Affordable Housing in San Antonio
This week we talked with Dr. Christine Drennon, housing expert and professor at Trinity University. We discovered a lot of challenges in making housing affordable, how the current models of affordable housing have not yet proved themselves as successful, and some opportunities we all have to work toward sustainable affordable housing for all.
The below transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
Mauricio Chacra: [00:00:00] All right all right. Welcome back to another episode of the Doublewide Dudes. Today we’re joined by Dr. Christine Drennon. Thanks for joining us today, Christine.
Christine Drennon: [00:00:15] My pleasure.
Alberto Pina: [00:00:16] Yeah, we were just talking about how it’s been a few episodes since we’ve had a local, or even a Texas person on the podcast.
So, very excited to have you. You’re an Associate Professor of Sociology and Anthropology and the Director of Urban Studies at Trinity University. We’re big fans of that university and the Students Plus Startups program they’ve done. We love Trinity as a [college] for sure.
In 2014, you were the recipient of the Marilyn J. Gittell Activist Scholar Award, by their urban affairs association. And here in San Antonio, you kicked off the first meeting of the mayor’s housing policy task force. We’re definitely excited to hear how our city and our community is tackling some of the affordable housing issues that we’ve got going on. So welcome to the show.
Christine Drennon: [00:01:23] Thank you. I’m pleased to be here.
Alberto Pina: [00:01:25] So I’m assuming that you believe that there is an affordable housing problem in the United States and also right here in our backyard here in San Antonio. From your perspective, who is this current crisis affecting?
Christine Drennon: [00:01:41] It affects all of us, and actually we could even say that there’s a housing crisis. It impacts all of us, but it impacts us in very different ways. And let’s just talk for now about the income spectrum. It impacts everybody across the income spectrum. And if we start just at the very top with really high-income families, it impacts them because that’s where we’re building, we build close to the top.
That’s where the profit is. that’s where it’s more interesting and fun to build. And local statistics show that we’re keeping up at the higher levels of the income spectrum in terms of housing that’s appropriate and priced appropriately. So that group could even be seeing prices that are a little bit depressed because of that.
So, they’re impacted, but possibly in a good way as individual families. When we talk about it as a community that’s a little bit different. Middle income and lower income families or households on the income spectrum are impacted very differently. Middle income families, there’s still enough housing, but because there’s not enough housing at low income levels, low income families are forced to try to enter into the middle-income housing, kind of what we call submarkets, which is going to drive prices up.
So middle income families are probably seeing housing that’s more expensive than it should be because there’s so much demand and often by families that can’t necessarily afford it. Low-income, we’ve stopped building except for very subsidized builders who have access to different kinds of funding sources.
We’ve really stopped building there, and yet the demand has not waned. The demand is actually increased and probably now is even increasing more, which is forcing prices up and also kicking a lot of people simply out of the market. So everybody’s impacted by this in very different ways.
Alberto Pina: [00:03:41] It’s definitely a crisis, but like we were talking about earlier, this is a crisis that has been pushed to the back burner. We were thinking that was because of COVID-19, but you were saying that even prior to that, we were kind of losing sight of this being a here-and-now issue we need to address. Why do you think that this is happening and how do we course correct us to get back on track to solve this problem?
Christine Drennon: [00:04:12] The course correction is hard. Why I think what’s happening is because I think, I think in some part, it’s because both the public and private sector probably think we’ve addressed it. Or we’ve made a really good progress towards addressing it.
The city’s got some incentive packages in place that are trying to encourage developers to build more mixed income housing and things like that. The more fundamental question is, is that the solution? Is this new model that everybody’s really starting to coalesce around? And I think that’s an interesting question that we haven’t asked, is that the way to go?
Alberto Pina: [00:04:56] Do you think that there’s a better solution other than subsidies for high-end developers for subsidized rentals, or are those the subsidies you’re referring to?
Christine Drennon: [00:05:05] Yeah, and in order to try to get higher-end developers to even begin to build for lower income families and households. Depending also on where they’re building, the federal, state, and local governments are all offering subsidies to them to entice them into that world.
Is that the best model? We did away with public housing that was completely publicly subsidized in the1980s in order to jump to this public private partnership model, and we’ve never been able to offer as much low-income housing in this new model that we did in the old one under the current political environment.
