Developers taking city incentives will have to take housing vouchers, too

New ordinance only applies to projects going forward

The San Antonio City Council passed an ordinance Thursday that requires rental projects that partner with the city to accept Section 8 and other types of federal housing assistance from tenants.

SAN ANTONIO – Taking city incentives like fee waivers or tax abatements now means housing developments in San Antonio will be required to accept Section 8 housing vouchers from their renters.

Landlords don’t generally have to accept housing vouchers, and the people who receive them often spend months trying to find a place that will take them. But the San Antonio City Council unanimously passed an ordinance Thursday that bans property owners who receive city incentives from refusing to rent to someone who wants to use a housing voucher or other federal housing assistance to help pay their rent.

“We’re telling developers, ‘If you receive support from this city, you will help support the rest of our neighbors and the rest of our residents,’” said city Director of Neighborhood and Housing Services Veronica Soto.

San Antonio Housing Authority Chief Operating Officer Brandee Perez believes this will open up more housing opportunities for their voucher holders -- about two-thirds of whom are women of color.

“We really do think this is really going to benefit our families -- the ones that have been turned down. And we had to extend their vouchers 30, 60, 90 days sometimes because of the lack of willingness of some of our landlords in the community,” Perez said.

Violating the new ordinance could result in the property owner having to pay the city back and be barred from getting any more incentives in the future.

City staff said warnings, fees, and compliance training would happen before the city claws back any money. That would only happen on the third violation, and the housing provider would still have a chance to fix the issue first.

The original version of the proposed ordinance contained a Class C misdemeanor criminal charge for violators, but it was removed in the version passed by council. The name was also changed from the “Source of Income anti-Discrimination” ordinance to the “Housing Voucher Incentive Policy.”

The San Antonio Apartment Association, which represents landlords and property owners, even got behind the ordinance.

“SAAA believes that with the recent revisions, the proposed ordinance’s new multi-strategy approach will better address the challenges and opportunities of the voucher program by, not just requiring rental developments receiving incentives to accept vouchers, but also by providing education and by partnering with the rental housing industry,” SAAA Executive Director Teri Bilby wrote in a letter of support.

Property owners would still be able to refuse to lease apartments to voucher holders for other reasons, including having criminal backgrounds.

The voucher requirement would only apply to future construction or renovation projects, and only those that get city incentives, like:

  • Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone (TIRZ) funds;
  • SAWS and city fee waivers;
  • Tax abatements;
  • Loans and grants;

State law prevents the city from requiring all property owners to accept housing choice vouchers, which is a voluntary program. However, city staff members say “Source of Income Discrimination” is prohibited for properties that participate in some federal programs, like the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) or Community Development Block Grant (CDBG).

About the Author:

Garrett Brnger is a reporter with KSAT 12.