, the most the developer could charge you in rent is $1,278 a month.
All of that said, San Antonio still has the lowest AMI of the major Texas markets, including Austin ($95,900), Dallas ($83,100), Houston ($76,300) and Ft. Worth ($76,000).