Well, it’s what we’ve got available. What we need to think a lot more deeply about is, is there a product that’s available that is affordable and non-subsidized? Because you don’t know what’s going to happen to subsidies. Especially given the current political environment.
If we were in a different environment, then fully funded subsidies is a fine way to go. Recognizing that you can’t build for some families at a particular income level, it’s just simply impossible to build. So, whose responsibility does it become? It becomes all of ours.
Alberto Pina: [00:06:28] That’s definitely what got us into this business. You know, I think a lot of the folks that are suffering the most from this problem are, I mean, those are our people. That’s who we know, and it’s who we see every day. That’s who we love working with and love helping.
And we visited with the city about programs or ways to help, and we were surprised that as it sits currently, factory-built housing is not considered for any of these developer programs or anything like that.
I know this is off script, but I’m just curious, why do you think that is? Do you see that getting changed? And in your opinion, and there’s no wrong answer, do you think factory-built housing plays a role in solving this problem in our community?
Christine Drennon: [00:07:12] A key essential role. Honestly. And what’s interesting is that, with the current crisis and the quarantine now and that kind of stuff, I’ve been riding a bike a lot. Everybody’s got more time and I’m not alone. Everybody seems to be riding bikes right now. But, if you go down south on the Riverwalk, down south of downtown on the Riverwalk. Down towards the missions.
There are mobile home parks all along the river. That should be something that we celebrate as a city, that the lowest income families in our city occupy the prettiest real estate.
But instead we’re doing the opposite. We’re trying to figure out how to actually grab that real estate back again and make more money off of it in terms of property taxes and things. And that’s almost like an ironic hypocrisy to me.
So yes, this kind of manufactured housing, in whatever forms, absolutely should be a really essential component in what we would consider a housing spectrum. A really fulfilling little one submarket because we’re not able to do that through traditional building right now.
And there’s lots of different forms of it, right? I mean, there’s the old mobile homes that we’re familiar with, but there’s new forms that really small firms around the country are starting to come up with, different building. Pre-manufactured. Not just as the mobile home type model.
So yes, we’re not thinking about it. You started by asking me why not? I’m not sure why not. Is it a lobby? Is it because it’s got a bad reputation from years past? Also, because it hasn’t been kept up. A lot of parks are on pieces of property that have been allowed to deteriorate horribly.
Whose fault is that? Everybody’s, because it’s of course the landowner’s fault and the park owner’s fault, but also the city’s supposed to kind of watch for code compliance issues and things like that, and so everybody’s not doing their job. Who hurts from that is the homeowners.
Is there a role for it in the future? That’s up to us, right? That’s up to you. And that’s up to me. If we push, I think we can create a role. UDC code amendments are coming up real soon, and I don’t know if you guys have been working on that, but there’s room in zoning codes to possibly even create a new zoning code just for manufactured housing.
Right now, it’s stuck in with others that make it easy to get rid of. Do you guys do some of that work as far as advocacy work for manufactured housing?
Alberto Pina: [00:10:23] It’s something that’s definitely in our future plans. We started our business three years ago, we’re a brand-new baby startup. We started out of Geekdom downtown. And I think initially, our focus was getting the company off the ground. One of the reasons we pivoted to the podcast was to really start having these kinds of conversations.
In working downtown, we’re surrounded by all these vacant infill lots, where those neighborhoods wouldn’t support the cost of building a traditional site-built home. One thing Mauricio and I have talked about is it just seems like a no brainer. Let’s put a home there. Let’s generate tax revenue. Let’s help that neighborhood keep the people that want to live next to their parents or grandparents, where they grew up, in their neighborhoods.
And so, we just started those conversations and just very recently found out that none of these programs that we’ve seen or talked about in the news applied to our industry. So, to answer your question, no, but we’re going to very quickly be working on that. Because we just think our industry is screaming to help solve this problem.
Christine Drennon: [00:11:39] It’s a lot to think about. Part of it’s just been off the radar, to be honest and to be a little bit more optimistic. It’s just off the radar. But then you’re gonna run into some NIMBY stuff as far as design guidelines and historic designation. So, it’s a worthwhile uphill battle.
Mauricio Chacra: [00:12:03] Yeah. Pretty different design changes in mobile homes throughout the years. I guess policy and people who make the policies in government are just used to that stigma of what a mobile home park or what these types of housing provide.
