Bernal: Mayoral task force to study more than Downtown
One of Mayor Julián Castro’s last moves before heading off to Washington D.C. to join President Barack Obama’s cabinet was to create a mayoral task force that will study policy to ensure current and future growth happens in a balanced way that benefits all of San Antonio’s residents.
District 1 Councilman Diego Bernal, who Castro appointed to lead the Mayor’s Task Force on Preserving Dynamic and Diverse Neighborhoods, said the group’s members will also work to mitigate, and if possible, eliminate, unintended casualties from that growth.
“Some people anticipate some of this growth happening at the expense of certain people in certain neighborhoods. That remains to be seen,” Bernal said. “But it’s certainly a fear that we want to address head on. And if there’s anything to it, we’re at a great vantage point because we are ahead of it and we can figure out what we can have in place to make sure things happen in a fair way.”
In an email Castro sent to Bernal on July 17, the mayor noted that while Downtown and some of its older neighborhoods are experiencing an economic revitalization that growth needs to be shaped so it doesn’t displace existing character and culture.
“We have taken bold steps to launch the Decade of Downtown. Over $350 million in private investment has already been made in downtown and adjacent neighborhoods. More than 2,400 new housing units will have been complete by the end of the year,” Castro wrote. “While we work to achieve the goals of SA2020, neighborhoods may be transformed from low property values to higher property values. Such change can cause displacement of long-time residents and established businesses, whether they are property owners or renters. The purpose of this Task Force is to plan for change in our neighborhoods, so that they remain dynamic and diverse.”
And according to Bernal, the task force will do more than study Downtown, its members will be looking at dozens of older neighborhoods around San Antonio, many of which aren’t considered historic.
“It’s not a Downtown task force. It’s a task force about neighborhoods and housing and growth,” Bernal said.
Another issue the task force will tackle will be how to provide home-ownership opportunities for people who make between $28,000 and $60,000 a year.
“We do have an affordable housing issue … it has nothing to do with the development downtown. It has to do with our older neighborhoods that aren’t historic,” Bernal said.
And it’s exactly those neighborhoods that the task force really needs to take a hard look at.
“You’ve got neighborhoods that are in some ways physically deteriorating and they are not receiving this injection or new families or college grads. They’re not seeing that kind of interest or activity,” Bernal said. “And these are the neighborhoods where the homes would be priced for that person making between $28,000 and $60,000.”
But for first-time home buyers who would be eligible for a first-time home buyer loan, that loan wouldn’t cover the significant amount of money needed to repair some of these residences, Bernal said, adding that those older non-historic neighborhoods need to have more people move into them to prevent the bottom from falling out of those areas.
“And so, in other words, we’re going to do our best to address the fears and realities of a rapidly growing and rapidly developing city. At the same time, we’re going to look at housing generally and at what state all of our neighborhoods are in and see if we can crack the code on those issues as well,” Bernal said.
The task force includes District 2 Councilwoman Ivy Taylor, District 3 Councilwoman Rebecca J. Viagran, District 4 Councilman Rey Saldana, Christine Drenon, Ph. D., Maria Berriozabal, Rod Radle, David Adelman, Susan Sheeran and Nettie Hinton.
Castro asked that the task force report findings and recommendations in writing no later than Feb. 1, 2015, to the mayor and to city council.
Read Castro’s letter to the task force: