Shared from the 7/1/2018 San Antonio Express eEdition

S.A. group working to make housing affordable for all

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Alma E. Hernandez / For the San Antonio Express-News

Larry Dotson (from left), Jack Sanford and Dawn Hanson, members of SANE, gather at Shotgun House Coffee Roasters on the West Side.

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Photos by Alma E. Hernandez / For the San Antonio Express-News

Member Larry Dotson and Treasurer Jack Sanford of San Antonio Neighborhoods for Everyone discuss affordable housing. The group believes that the Alamo City must ease the way for developers to build in the urban core.

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Dawn Hanson, SANE’s chairwoman, says neighborhood associations are overrepresented.

Some residents of San Antonio’s downtown neighborhoods are worried that the ongoing development boom is creating too much density, but a newly-formed organization has a different attitude toward growth: Bring it on.

San Antonio Neighborhoods for Everyone, or SANE, believes that in order for the Alamo City to solve its affordable housing crisis, lessen income segregation and reduce its environmental impact, it must ease the way for developers to build housing in the urban core — including the apartment complexes, duplexes and townhomes that often run into opposition from homeowners.

One of its goals is to act as a counterweight to neighborhood associations, which have sometimes turned out en masse against development projects at city meetings and have sought new regulations that would limit density.

The goal is “providing more than one voice to the powers-that-be that make these decisions, because too many times they’re just hearing the neighborhood associations,” said Jack Sanford, SANE’s treasurer. “They’re just hearing the opinions of homeowners, so we are going to provide that other voice.”

SANE, which was formed last fall, has six or seven active members and about 80 people on its email mailing list, said its chair Dawn Hanson. Earlier this month, it held a forum in which developers and neighborhood leaders discussed the growth of San Antonio’s urban core.

Hanson, Sanford and another member of the organization, Larry Dotson, recently sat down for an interview with the Express-News. Here’s an edited transcript of that conversation.

Q: It seems like your organization’s attitude toward our affordable housing crisis is that the best way to combat it is to simply build more housing.

Hanson: For all income levels. There is a need for luxury housing because what you have is a round robin of people competing for homes. You have wealthy people that want to move to the inner core, and guess who gets shafted first if you don’t have enough housing? It’s the low-income people. If you have luxury housing in the inner core, they have a place to go to without competing with the lower-income households.

Sanford: We have good policies in place to develop affordable housing, and these face a lot of the same opposition that the luxury condos face. A lot of what we’d like to see is a predictable process for developers, where they’re able to build without having to go through a two-year fight with residents who aren’t experts in planning and development. The lack of enforcement of existing policies at the city is really frustrating.

Q: Why do you think all these development battles are happening?

Dotson: People get attached to the physical landscape around them, and it’s hard for them to adjust on a personal level because they want it to be like it was. You have a nostalgia for your past, but if you look at the history of San Antonio, there was no static period in this city.

Hanson: I would say, for the more vulnerable communities that have had disinvestment on the East Side and West Side, their fears may be more warranted because they have trust issues because of the disinvestment, because of the past injustices that have happened.

Q: Would you say neighborhood associations are too powerful?

Hanson: I would say they’re overrepresented. There’s a lot of voices left out of the conversation. There’s voices like ours. There’s renters. There’s lower-income households. There’s people who don’t have the means to buy a house that don’t participate in neighborhood associations.

Dotson: If you look at the (Tier One Neighborhood Coalition, a group of neighborhood associations) — and I don’t mean to be calling them out, but they’re the ones that are getting the press. If you look at how much influence they’re having, they don’t represent the entire city. They represent one section of the single-family residential neighborhoods of the city of over 1.5 million. They have a strong voice because they’re active. Where’s the constituency for the people who want there to be mixed-use, who want to build density?

Q: How is the perspective of neighborhood associations different from that of the city as a whole?

Hanson: Homeowners. They tend to be people who have the time to attend meetings. I would say their average income is probably higher than the residents that live in the neighborhood.

Q: What are some policy changes your organization wants?

Hanson: Kind of mirroring what Minneapolis and Portland have done, allowing duplexes and triplexes and four-plexes, as-of-right. No questions asked. You don’t have to do a variance. It’s just allowed.

Dotson: The reality is that inner-city development competes with (suburban) development, which is much easier, much faster, much cheaper to do. You have to incentivize the reuse and repurposing of land in the inner-city and make it relatively competitive to the suburban frame.

Sanford: But we also have to be kind of smart about it. I think a lot of people saw The Pearl, and the last couple of tax credits that have gone to The Pearl development probably weren’t necessary, where you’re giving companies tons of incentives to locate to an area that’s already hot.

Q: If you guys had carte blanche to create your own development policy, what would it look like?

Dotson: By-right variation in housing types. Let the market figure it out on how we meet housing needs. If you do that, owners can make a decision. I can add another home on my property. I can double-stack my house or triple-stack my house, still live here and then rent it out, and I’ve got two rental incomes. People can tap into that and make money without moving.

Sanford: I’m starting to maybe be a little more compromising in terms of zero setbacks and infinite height restrictions. I don’t mind something that’s more of a transition, but (a restriction of) two-and-a-half stories is ridiculous when you have three stories already there. We should be going toward density, not away from it.

Hanson: I would say scaling the incentives — more incentives to housing types that will go to the most vulnerable people who need it. Then still incentives for middle housing but maybe less so. And then still incentives to the higher-end housing but at the lower end of the spectrum.

Q: What are your feelings toward short-term rentals?

Hanson: The issue is a little hotter than it needs to be. I think it can help people provide income to pay their property tax, pay their mortgage, pay their medical bills, whatever it is they need help paying. I think it’s really important for people to have a low barrier to having another unit on their house that they can rent out.

Q: Let’s say there’s another development controversy like the Hays Street Bridge apartments. Will you guys mobilize people to go to the public meetings?

Hanson: As of now, when there’s a development that happens, we try to mobilize people to go. But I would say that’s not our biggest focus. We’ll do it if we have time. We all work full time, so this is like a side-project. rwebner@express-news.net

“There’s a lot of voices left out of the conversation. There’s voices like ours. There’s renters. There’s lower-income households.”
Dawn Hanson, San Antonio Neighborhoods for Everyone

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