With technology and things on the manufacturing side, it’s not just the regular rectangle anymore. It doesn’t have to be that way.
Christine Drennon: [00:12:27] But it also can be. Again, like riding my bike, you really see that those mobile home parks are really important and a part, again, of our entire real estate spectrum.
The people, there’s not enough of them. People are only newly aware of them, because of a lot of the development they’ve been found. They’re uncovered. And probably they’re in a really active deterioration cycle right now, and not just out of benign neglect. They’re very consciously not investing anymore, knowing that the property is going to be worth more.
Mauricio Chacra: [00:13:07] I love riding my bike in that area, the missions, it’s incredible. It’s beautiful.
Christine Drennon: [00:13:14] But it’s also, again, when you look around and who lives there. It’s absolutely fantastic. It’s regular. And I don’t want to offend anybody, but it’s middle class and lower working class, you know, lower income families.
Alberto Pina: [00:13:36] I think that’s why I say Antonio, to me, I know it’s a big city, top seven metro area size or whatever they say, but growing up here, it always felt like a small town.
You know, when I left and went to a few, what I would call “real” big cities, I came back, and it still felt like a small town. And I think part of that is we’ve got all types, and the Riverwalk, like you said, belongs to everybody. That should not be only available if you can afford $5,000 a month rent. But I think unless there’s a program to help, I can’t fault the landowners for realizing that they’re sitting on a very valuable piece of real estate.
Our very first customer came to us quite unexpectedly. When did he call? Two, three days after we opened our website? It was very, very fast. The community that he and his family were living in, their home was free and clear, but the landowner got a steal of a deal from a developer.
And it’s not that they’re bad people, they just weren’t looking out for the 300-plus residents in that community. And nor can we necessarily ask them to. But somebody’s gotta be thinking about these people.
Christine Drennon: [00:14:55] They’re not bad people. It’s bad laws. Really bad laws.
Alberto Pina: [00:15:01] You talked about how different types of people are affected, even if you’re sitting at the top of the income level. Factory built housing is the number one source of government subsidized housing out there. And if we remove these parks and these folks can’t find a place to live, then taxes are undoubtedly going to go up because somebody is going to have to pay for them to have a place to live.
It seems like this disproportionately affects minorities. Why do you think that is?
Christine Drennon: [00:15:38] It absolutely does. That’s because our economy is completely and totally racialized. If you were to correlate statistical income brackets with race or ethnicity, you would find that as income went up, the race or ethnicity gets whiter, more Anglo. Statistical fact.
Question is why, right? And that’s just pure historic racism, in every form. Even if we argue that individual racism is waning, and there’s lots of evidence that shows that it’s not, but let’s just do that.
It’s still so built into the structure of our entire system, our economy, our way of being that it’s going to take a lot of extremely proactive work in order to rectify. And that’s that difference between thinking about equity and thinking about equality. We can’t just treat everybody the same because there’s so much baggage that we’re bringing up to the present.
So, we really have to devote a lot of resources to actually undo it. We have lived with a racist system for so long that when we talk about low income issues like housing, they are nonwhite issues here. Statistically, there are more low-income white families in the United States than non-white families, but they tend to be rural. If you map it, it’s Appalachia. It’s very rural white communities that are low income.
When we talk about an urban population, it’s nonwhite for some very identifiable reasons. A lot of it having to do with racism. And also wage structures are different, it’s gendered also. So, there’s so many reasons. You’re right, it’s a minority issue.
Mauricio Chacra: [00:18:02] We have the racism seeping into the affordable housing aspect.
You talked about housing being a catalyst. What would it be a catalyst for?
Christine Drennon: [00:18:15] So when we think about catalysts, the catalyst is often for growth, right?
Think about it in terms of family. Housing in itself is not necessarily a catalyst for anything, but what it does is because of the way that our economic system is designed, it does bring stability, right? Because people accrue equity through housing, again, just because of our economic system.
And so, people own a home, not those who rent it, but own it, gain equity, which then doesn’t necessarily guarantee, but definitely puts you on the road towards social mobility. That was a real 20th century phenomenon, right? We built the middle class on housing and on support, especially on suburban housing.
