Affordable Housing Challenges and Opportunities in San Antonio
The below transcription was lightly edited for clarity purposes.
Intro: Hey look, it’s the Doublewide Dudes.
Alberto Piña: Alright, Alright. Welcome back to another episode of the Doublewide Dudes. Today, we’ve got a guest from the city of San Antonio, Ms. Veronica Soto. Thank you for joining us.
Veronica Soto: Thank you for having me.
Alberto Piña: And for our audience. Veronica is the director of the Neighborhood and Housing Services Department here in San Antonio. Got her Bachelor’s of Arts in Government from Harvard university, went on to get a Masters in Public Affairs, a Masters in Urban and Regional Planning from Princeton University and has been developing and administering the city’s housing policies and programs, with over 20 years of combined experience in planning, housing, neighborhood development in San Antonio, El Paso, and then Sun Land Park, New Mexico. So, it sounds like affordable housing been your life’s work for a while now, huh?
Veronica Soto: It’s been public service that has been my life’s work and affordable housing is a big part of what I’ve focused on. My commitment when I went and got my education, was really to do something with my career that helped poor people, and housing is a great way to address what poor people need. And it’s been a great career so far. So, very happy that I can put that great education to use helping others.
Alberto Piña: For the city of San Antonio, specifically. How bad is the affordable housing crisis in our community?
Veronica Soto: Well, before the pandemic, I would always hesitate to use the word crisis when talking about our affordable housing challenges. With the pandemic, I can say crisis, and I do. And, what we know even before the pandemic, is that we had a lot of people who were experiencing what we call housing insecurity, who were cost burdened, and that means that they were just paying too much of their income toward housing costs. So that other things that we need in our life as basic necessities could not be afforded, because they’re spending so much. And so we knew we had a great need even before the pandemic. With the pandemic, those numbers have been exacerbated. So one of the things we’ve done is run the numbers because we lead by using data, and we lead by finding solutions by talking to people who need their problems solved.
Alberto Piña: Right.
Veronica Soto: And so, the data shows us that currently in San Antonio, we have about 90,000 units that are needed and it’s across the spectrum. So we’re talking about people who might need help becoming homeowners to people who are experiencing homelessness, and they might need housing with supportive services, so the whole gamut is there. Our focus in what we do at our department is really in the realm between 30% of the area median income to around 120% of the area median income. And in that space, we see a great need as well. But when you think that a 10th to 20% of our community needs affordable housing to live in, or need help to stay in affordable housing, that shows you the affordable housing crisis that we have, because it’s a significant number in our community.
Alberto Piña: Yeah. That’s a very wide range on the income spectrum. And you mentioned it, COVID has made a lot of things a bigger problem than they were, and affordable housing, just housing in general, definitely being one of them. So my guess is this is getting worse, right? We’ve seen housing prices just shoot through the roof over the last six, eight months. New construction, existing housing and then rental rates as well, right? So this isn’t just a home ownership problem, this is a rental problem, this is a, I can’t buy problem. From your perspective, is this just a San Antonio thing, just a Texas thing, or where do you see this problem growing in your work?
Veronica Soto: That’s a great question. It is not just San Antonio that has this affordable housing crisis. We have statewide and national [level] crisis, and it’s the same issues. We live in the same economy. And so we still have a lot of people in poverty who need affordable housing. We see all the prices of construction materials skyrocketing. So it makes becoming a homeowner much more challenging when you have to put a lot more money into your savings account to put a down payment. But it also means that people who are renting are struggling to find units that can accommodate their whole family. And so they’re able to afford an apartment, but maybe it’s not the three bedroom home that they need, it now is a two bedroom. And so kids are having to share more space, more bedrooms. I’ve seen families, four person family, still in a one bedroom apartment because that’s what they can afford.
And so you see that, but this is not just San Antonio specific. It is very much a national affordable housing crisis, and the pandemic really, as you said, has exacerbated that. One other thing with the pandemic is that we… And San Antonio was finding its own solutions, that’s one of the things that I really like about San Antonio and one of the reasons I came here because San Antonio was not waiting around for someone else to solve the problem, and certainly not waiting for federal money to become available, to solve it. So San Antonio was finding its own way. San Antonio in 2017 passed for the first time ever, a housing bond. So it was San Antonio saying “We are going to find a solution for affordable housing for ourselves, not gonna solve everything, but certainly are gonna make it better.” San Antonio, just this last year, this spring, passed an amendment to our city charter that allows us more flexibility for a bigger housing bond next year.
And so again, San Antonio finding its own solutions, but the pandemic also showed us with the stay-at-home orders that people were really struggling if they couldn’t have the income to pay the rent. And the pandemic stay-at-home orders, when everything shut down, when people had to stay home, when people could not work, when people got laid off, got reduced hours, it showed the need of the paycheck to paycheck population in our city and throughout the nation that needed those two, three months of rent to stay in their house. How could we have stay-at-home orders, if people could not afford to pay the rent?
Alberto Piña: Right.
Veronica Soto: And so what we did and how we responded, again, San Antonio finding a solution, is we created an emergency housing assistance program, but we had that solution in our back pocket because in 2017 and ’18, we had the mayor’s housing policy task force, it had recommended an emergency housing assistance program. And we had the bones of what became our COVID-19 emergency housing assistance program. We called it, our risk mitigation program, had invested the city money into that, and that went on steroids. We put resources onto the program. We added more funding, once federal money kicked in, we added more staff, all temp staff, and we were able to help people stay housed.
And so anyone who experienced a COVID impact with a layoff or reduced hours or let’s say they were a Lyft or Uber driver, and suddenly they didn’t have as many clients as before, we could help them pay the rent, and pay their utilities, and even give them some cash assistance so they could stay housed. And so San Antonio found a way, but the pandemic really showed how tenuous folks who have jobs that are paycheck to paycheck jobs are when it comes to that.
And I’m very proud of what we did and how we have been able to help. I have to brag a little bit about our team here. We have not just the largest emergency housing assistance program in the nation, as of last Thursday, is $188 million devoted to this program, that’s a lot of money.
Alberto Piña: That’s a lot, yeah.
Veronica Soto: It’s a lot, it’s way more than my regular annual budget in our department.
Alberto Piña: Yeah.
Veronica Soto: But we also have the best program in the nation because we are able to help families quickly. Sometime last summer, we got down to 10 days telling people, “You apply. And in 10 days, you’ll know if you got approved.” No one in the nation has ever done an approval in 10 days.
Alberto Piña: That’s awesome.
Veronica Soto: And we have a generous program that really targets people with the most need, because we know equity is part of what we have to do when it comes to affordable housing. And again, San Antonio saying since 2017, “We’re going to use equity for our programs.” And of course, equity is a big deal when it comes to affordable housing.
Alberto Piña: Yeah, that is so cool. And I love San Antonio for a million different reasons, but being in the affordable housing industry, seeing our city lead the way like that is very exciting from our perspective. We saw as home builders, I think our costs are up almost 70% now, year-over-year. And we don’t like raising prices, but we don’t have a choice, right?
Veronica Soto: Exactly.
Alberto Piña: And one thing I think we’re seeing, I imagine you are too, is as these costs skyrocket, wages and salaries are not rising to meet it. There was what’s called the affordability gap before COVID, the problem, I imagine, only got worse over the last 12 months or so. From your perspective, and I guess for our audience, let’s start with talking about what is the affordability gap and what are you seeing now?
Veronica Soto: When we talk about affordable housing, we have to talk about both rental and homeownership. And so the affordable housing gap for homeowners means that they don’t have enough funding to afford the mortgage or the down payment. And therefore that dream of homeownership is just a dream, it can not become a reality. So the gap means that the cost of the housing that’s available keeps increasing, the medium price keeps increasing, and yet their income is not keeping pace. So you see, imagine two lines and one is staying steady and rising very, very slowly, and then you have this other line that just goes way above. And as time progresses, the distance between the wages is just growing and growing and growing. And so over time, what one income can buy for housing is way below what the average price is, so that’s the affordability gap when it comes to homeownership.
