These issues have plagued San Antonio for generations. Think of the 1968 CBS News documentary “Hunger in America” which brought millions of viewers the faces of food insecurity and poverty on the West Side of San Antonio.

In April 2020, Express-News photographer William Luther again crystallized economic insecurity and hunger here, shocking the world with an aerial photograph of thousands of vehicles lined up for a distribution from the San Antonio Food Bank to Traders Village, in the extreme southwest.

Looking deeper, we can see how Luther’s photo and “Hunger in America” ​​also revealed a persistent lack of generational wealth; an inability for thousands of people to cope with job loss, economic shutdown or disaster like the Uri winter storm in 2021; an inability to take out the mortgage or pay the rent; and economic uncertainty that extends far beyond the next meal.

This dynamic has only worsened since that day at Traders Village. While jobs are plentiful amid an uneven economic recovery, inflation is at its peaka recession is possible and the food bank serves some 90,000 people per week. Add to that a surge in real estate prices and San Antonio finds itself on the brink of an accelerating affordability crisis that plays out house by house, family by family, and translates into rising rents, increased property taxes, demolitions and gentrification.

The numbers speak for themselves.

In March 2020, the median sale price of a home in San Antonio was $205,500, according to the Texas A&M Real Estate Research Center. Last March, it was $274,074. For the San Antonio-New Braunfels area, the median sale price rose from $236,000 to $318,999. Revenues have not kept pace.

Yes, housing prices have soared even higher in Austin, Houston and Dallas. But like Henry Cisneros, former Mayor of San Antonio and Secretary of Housing and Urban Developmenttold me, San Antonio differs because of its rampant poverty and lack of quality affordable housing.

“The problem we’ve always had is that we just had a glut of substandard housing,” he said. “Our poor neighborhoods stretch for miles.”

We were speaking as voters decided the fate of the city’s $150 million affordable housing bond — we went to press ahead of Election Day — and Cisneros expressed the mayor’s optimism. The housing obligation could mark a new era. The housing narrative could change here, he said, but it would take “continued effort” and would “challenge everything in our history”.

In 1988, as mayor, Cisneros published a remarkably prescient housing proposal, writing that urban renewal had contributed to the loss of thousands of homes. Much of what remained in the central city was “built on land of inadequate size and intended at best to be a marginal shelter for absentee proprietors or landowners”.

Suburban housing was “beyond the financial reach of inner-city residents,” he wrote.

Today, growth continues on the North Side and outer suburbs as advocates push for the rehabilitation of existing downtown homes, while gentrification and infill development often wipe out affordable housing. A 2019 city study, “Risk Opportunity”, noted that “every week for ten years, San Antonio has lost more than three pre-1960 housing units”.

It is much cheaper to preserve houses like these than to build new ones.

Similarly, the city’s 2018 housing policy framework found that between 2005 and 2016, among renter households earning 30-60% of the region’s median income, “a surplus of 14,000 available units dropped to a deficit of 2,400 units”.

Inadequate housing is a San Antonio origin story.

The book by Char Miller, Professor at Pomona College “West Side Rising”, published by Trinity University Press, chronicles the devastation of the 1921 West Side flood and how it sparked a Latin justice movement. But the book also talks about inadequate housing – before and after the flood.

Miller describes pre-flood housing on the West Side as “shed-like, one-story, thin-framed homes” often housing multiple families.

The aftermath of the flood offered an opportunity for change, but it was not to be.

“For the city’s Anglo elite, who were the main contributors and volunteers of the Red Cross, it was essential to help the city’s poor in the aftermath of the brutal flood, but they had little interest to change conditions on the impoverished West Side,” Miller writes. “Relief had its limits.”

A neighborhood can dictate its future, research has shown, and a related lesson from Miller’s book is how political choices can be felt for generations.

Failing to invest significantly in West Side infrastructure and people in the 1920s may impact the built landscape and people of the West Side in the 2020s. Failing to close the affordability gap now could have consequences for future generations.

At higher income levels, the housing affordability crisis could mean the nuisance of rising property taxes, or young couples struggling to buy a home and earn equity and richness. This could potentially prevent people from moving here if wages don’t match housing prices, even though at the moment our housing prices are attractive to Californians and residents of other high-priced markets.

At lower income levels, this means not only being excluded from the potential wealth associated with home ownership, but also higher rents, fewer housing options and potential displacement.

While researching this essay, I was struck by a graph on the “affordability gap” – the difference between the median sale price of a home and what someone earning the median household income can afford – as part of the city’s housing policy.

In 2005, when the median sale price was $120,000, this gap was $18,900. In 2016, when the median selling price was $180,000, the gap was $26,300. The chart projects an affordability gap of $77,700 by 2030 when the median selling price is $235,000 — but this is 2022 and the median selling price is around $275,000 in the city.

“If you’re a young, college-leaving couple thinking you’re going to start a life buying a house, that’s out of the question these days,” Christine Drennon, a professor of sociology and science, told me. anthropology at Trinity University.

People who can’t buy a house, rent, of course, which narrows the options at all income levels. Local Housing Solutions reported that the median monthly rent in San Antonio rose from $549 in 2000 to $992 in 2019. Nearly 47% of renters were moderately or severely encumbered by their housing.

To get an idea of ​​the complexity, I visited a house in April that was listed for sale in the 78207 zip code on the west side.

The median income in 78207 was $26,915 in 2020 and the poverty rate was 39.1%. The three-bedroom home – heavily renovated, but since taken off the market – was listed at $255,000.

Johnnie Fritz, the owner, told me he bought the house five years ago at auction, lived in it, and fixed it up. A recent graduate of the University of Texas at San Antonio’s cybersecurity program, he said he was moving to Dallas, where salaries are higher.

I asked him about the registration price given the poverty of the region.

“I hate to say this, but $250,000 is affordable housing, isn’t it?” he said. “Is the pricing bold for the neighborhood? Not really.”

His response captures the moment. He was leaving town to earn a higher salary, listing a remodeled home below the median sale price, but out of reach for the neighborhood.

“I really don’t know how we’re going to react to this,” Graciela Sanchez, director of the Esperanza Center for Peace and Justicementioned.

Sanchez grew up in ward 78207 and moved back there. As we spoke, she raised a number of pointed questions: “Whose houses are these? Who buys them? Who can buy them?

“I’m afraid we’ve lost the battle, the war, whatever” for affordable housing, she said.

When I raised these concerns — that house prices will continue to accelerate ahead of incomes, local politics and best intentions — with Mayor Ron Nirenberg, he said the community was at an “inflection point.” .

“I’m worried,” he said. “That’s one of the reasons I ran for mayor, and that’s why the goal of the job is to break those cycles.”

He spoke about the city’s housing obligation, its potential to spur affordable development and preserve existing housing, and the need for more federal dollars. Nirenberg may prove to be one of the most important mayors of our modern era because of his ability to see the big picture. He increased funding for public transit, launched the SA: Ready to Work program, and emphasized affordable housing.

You can see how each of these efforts complements each other — workforce development could translate into higher wages, allowing access to better housing, complemented by better car transportation. common to jobs. Just maybe, to invoke Cisneros, we are at the start of an ongoing effort to challenge our history.

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