And they rewrote a lot of income tax laws and things like that in order to ensure that growth. We’ve pulled back on some of that and our social mobility has actually been going backwards since about the 1970s because we have rewritten a lot of our more progressive income tax laws. So, in that way, housing has been a catalyst for social mobility.
You hope that your kids are going to grow up to be wealthier than you are. It was true for a very long time. It’s not so true anymore.
Mauricio Chacra: [00:19:44] It’s important for families to grow up in that sense of community and have that stability.
Christine Drennon: [00:19:49] And that’s not even the catalyst question. That’s more of a stability question. That’s a really interesting one. Housing, financially, has been a really smart thing, but that’s just because we wrote our economic systems so that it would be a smart thing. We could have written it so that we were investing in something else, but we invested in housing.
But it also, apart from the financial, it also brings stability. And let me tell you a really fast story about that. So, I did a lot of work on the east side over with the San Antonio Housing Authority about five or six years ago, it took down the old Wheatley Courts and they rebuilt it as a mixed income development called East Meadows.
The courts were very low income at the time. The average income was $6,000 a year. And they went to the same elementary school. And the elementary school is in a neighborhood that really struggles. The income levels are really low, real high rental rates, things like that.
And so, when they bulldozed the Wheatley courts, the public housing, I went to that elementary school and I met with the teachers and I said, “so what’s it like? All of those kids are gone, right?” They had to move. Their houses or their apartments were taken down and rebuilt. It’s going to be a couple of years.
And in all honesty, I expected them to just breathe a sigh of relief and go, “Oh, thank goodness all those kids are gone.” But instead I got the opposite. They said those were the good kids. Those kids, they knew where they were going at night and knew that they had a place to sleep and that it was secure.
Those were our model kids. And now the families that we have are these families that are more prone to eviction. Their prices go up, they’re not reliable as far as, how much is rent going up next month, in six months, in a year, we don’t know if we’re going to have a house to live in.
Whereas public housing kids knew that they were much more secure. So that’s the kind of stability that all of us benefit from. The teachers benefit from it. The school district benefits from it. The whole community does because it’s just more secure families and they feel like they can do better in school.
Alberto Pina: [00:22:24] And that’s the catalyst to so many things. If a child knows where he or she is going to sleep every night, and is in familiar surroundings on a regular basis, and then at school it’s the same group of friends and the same social network, there are so many things later in life that come as a result of that. Education levels, productivity in the work force, lower rates of dependency on drugs or alcohol.
So whether it’s government housing or finding solutions to make housing affordable enough for people to stand on their own feet, which is ultimately what they want… that’s the real catalyst, the stability that comes as a result.
Christine Drennon: [00:23:13] It’s probably a combination, right? It is a combination. There is absolutely still room for public housing. Public housing was a tremendous invention. And I’m not from here, but you are. You can help me with this. Fill in the sentence with the number of families that I have met who have some kind of relation with somebody who had lived at one point in the Alazan-Apache courts is tremendous.
It just feels like everybody’s been through the Alazan-Apache courts. That to me is a mark of tremendous social mobility. I’m middle-class, so the people that I know are mostly middle class, yet everybody’s been through Alazan-Apache. That’s how successful that place has been.
We have so much to learn by studying that and figuring out how that happened. If we put dots on a map for everybody who’s got some relation to someone who’s been through Alazan-Apache, it would cover the County, all the way up to the really wealthy families. That’s amazing.
Alberto Pina: [00:24:26] It’s that stability carrying on to the next generation.
Christine Drennon: [00:24:31] Right. And there’s that housing first model, right? Let’s just stabilize a family. Let’s get them in housing, and then we’re going to worry about everything else. I think we’ve had that reversed for awhile.
We were kind of working with a reverse situation and now there’s research, not that I’ve been involved in it at all, but that I’ve seen, has shown that we should do housing first and offer people what they need. Just let them have a good night’s sleep.
Mauricio Chacra: [00:25:04] Yeah, so that’s public housing, the story that you just talked about?
Christine Drennon: [00:25:09] Yeah.
Mauricio Chacra: [00:25:09] Is that still here in town?
Christine Drennon: [00:25:12] Yeah. Alazan-Apache is one of the oldest public housing developments in the country. It was built in the late 1930s. Still here, but it’s on the list to be replaced with mixed income housing.