When we talk about renters, the gap is affording enough housing and not spending as much of their income on housing. So the rule of thumb is that someone should not spend more than 30% of their income on housing costs. And the affordability gap exists when people are forced to use a lot more of the income, more than that 30%, for their housing. So if someone is using half of the money they earn on housing costs, that’s the affordability gap. And for renters, we call it the cost burden. And that’s when you see people living in overcrowded conditions, perhaps affording a house in a neighborhood that may not have the best schools. So you see all those other things. Or being priced out of certain areas, certain school districts or neighborhoods. And so the affordability gap in that instance becomes overcrowding, the cost burden, or the lack of choice in a neighborhood in an area.
And sometimes that lack of choice becomes a lack of opportunity. And so that’s what the affordability gap is for both homeowners and for renters. What I have seen with the pandemic is that the gap for renters is the one that is increasing faster. And eventually at some stage in our life we’re renters, we, we rent straight out of school, while in school, maybe early in our career. But at some point, if you want to become a homeowner, there should be a path toward that.
Alberto Piña: Right.
Veronica Soto: Nothing wrong with being a renter all your life, but nothing wrong with also dreaming of becoming a homeowner. And so there should be options and choices.
Alberto Piña: Right.
Veronica Soto: And the affordability gap increasing means those options and choices are just more limited. And if we continue to limit those opportunities, we’re just not going to have the potential for our kids, for our city, for our whole economy to continue to prosper. And of course, ultimately that’s what we want, for kids to thrive and have that opportunity and do better. And housing is a big part of that.
Alberto Piña: It’s fun living in a city where we’re helping everybody live their best life inside the city, right?
Veronica Soto: Right.
Alberto Piña: We had a guest on that called it athirdable housing, because of that, you really shouldn’t be spending more than a third, if you have a choice, right? On what you spend and whether it’s a mortgage or rent. And I think, part of the problem we’ve seen, and COVID definitely exposed it, is when you’re spending more than that, you’re not just potentially settling for a place that’s too small or in a place that’s too far from work or whatever. But you’re also one accident, one broken arm from one of the kids at the emergency room, or one broken transmission in your truck, you’re one life event away from not being able to pay any more of your bills, right?
One thing that just blew my mind, I was looking at the mayor’s task force report from back in 2018, and one of the predictions was the median price of San Antonio would be right around 235,000 by 2030, right? And here we are in the middle of getting over this pandemic that nobody saw coming, and all of a sudden right now, the median price in San Antonio is over 30,000 more than what we thought it’d be in 2030. What do these numbers mean in practical terms for folks living in our city right now?
Veronica Soto: Well, again, in practical terms, getting that average price to be so much more expensive sooner, means that the affordable housing or the homeownership dream is not becoming a reality. And it has deep implications for other aspects of our society. I see a tie between that and families having less kids, or choosing not to have kids, women delaying becoming mothers for a longer time, and women being the ones who are not going to be homeowners ever. And so it also shows me that sometimes you need those two incomes to become a homeowner. And so there’s all these other societal related impacts as well. The numbers we had back in 2018 were really good, but it just shows that sometimes it’s great to have such a hot market for some segments of the community, but it’s not great for many others. And so it’s always about that balance, and how do we balance something that is a positive growth and also address the potential negative externalities that come with it.
And in this instance, the fact that some people in our community, single moms, for example, are not going to be as able to become homeowners. And so to me, it means we have to do a little bit more to help those single moms become homeowners. So it turns into a down payment assistance program that perhaps targets single moms. And so we help them achieve that dream through programs like that. But those numbers and how quickly the prices have escalated are certainly adding to our affordable housing crisis.
Alberto Piña: It’s so much more beyond just having a roof over your head. For kids, it’s that stability that comes with knowing where you’re going to sleep every day, or knowing where you’re going to go to school, and keeping that same group of friends. And if you’re moving all the time from one apartment to the next because prices keep rising, you’re losing your community too, not just for kids, but adults as well. And there’s a lot of implications beyond just the house that comes with that. In San Antonio, there’s a lot of folks that are benefiting from the rising cost of housing, right? And that’s, I think one reason why people want to buy a home. They know it’s an investment that should grow over time. We want it to grow over time and that’s not a bad thing, right? But for those people that are maybe on the other side, where they’re seeing the upside of this, why is it in their best interest to care about this problem, even if they’re not maybe struggling to pay their mortgage or rent?
