Mayor’s housing task force will be open to the public

This story has been updated with comments from Mayor Ron Nirenberg.

Despite what was reported based on earlier interviews with Mayor Ron Nirenberg, the housing task force meetings — meant to address gentrification and San Antonio’s affordable housing shortage, among other issues — will be open to the public.

Upon announcing the formation of the task force three weeks ago, Nirenberg told Folo Media he thought the meetings would be closed. The idea was that the five-member task force would regularly meet in private, and begin to come up with a comprehensive solution to San Antonio’s complex housing crisis — with public input inserted throughout the process.

But, Nirenberg met with the task force on Friday and the group decided the meetings will be open.

“Everyone agreed that it is really important that our meetings be public and open,” said task force head Lourdes Castro-Ramirez, who served as U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development deputy assistant secretary under former Secretary (and San Antonio Mayor) Julián Castro.

In an interview with Folo Media on Wednesday, the mayor said he always envisioned a task force that wasn’t bound by bureaucracy. He also wanted the task force to have the freedom to craft its own process.

“I’ve always told Lourdes that they have complete autonomy of the creation and execution of the task force,” Nirenberg said. “And I want it to be effective, and they certainly have my full confidence and support on how they do that.”

About Friday’s meeting, he added, “They determined collectively that a public meeting best serves the mission of this task force in developing this strategy.”

Though the task force’s first meeting was done behind closed doors on Friday, according to Castro-Ramirez, taxpayers did not miss out on policy discussion or anything meaty like that.

“I would call it more of a planning session to get to know each other and begin to discuss and develop the process for how the task force is going work and operate,” she said.

The task force will address the 142,000-unit shortage in affordable housing, gentrification partly aided by the city’s own of housing incentives policy, and the affordability of homes, from rental to homeownership, Nirenberg has said.

In six months, the task force hopes to deliver recommendations on some or all of these issues, Castro-Ramirez said.

The next task force meeting could come later this month, and a broader community session in October, she said.

Castro-Ramirez had no information on where the meetings would be held or how they would function. She also expects the meetings to be of public interest.

“I do think that it is important to have some structure,” she said. “These meetings will be public. We don’t want our work to be hampered by very rigid rules like Robert’s Rules of Order, so we need to decide how best to manage that — knowing that we want to be able to have these rich, robust conversations.”

A spokesperson for Nirenberg said the public could be notified of the meetings through a website that’s currently under construction, through social media and through the media.

Along with Castro-Ramirez, the task force is composed of Jim Bailey, associate principal at Alamo Architects; Maria Berriozabal, former Councilwoman; Gene Dawson, president of Pape-Dawson Engineer; and Noah Garcia, senior vice president at Vantage Bank Texas.

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