And mixed income housing is built on the notion or the idea that if we mix everybody up, that all boats will rise, right? So, let’s build apartments now that aren’t just for low income or aren’t just for their high income, but are mixed, and then all boats will rise. Everybody will benefit. In all honesty, there’s no proof of that yet. And we’ve been doing it since the 1980s.
What tends to happen is that the wealthy people make friends with the wealthy people. The lower income people make friends with the lower income people because that’s who we’re comfortable with. And there’s not the mixing that they thought would happen. So, it really begs a really fundamental question on, is this the right model to move forward with? Because we’ve lost some affordability as we’ve gone to that new model.
Mauricio Chacra: [00:26:32] I know you talk about having a use value versus a transactional value when it comes to housing. What does that mean, and how do those values affect homeowners or people?
Christine Drennon: [00:26:44] The best way to answer that is with an example. With housing, there’s two words that we use to refer to our shelter. It’s a house, or it’s a home. And those connote very, very different things. A house is a box, right? It doesn’t have stuff in it. But it has a value on the market.
And we can determine that value pretty easily by looking at the comparative properties in the area. And we can say, okay, this is what this thing is worth. This is what I can get for it. Right? A home, and you just think about the way we use the word, absolutely means that there are people and dogs and stuff and memories in that structure, in that shelter.
And the shelter actually may have a very low, what we would call exchange or transactional value, but it has a very high use value, right? Because I’m still getting use out of it, but also my memories are there. My kids grew up there. There’s the notches on the wall for when they got big.
That’s use value. And if you listen carefully, especially in the real estate industry, they use the word home to refer to a house and that’s manipulative. A house is for sale. When you’re talking about use value, then that’s when you get the old grandmother showing up at a city council meeting saying, “don’t take my house.
I’ve owned that. It’s been in my family for a long, long time.” Then city council may come back and say, “but you’ve got so many code-compliance issues.” And my grandmother will say, “yeah, but I raised my kids there.”
Exchange value and use value are really important concepts and we need to understand them and not confuse them because marketing often confuses them.
Alberto Pina: [00:28:53] I think, that is why it just made me absolutely fall in love with our industry and the people we serve. We may sell a home that’s $30,000 and that’s what it’s worth on the market. but the families are some of the happiest, most down to earth folks. When you look at the family, at their priorities from the outside looking in, they’re really focused on putting a roof over their family’s head so that they can just all be together. And so, the use value we see come out of a $30,000 single-wide is amazing. And we have people call us, you know, two, three years later, there’s three generations of family living in that home.
To talk to them and hear how these families have grown, the use value would far exceed what the market may say that transactional value is.
Christine Drennon: [00:30:02] And you develop a sensitivity to that when you listen to people speak, because so many people are arguing for design, right? So, I don’t live in a historic neighborhood, but I love historic neighborhoods, they’re beautiful. And I do live in an old house, but the people are often really protecting their exchange values, right? Over someone else’s use value.
So, next door neighbor, you’re doing stuff to your house that I don’t like, but it accommodates your kids. So, your trampolines in the front yard. Well, that’s impacting my exchange value, you know? So, it’s just when you develop that kind of kind of sensitivity.
Is somebody really thinking deeply about use value or exchange value? It gives a different perspective to how we talk about and think about housing. Is it just an investment? Or is it truly a place for community and to raise our kids and to grow up?
Mauricio Chacra: [00:31:07] Very interesting concept and a great example. You couldn’t have painted a clearer picture in my head after explaining it that way.
The homes we sell are 900 to 1800 square feet. Super affordable. The use out of that, it’s going to be the same as a $400,000 renovated historic home here in south town, or north by the Pearl. My fiancé and I are in a one-bedroom apartment.
And with the whole quarantine thing, it’s really opened up our eyes on what’s important for you at home, right? Because this is our safe space, our haven where we relax. It’s important to have that space and have that home.
Christine Drennon: [00:31:46] And then you add kids to it, right? Kids who aren’t in school. And then the internet connection and a little bit of quiet space and all of those kinds of things. It’s enormous.
