About San Antonio’s May 1st Proposition A Referendum
Most of the headlines on the May 1st referendums have been on Proposition B concerning the San Antonio Police. It seems like Proposition A is getting lost in the conversation, and since it touches on affordable housing, a subject near and dear to our hearts, we wanted to share our perspective.
What is Proposition A?
Simply put, Proposition A would allow the city to issue bonds (or take on long term debt) for “public purpose,” which is broader than what the city can borrow money for currently, which is for “public works” (i.e. streets, public buildings, etc.).
In other words, if the city feels like borrowing money is for the public good, they can request a bond be taken out.
The proposition specifically references “affordable housing” because supporters of the bill are looking to take out bonds to help with the Affordable Housing Crisis currently in San Antonio.
What We Like about the Proposition?
First, we like that San Antonio is trying to tackle the Affordable Housing Crisis.
Most folks don’t realize what was once considered a problem for a few people is now a crisis for a large population of the middle class. Teachers, Firefighters, Factory Workers and others making median wages – are having a harder time living in San Antonio because housing prices continue to skyrocket!
This problem of skyrocketing housing costs cascades to local businesses and government agencies that have a harder time finding employees they can afford. Eventually, continued housing increases mean businesses raise prices and governments raise taxes or businesses close and government services are cut, and that means bad news for everybody.
We also appreciate that this is not a blank check for the city. The city still needs voter approval to issue a bond before money is borrowed and taxes are increased on anything this proposed change allows.
One thing misleading about the proposition is suggesting Affordable Housing is about Rental Housing Assistance. It does not make a lot of sense to take out a bond to help folks out with their rent, BUT there are some investments the city can make that would have a long-term impact on Affordable Housing. An initial large sum of money could be used to kick-start some long-term Affordable Housing solutions that would provide short and long-term benefits to individual families and the city as a whole.
We don’t want to take up space in this post to talk about specific solutions, but we encourage you to check out our affordable housing podcast to hear more about these solutions!
Unanswered Questions About the Proposition…
One question we have is: Will borrowing money to fix the affordable housing problem through bonds be used to kick the problem down the road instead of fixing things today?
There are changes San Antonio could make today to its housing code that would allow for greater housing density as well as immediate use of unused space which translates to more Affordable Housing. We don’t need to change the charter to create more Affordable Housing now.
Let’s give you an example: San Antonio makes it virtually impossible to allow affordable manufactured homes to be delivered into the city – even though there are manufactured housing options that look almost indistinguishable from site-built homes, yet these manufactured homes cost up to 30% less for the same size home.
There are many lots sitting empty and ready for homes that most builders are not interested in because they aren’t big enough to build the homes their customers want, or they are not in the neighborhood their customers want. We could increase housing availability AND increase the tax base for San Antonio if we made it easier to install manufactured homes to these empty lots.
We also ask ourselves: “Will the new language really create more affordable housing in San Antonio?”
The proposition talks about “Affordable Housing,” but the charter would be changed allowing San Antonio to borrow money it feels is for any “public purpose.”
The new language to the charter is loose and would allow San Antonio to buy a bond (admittedly with taxpayer approval), for a giant pink elephant statue installed on every street corner. While the referendum is supposedly about Affordable Housing, it may be used for anything, and affordable housing may never get helped by the proposed change to the city charter.
Would it be better for the language to specify what is considered “public purpose” to ensure the bonds would be taken out only for true needs of the city?
Again, we will note this change would not be a blank check to the city. Future referendums would need to be passed in order for additional bonds to be taken out. So in theory, we should not see any inappropriate bonds to be issued. For us, it is more an issue about focus and what kind of priority we are giving to Affordable Housing.
We are encouraged the city of San Antonio is doing things to decrease the Affordable Housing Crisis with things like convening the mayor’s Housing Policy Task Force and this proposition opening up the opportunity to take out bonds to implement long-term solutions.
While we feel the city could do so much more, support for every positive step toward more Affordable Housing is important. After all, Affordable Housing is an issue that directly or indirectly affects all the residents of San Antonio.