City exploring options to help homeowners unable to pay higher property taxes in gentrified areas

By Sarah Acosta - Reporter, Lee Carpio - Photojournalist

SAN ANTONIO - As property taxes continue to rise in San Antonio, the city is researching ways to ease the financial burden for residents in gentrified neighborhoods.

Brian Hill grew up in the Government Hill neighborhood, where two generations of his family have lived. He now owns a home in the neighborhood but says every year has been financially challenging as his property taxes soar.

“I'm worried what’s going to happen in the next five years if the trend continues,” Hill said.

The Government Hill neighborhood is in the 78208 ZIP code. The Bexar County Appraisal District listed that the average property taxes in the area have gone up 184% from 2014 to 2019.

The city is researching ways to help ease that burden so longtime residents such as Hill won't be displaced.

In June, District 8 Councilman Manny Peleaz requested that city staff to research community land trusts.

Leilah Powell, executive director of Local Initiatives Support Corporation San Antonio, a nonprofit that serves low-income neighborhoods, said community land trusts, or CLTs, can be used as a tool to prevent low-income residents who can't afford rising property taxes from being displaced from gentrified neighborhoods.

“What community land trusts do is they put kind of a permanent break on that process because there is no more speculative value in the land,” Powell said.

In a CLT, a nonprofit buys the land or both the land and the house and then leases the home to a low-income resident. In other cases, a family can still own its home. People can pay to lease the land from the nonprofit.

The leases are long, usually 99 years, to encourage stability and allow the family to build assets.

Powell said that separating the ownership of land and housing, prevents the rise in prices and guarantees that housing will remain affordable. Once a CLT is in place, she said, the nonprofit pays the property taxes, or a portion of them, depending on the CLT agreement.

“In some cases, affordable housing projects that are owned by nonprofits get 100% property tax exemption,” Powell said. “In some cases, they get a 50% property tax exemption, so it can vary from district to district.”

Hill said he is open to the city exploring options such as this. 

“Having options is always a really good idea. It's unfortunate that that has to be an option,” he said.

Powell said a crucial part of CLTs is that a board is formed, and residents get to sit on the board and have a voice when it comes to how the land is managed.

City staff members are still researching CLTs. Once that study is complete, the City Council's governance committee will decide whether to launch a pilot program.

Currently, there is not a date for when the study will be done.

Houston has been using CLTs for almost three years, and Austin just started to use them to help with affordable housing.

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