Alberto Pina: [00:32:01] At the same time, I fully understand folks wanting to protect their transactional value, especially if that’s gonna affect their retirement or whatnot. How do we find a balance between helping more families get that stability, get that use value, without… And again, these aren’t bad people. You’re not a bad person for wanting to protect the value of your home, but like we’ve talked about, helping people, even if it’s not our people, find stable housing affects all of us. That really is the tide that raises all boats. So how do we help? How do we find that balance that allows for more affordable inventory in our communities without destroying someone’s retirement plan, if that’s what that transactional value of that home meant to them.
I know it’s off script and that’s a massive question, but I’m just super fascinated by this conversation.
Christine Drennon: [00:33:07] Me too, and part of it is location, right? And you run into that kind of problem when you’re talking about infill development, especially. You found a lot that might be oddly shaped, so we could put a manufactured home in here, but we can’t put a traditional stick-built house.
And that’s an issue. It seems to me that, that as far as the location, again thinking back on the Riverwalk, thinking back on some of these areas where there’s larger pieces of property that still can be developed, and you’re not messing with anybody’s transactional value there if you built it, if you built in developments.
So, I don’t know if you’re familiar with the work of Alamo Community. It’s one of the nonprofit affordable housing providers here in town. They have these fully built multifamily, big apartment complexes, but they recently have gotten into single family home ownership as well. It is stick-built so it’s a little bit more expensive, but their price point is between $120,000 and $140,000.
They did some infill development and they’re cute as can be and they sold immediately. And they’re really well built in there. They’re also now in a development, I think pushing 100 houses, all priced right around $140,000.
And they’ll come online sometime next year. So, they’ve broken ground. They’re putting in foundations. So, it’s a whole development of affordable housing for sale for home ownership that’s not impacting anybody’s transactional values. It’s not a mixed income community. It’s a working-class community. It’s what we would call a low to moderate income class community, and if these families have the support that they need, that seems ideal.
There’s land! There is land, and it doesn’t have to be in the middle of nowhere, like we were talking about a minute ago as far as some of the mobile home parks along the river.
Now, if we can figure out, and this is a state thing, but how do we think about land value now? Just because somebody created the Riverwalk doesn’t necessarily mean land values have to skyrocket like they have. They didn’t do anything. So, do we really get to profit off of a public investment like that?
It’s actually, when you think about how we as Americans think about value and labor, that’s backwards. We think that things attain value because we work hard, not because we were lucky. So, if I happen to have this piece of property and the city comes in and puts something beautiful in next to me, and I profit from that tremendously, is that how it should work?
I’m not sure. But that’s written into the way that we appraise property. Now we’re talking about state stuff, right? Our County appraiser is kind of at the center of a lot of these conversations. He works for the state. The state comes up with this stuff. He actually does quite a good job.
So, the question was, you know, how do we envision this, and infill development is not going to solve the problem. It’s going to have to be at a larger scale. And then we have to figure out where, and do we just put lower income housing on non-valuable property, which is kind of where the financial solution lies. These properties are expensive, and that’s part of the question is we have to rethink that.
Mauricio Chacra: [00:37:28] People want the value areas in town, right? So, they’re willing to pay a premium. So, these developers that want to buy that out and build on it, they’re going to go to the higher price point.
Christine Drennon: [00:37:41] And that’s why we see this intentional deterioration of some of the mobile home parks on the south side. It’s pulling money out of them rather than putting it in. I don’t know a lot of the ordinances around this, but it does seem that they’re not even keeping them up to code. The city has a role in protecting the people in those houses.
Alberto Pina: [00:38:11] Is that because there’s more tax revenue in a high-end development?
Christine Drennon: [00:38:18] Absolutely. Tons more. And again, since the 1970s as the federal government really closed down on a lot of urban programs and money coming into cities, cities have had to scramble and figure out how to raise those funds that used to come purely through public channels. And so, the best thing that the city has going for it is land. And so, it really is, what’s called highest and best use? Well, highest and best use is not my grandmother’s house.
Mauricio Chacra: [00:38:54] A lot of these lower income and middle-class families still need a place to live. They need a close place to commute from their work. It drives them to working here in town, and it makes the city breathe.
If these types of conversations aren’t had, if we do nothing about this situation, what ends up happening or how do you see that playing out?
Christine Drennon: [00:39:19] If we do nothing in the housing world, right? If we do something in like the wage world, in the health world, which we haven’t, then you see what’s happening right now, is we have this utter crisis, and you and I are all sitting in different rooms when we should be together and having this conversation.
And housing, the same thing would happen if we don’t do it. We’ve treated the housing market almost like the car market since the 1930s. There’s a gentleman who came up with a model back in the 1930s about how real estate works, and he said, if you build new and expensive housing at the edge of town, then the wealthier families will get pulled into that housing and their old house will trickle down to lower, all relative, not low, but lower income families will then move into that housing.
That model then says that at some point the Dominion will be a low-income neighborhood and that’s just not going to happen.
The great thing, one of the really great things, and I’m actually trying desperately to do some of this research quantitatively. We know it qualitatively, but one of the great things about San Antonio is that when San Antonio was built, there were neighborhoods built for low income families. And yes, it was an exploitative relationship, but there were houses that were built for low income people working in the pecan shelling industry, working in the meat packing plants, mostly on the West side.
Well, we were building for low income families who bought their housing for $500. Some of it’s still there. A lot of it was replaced in urban renewal. One of the great things about this city is that we have had housing for a very long time for low income families. We’ve let a lot of that deteriorate through the years, and we’ve lost it, and we’re not rebuilding it.
So, we’ve got a homelessness issue, we have a housing deterioration issue, we have overcrowding issues, and a lot of it comes out in schools and insecurity and the criminal justice system, all of these kinds of ways. So that’s what’s happening if we don’t continue, right?
If we continue to assume that that model is working, that’s what we’re seeing. Because we’re not adding to the stock at those low values.
Alberto Pina: [00:41:50] I remember looking into the numbers when the housing crash hit a little over a decade ago, and San Antonio, in large part was relatively spared because of our rates of home ownership in these areas where housing has been passed on from generation to generation. It’s almost like families planting roots. They’re like a tree planting roots on the side of a mountain, preventing everything from washing away.
This is definitely something we could talk about for hours, and if we don’t watch out, Dr. Drennon, we might. For our listeners who want to learn more about your research and what the affordable housing task force is working on or, maybe contribute to that. Where can they get more information about this topic?
Christine Drennon: [00:42:39] My favorite news or media outlet is the Heron. It’s an online newspaper. It’s not a daily, but it’s the SA Heron. It’s edited by Ben Olivo who used to be with the Express News. He was with the Current. He’s just one of our best reporters in town and he really keeps up on housing issues. Other media outlets do as well. I just think he’s the best one.
The mayor’s housing task force launched the housing commission, or they relaunched it. They’ve been involved in things like the risk mitigation fund, which is what the city is using to try to prevent more evictions before COVID, and now they actually put more money into it. So right now, they’re kind of working in crisis mode, just like everybody is.
When we come out of this, how they position themselves in what kind of advocacy is going to be interesting. They have new leadership, so that’s going to be really interesting to watch, but it’s going to be a while. It could be another year.
Other places to watch, we’ve got a couple of nonprofits here in town. We don’t have enough. We have a couple that do really, really good work. I mentioned Alamo Community Group and, and then Habitat for Humanity, they moved to a development model, a subdivision model for more building. They still do some infill lots as well. That’s where they got their start, but they’ve moved into more of a subdivision model.
And a lot of these things have got enough of a track record now that it’s time that we started to look really carefully at them and see how successful they’ve been. How do these kids do? What are some of the health statistics and things like that, to see, are helping with the social mobility that I talked about?
Mauricio Chacra: [00:44:40] Well, we really appreciate your time, Dr. Drennon and I learned a lot today.
Christine Drennon: [00:44:48] Yeah. Yeah. You know, stay in touch, because I think what you’re doing is a little bit off the radar. And it’s got tremendous potential. You’re going to need advocacy, you just are, because right now the codes are written against you. When you start to think about that, let’s be in touch because I would help you with that.
Alberto Pina: [00:45:15] Well, thank you so much, and we will absolutely take you up on that. We’ve got lofty ambitions, not necessarily for ourselves, but we just think the people we serve are some of the most underserved folks in our communities. We thought we could throw a little technology in there and just make it better for them.
Mauricio Chacra: [00:45:37] We really appreciate your time, Dr. Drennon. We look forward to talking with you in the future.
That does it for this episode, guys. Thanks for tuning in and we’ll catch you on the next one.