Well, it’s all about the economy and how one segment of the economy impacts the others. So I think people should care about renters who are cost burdened, because it means that if a family or thousands of families are paying half of their income for housing costs, they’re not spending money on the other events that help our economy. They’re not helping restaurants because they’re not eating out as much, so the money doesn’t flow in our community, they’re not having their kids go to afterschool camp, or boy scout and girl scout events, because they’re worried, “Can I afford the uniform?” It also means that people are not spending as much on discretionary kind of things. They’re figuring out, “Do I afford the medical bill? Can I split my medication pill in half so that it lasts.” And so that could have longer-term impacts because they’re not taking care of themselves as they should, because so much of their income is going toward housing.
So someone who’s not a renter should care about those folks who are not helping to have our economy flourish, because they’re forgoing other things to help pay the rent, and so someone should care. For those folks who are homeowners, it impacts them as well, because I hear this a lot, we have a lot of property prices that are increasing. And some people, some seniors, some lower income families are worried about being priced out of their neighborhoods, and being priced out just adds that much more pressure. If my taxes rise so much that I have to move out of my neighborhood where I have my contacts, and I know all of my social service providers, or my neighbor who babysits the kids, or I’m close enough to my parents that I can go and take care of them as well, it disrupts that.
And so people should care about those pressures that come from the rising property taxes as well. One of our focuses over the last two years has been on what we’re calling our anti-displacement efforts. And so, we know it’s real and we know it impacts some people, but it can be, as you mentioned, a very devastating and traumatic experience to have to move that often, or eviction for example, is a very traumatic experience. And all of that, is just not just traumatic for the adult, but if there are kids, it can be something that just sets them back very far. In addition to the whole, I have to find new friends, when an eviction results in someone being homeless, that’s even worse. And those kinds of things take a lot of time to overcome. And so I think as a community, we should care about people potentially being priced out of a neighborhood that they’ve lived in and known for all their lives. But as a community, we should also care about the renters who are spending too much on rent as opposed to other amenities. And perhaps they too, their rent could be going up because of the property taxes as well. They too, should care about what if those kids in those families also are being displaced and have to move very year, year to year.
And so I think San Antonio does care, but that’s why it should matter. We also should care because even though we have great programs, the community should still hold us accountable and they should care that we’re doing the best with what we do have. We know we can’t solve every problem. We know we can’t help everyone, but those that can get help should get good programs that help them address their need, help stabilize them. And they should care in terms of accountability. They should say, “Hey, are you doing the best you can. And are you serving people in the best manner? Is this the best program?” And I welcome that questioning. They should make sure that we, not just my department, but we at the city are good stewards of their money because we’re using some federal funds for our programs, but we’re also using local money. So they should hold us accountable to ensure that we are using these program dollars in the best way possible. So they should care. So if someone cares about paying property taxes and the taxes they pay to the city, they should care about, about affordable housing, right?
Alberto Piña: Yeah, a hundred percent. I don’t know anybody that likes when taxes go up. But that said, I think it’s a much different perspective when you see it actually being put to good use the way you and your team are doing. One of the things we’ve seen firsthand, when you allow people to stay in communities, the community solve a lot of their problems on their own, right? You mentioned the babysitting from the neighbor down the road, childcare’s a massive cost, and communities have a really good way of taking care of that. And then on the flip side, there’s a lot of seniors now that are aging, and finding it harder to go get their prescriptions, their groceries. And if the communities are allowed to stay together, the younger generation is there to help on that side of things too.
And so, I think it’s just so cool that the city first cares about keeping communities together, and then beyond just acknowledging there’s a problem, is actively working in putting solutions in the place. That’s so awesome. What else can we let people know that to encourage them, that their tax dollars are actually getting put to good use?
