Study: Older San Antonio homes key for affordable housing

22 percent of San Antonio housing units built before 1960

A study commissioned by the city of San Antonio found that retaining older housing units, build before 1960, are providing much of the city's affordable housing, but they're being lost "at a rapid pace."

SAN ANTONIO – A study commissioned by the San Antonio Office of Historic Preservation and presented to the City Council on Wednesday found that older housing units are providing much of the city’s affordable housing, but they are also being lost “at a rapid pace.”

The study, prepared by Donovan Rypkema at PlaceEconomics, found that 22 percent of the city’s housing units were built before 1960. At the heart of the study’s conclusion is a simple idea: when it comes to housing, older generally equals more affordable.

“Now, there’s some exceptions,” said Donovan Rypkema, the principal at PlaceEconomics, who prepared the study. “There’s some great houses in, you know, King William district that rent for a zillion dollars. But in large, in the aggregate, the older share of housing is more affordable housing.”

Rypkema said these homes, though, have been disappearing -- three every week for the past 10 years. And in a city racing to get ahead of an affordable housing problem, that’s an issue.

“Almost by definition, anytime you tear down an old unit of housing, you’ve torn down a unit of affordable housing,” Rypkema said.

The study found that new construction will be “neither cheap nor sufficient” in finding an affordable housing solution, while maintaining current, older housing stock “is critical.”

The importance of older homes doesn’t surprise Assistant City Manager Lori Houston, who said the city has already been focused on preserving neighborhoods and pointed to programs for minor repairs, roof replacement and rehabilitating owner-occupied homes.

So majority of our budget is used to preserving the home and making sure a homeowner can stay in their home,” Houston said.

While the findings weren’t a surprise, Houston said the study has helped the city identify more tools “to further that goal.”

In all, the study booklet lists 36 “possible tools" to help retain older homes and decrease their demolition, including: giving the city the first right of refusal when a pre-1960 home goes on the market, drastically raising demolition fees for the older homes, and even requiring their deconstruction rather than demolition.

Rypkema said he didn’t want to call the tools “recommendations," but said they wanted to give “a whole range of ideas so that the council and city staff could say ‘oh, let’s look for this.’ Some of them we gave examples from other cities, some of them we just made up, and nobody else has done it."

What will be considered is yet to be seen, but Houston told council members the city has “several initiatives underway that are in alignment” with the recommendations from Rypkema’s report.

About the Author:

Garrett Brnger is a reporter with KSAT 12.