Housing Resilience in San Antonio

Housing affordability is about more than the list price of a home. San Antonio, for example, is one of the fastest growing large cities in the United States. The region’s rapid economic and population growth has caused local housing costs to increase faster than AMI for nearly two decades. For residents, that means homes are increasingly difficult

to afford. And there are other associated rising costs, like utilities, maintenance and even healthcare.

San Antonio has always been hot, but climate change has caused temperatures to spike.
In recent years, the city’s development boom has generated a growing urban heat island. At night, the central urban core can be up to 20 degrees warmer than rural areas in the northern part of Bexar County. These higher temperatures reduce air quality as the sunlight and heat react with pollutants to generate ground level ozone, exacerbating dangerous smog.

The city has taken a holistic approach through San Antonio Green and Healthy Homes programs, which “provide assistance to owners and landlords of residential properties (both single-family and multi-family) in creating healthy, safe, energy- efficient and sustainable homes for families and children.”

One of the flagship initiatives is the Under 1 Roof program. Launched as a pilot in 2016 with just $200,000, and serving just ten families, the program identified and replaced failing roofs with free, energy-efficient “high-reflectance roofs.” These “cool roofs” helped address a range of health, energy and environmental issues.

In fiscal year 2018, San Antonio’s city council approved a $2.25 million budget to expand Under 1 Roof to include five other districts. At the time, Councilman Roberto Triveño noted that, “What started out as a District 1 pilot program with a sliver of funding has grown into a multi-million-dollar program that assists folks across the city and helps combat rising urban temperatures while saving residents money.” The program, he said, saves participating homeowners an average of $1,200 per year in energy costs.

In addition, the city’s municipal utility (CPS Energy), developed a cool-roof rebate program to incentivize other residents to install new roofs with high-reflectance materials. Programs like this can dramatically extend the lifespan of a city’s affordable housing stock, and help reduce the need for demolition.

Key strategies learned in San Antonio:

  • Environmental factors frequently create added costs for occupants of low-income housing when it comes to utilities, maintenance and even health costs.
  • Local climate change impacts exacerbate existing problems.
  • Efforts to improve sustainability in housing saves residents money and improves quality of life for the whole community.

Different cities have handled housing challenges differently. But examples like San Antonio show us that cities can benefit from holistic, integrated housing strategies to improve housing affordability.

This blogpost was excerpted from NLC’s report “Homeward Bound: The Road to Affordable Housing.”