Veronica Soto: Well, for sure anyone who’s still struggling through the pandemic in San Antonio, can apply for that emergency housing assistance program that I mentioned. Our application is online, and you can find our information on the city’s covid19.sanantonio.gov webpage. We have a call center that can take calls and questions about how to apply and walk people through that. But we also are contracting with nonprofit grassroots organizations to help people, because we have a very real digital divide in San Antonio, fill out an application themselves. And so we have all those services. For folks who are looking to become homeowners, we do run a first-time home buyer assistance program. So we provide down payment assistance. And that information is at the website for our departments, sanantonio.gov/nhsd, those are the initials for Neighborhood and Housing Services Department. For families that are homeowners, who may not be able to afford to fix up their homes, who may have code issues, or maybe it is that senior who needs to age in place, maybe all the rain we had this year caused leaks in their home, who need a roof replaced.
We have programs that help rehab homes. So we run a Under 1 Roof program that replaces worn and aged roofs. We make it energy efficiency, it has an energy efficiency rating that helps so that their utility costs actually go down after they have a new roof, so it’s a savings in that way as well. We rehab homes that need, perhaps we need ADA accessibility for the stairs at the front, the bathroom, wider doors, the grab bars that we need, and we do that through our rehab program. But we also update utilities in kitchens and sometimes the whole house if needed. We have taken some houses down to the studs and rebuilt houses. So we have that.
For folks who just might need a minor repair, in San Antonio, we have a lot of the pier and beam construction, so foundations need to be adjusted because things shift. So our minor repair program can help someone stabilize the foundation so that the home can actually be enjoyed instead of being a little bit wobbly. Because I’ve been in a few houses that are a little bit wobbly, and you can’t enjoy your house as much, if you’re worried about where you’re going to step. And we also have a program with federal money where we remediate lead issues and other environmental hazards. That one doesn’t always fix up the home, but it makes it a healthier home in terms of it’s no longer potential lead exposure especially for kids because that causes developmental delays. We don’t want that at all. And so we help address the environmental issue at a house, and therefore the quality of the home is improved, and the quality of life of that family, and any kids that come into the house is better. And all of those programs are described in our webpage.
Besides that we have our housing policy team, that’s actually looking for solutions. We fund a lot of preservation and development of new affordable housing. So a lot of nonprofit organizations, even for-profit developers come to us for both new construction subdivisions, where we have some subsidies that we provide. Large developers also come to us for some subsidies if they develop affordable housing, and we have subsidies for gap financing to make sure housing is affordable for longer terms. So we want affordability, obviously, to be part of whatever development we subsidize for a long time. And so all those programs are part of what we do, where you seen our tax increment financing to do some affordable housing as well, that’s how we were able to help with the Twin Towne Village concept.
We helped them with some grant funds essentially to be able to realize that project, because construction is expensive, and so we’re helping them in that way. But we’re helping other as well, with those gap funding subsidies. And so all that information is on our website. Right now we are, of course, looking forward to the budget for next year, and we have to figure out our path, post-pandemic. We’re not out of the pandemic yet, hopefully, we’re at the tail end of it. It’s starting to feel like Fiesta.
Alberto Piña: It is, yeah. It’s been awesome being downtown, seeing it again.
Veronica Soto: It has been awesome. But we also need to think what does our post-pandemic San Antonio look like. And what are the services that we had to ramp up during the pandemic that we should keep, even as the federal money goes away, and what are the things that we need to look forward to, so that we can continue to address the affordable housing crisis in San Antonio. So all of that is coming up and it’s very exciting. One thing that is going to be a big thing in the next fiscal year is developing this affordable housing bond program. And there’s going to be a lot of community involvement. You asked me earlier, why should people care? People should care about that housing bond because they’re going to have an opportunity to vote on it. And there’s an opportunity for anyone who cares about this to ask to be involved, because we do, through city council, appoints citizen committees that help us.
And so I’m very excited about that housing bond. And again, San Antonio finding its way. And for me, it’s going to be that bond, helping us define our post-pandemic landscape. And I’m just excited for all the things we can do and how many people we can help. And just thrilled to be in such a great city, that not just cares, but is putting its resources and its money where its mouth is, when it comes to affordable housing, and equity and making a difference in people’s lives.
Alberto Piña: Yeah, a hundred percent. I think it’s an understatement to say you’re a very busy individual. But it sounds like this is an all hands on deck between the city, private business, nonprofit business. It sounds like San Antonio’s got everybody throwing solutions and trying to fix things here. From your time working with other cities, and even in your position now, I imagine y’all all talk to each other and see what everybody else is doing. What are you seeing that other cities are doing to address this problem that maybe we can bring down here home?
Veronica Soto: Well, one of the things I love about working in government, specifically in city government, is that it’s not rocket science, because someone else has probably addressed it, or fixed it, or solved it. And it’s about making sure that that solution, if it’s addressing a similar problem that you have, that you tailor it to your city, because every city is unique, every city has its own flavor. But other cities have good solutions as well. And yes, we have been talking a lot. So one of the things that we were lucky to be a part of that has evolved after the pandemic, San Antonio got selected to a very prestigious housing solutions institute that’s run by the NYU Furman Center, which is one of the premier housing centers in the country, out of the New York University. And so we were selected with four other cities. It was us, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, and Atlanta. And all of us got to spend a fabulous week getting to know each other, and talking through our problems, workshopping what we were doing on affordable housing, how we were solving and learning from each other.
So in 2020, in March and April, we, and I think it was the chief housing officer in Atlanta, reached out to the Furman Center and said, “Convene us, so we can talk about what we’re doing, because we all have to respond to this pandemic. And all of us have to figure out what we’re going to do to help people stay housed.” All of us were having emergency housing assistance programs in development. So we got together, we all learned how to do Zoom, all kinds of virtual things that now we are very good at, well some of us not so much, that’s mostly me. But we all got together virtually to talk.
And NYU was very gracious in adding other cities that they had through, I think they call them Bloomberg cities. And so every month we talk about what we’re doing, what our solutions are, and we workshop problems we’re encountering. So from those four cities, it has grown to include additional cities. Now we talk to Detroit, to Newark, to Chicago, and once a month we’re still doing it.
Alberto Piña: That’s awesome.
Veronica Soto: And, so we’re workshopping. So Minneapolis helped us figure out how we could help even more people using federal money, and they have a good program there. In Atlanta, one of the things that both of our cities are doing is figuring out what the housing bond will look like. And so we’re talking about, what is part of the program, what are the things you can try and deliver, and also how is this going to be sold to the community. How are you going to communicate what we’re doing so that people are interested and eventually people can support it. And so, Atlanta is doing that as are we. They postponed their bond election because of the pandemic, and so now we’re talking together about 2022, that’s when we do it.
In addition to that in Texas, all the large cities in Texas get together. So this started, gosh, I think it was around 2017, 2018, where we know each other, because we would see each other at conferences, but we wouldn’t talk about our work. And so, we actually got a small grant and got a convener, facilitator to make sure that we talked once a quarter. And before the pandemic, we would do two virtual conference calls, video calls, and one in-person, and I admire the Austin housing bond, because they have a really big one that I’m saying we should try for that much. And so, how they’re doing it and implementing, because they’re in year three of their housing bond, is one of the things I like about Austin.
I like Houston having a community land trust, and Houston is one of the cities we talk to regularly. And so, I like their model because in San Antonio, we don’t have a community land trust yet. And that is one way in which you can address the rising property taxes. And so, I’ve been pushing our staff to try and do a community land trust in our city. I think we’re going to see it this year, got postponed because of COVID, but Houston has a good model. And so I’m excited to talk to them about what they’re doing, how they’re doing it, and where they’re at, and they have a citywide community land trust.
And so I’m hoping that we learn from them and with them, what has worked, what hasn’t worked, what are learnings so that we avoid the problem areas here. So, that’s one thing I like about their approach. Besides those two cities in Texas, we talked to Fort Worth, to Dallas, to El Paso. And all of us are doing… We have our strengths where we’re doing really well. Again, we have the best emergency housing assistance program. All those cities asked us how we’re doing it and how come we’re doing so well.
Alberto Piña: That’s awesome.
Veronica Soto: But the CLT in Houston is the model that we’re all jealous about and asking them, “How can we do that, and be as successful?” The amount Austin has in their housing bond, all of us are like, “Man, I want that much money to address affordable housing.” So all of us have had positive and negatives, but we do talk. And so those are some of the things that I like. And there’s other cities, I think Newark, surprisingly to me, has done a really good job with community engagement. Yes, it’s an east coast city, very different than us, but there are lessons for us about how to engage the average person and have community voices in what we do, and so that’s been interesting. We’re talking a lot about equity, last summer, with this larger network of cities throughout the nation. We spent most of our summer, as protests in our streets where a big concern and all of us were touched by what happened. We spent time talking about how can our affordable housing work, also addressed systemic racism, and what kind of impact can we make.
And so that, those are not easy conversations, but they are very important conversations. And I’ve seen how our policies can also address that. And so there’s a lot of learning from that group when it comes to that. That’s why I always, you heard me earlier say equity, and so equity is one of the ways in which we lead for affordable housing. Because we know there’s been disinvestment, it’s a fact, it wasn’t our fault, it was something that happened a hundred years ago, something that happened 70 years ago, but the effects of that disinvestment are still with us. So equity is how we can solve it in one year, even after five years of equity, it’s still not going to address a hundred years of inequity, but it’s going to make a difference.
And so those are the kinds of things I’ve seen from other cities, that I hope can help us shape our programs, to be stronger, better, more equitable, and help us learn so that we avoid the mistakes other cities may have made. But it also gives us something to strive for, they did it, when the attorneys say, “Oh, you can’t do that in Texas.” I say, “Well, Houston has it, that’s Texas. So tell me again, why we can’t have it in Texas?” And so all of that helps us.
And my peers they become, they’re not just our colleagues and peers, but I really feel, if I could hug them, I would, because we’re friends, and we’re in the same boat, and we have same issues, concerns, same bureaucracies that we navigate. And so, it’s awesome talking to them and finding solutions together. And, we’re all friends. We all want to do great jobs for our cities, and talking to others who are doing similar work just helps us realize that we are doing great work, and shows us what else we can do. That’s great.
Alberto Piña: Yeah. It’s so cool. Getting a behind the scenes, under the hood look at what our city is doing here. And you mentioned, with all the things coming up in our city, this is really a great time if you want to get engaged as a citizen, to make your voice heard, to play a part in what the future of this city looks like. How can the average San Antonian get involved if this is something they want to talk about, or just be a part of, how do they get involved?
Veronica Soto: When it comes to participation locally, if you’re a citizen that wants to be involved, we have all these appointments to boards and commissions, including the committee or the committees that are going to figure out the housing bond, the propositions, the programs. And so, if you’re interested in serving in that role, that’s a more active role, then you can apply to be a member of those decision-making citizen advisory committees. They’re still advising council, but decisions are made at those bodies. So there’s a way to be involved there. For example, we have our housing commission, which is the commission that is responsible for ensuring that we implement our housing policy task force report. And so we have citizens who are the ones that are asking us tough questions and guiding that work.
People can always be informed if they’re interested in finding out day-to-day what happens. We have a newsletter that our department puts out, that is about affordable housing matters, and they can be plugged into different meetings that happen that touch on housing. I always put, here all the council committee meetings where we’re presenting, here’s all board meetings where you might have an interest. And so there’s a way for individuals to be plugged in to the decision making bodies, the city council committees that are making decisions about programs.
Alberto Piña: Well, we’ll be sure to put all those links up to the newsletter and the website that showcases what you and your team doing are doing. I’ve learned so much and it makes me proud to be a part of the city of San Antonio. So thank you very much for joining us on the podcast to talk about it.
Veronica Soto: Well, thank you for having me, and I hope we make a difference for our community, and make it a better community for everyone.
Alberto Piña: A hundred percent. Well, that does another episode of the Doublewide Dudes. Thanks for tuning in, and we’ll catch you guys on the next one.
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