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SAWS Impact Fee Debated At Council Amid Proposed CEO Salary Raise

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The San Antonio Water System is asking new homebuyers and developers to shoulder a 116 percent “impact fee” increase, a one-time charge that covers the cost of new development to water and wastewater systems. According to SAWS, the cost prevents existing ratepayers from subsidizing new customers and ensures growth “pays for itself.” The debate over the increase—the highest amount allotted by state law and, if implemented, among the highest in the U.S. and in Texas—has elicited concerns over housing affordability and questions over the timing of executive pay increases.

The water supply impact fee would add more than $2,000 to a single-family home purchase and around $300,000 to costs for a multi-family apartment complex building. (Think potentially higher apartment rents or home purchase prices.) For instance, without the increase, prospective homebuyers in central San Antonio would pay $4,227, with the increase that charge goes up to $6,102. Some developers contend tacking on the fees may discourage homeownership and halt new development—including affordable housing—completely.

“An immediate 116 percent increase to the water supply fee hardly seems reasonable,” Scott Farrimond, president of the real-estate industry group Responsible Growth Alliance, told the Current via e-mail. “Multi-family is where you see the most affordable housing. Those costs will be passed on to the renter—or they will kill the project altogether.” Farrimond, who penned a recent opinion guest column for the San Antonio Express-News objecting the SAWS-proposed increase, echoes the reservations of other developers.

Council members, too, specifically expressed concern over the fee’s impact on creating affordable housing units and homes. Speaking about the potential burden on home ownership access for low-income residents, District 5’s Shirley Gonzales said during a recent council meeting, “You say here growth ‘pays for itself,’ but, in fact, it does not pay for itself, the whole community is paying for this new growth.”

Similarly, District 9’s Joe Krier questioned the measure’s role in supporting affordability: “For a lot of people, that’s the difference between getting a mortgage and not getting a mortgage,” said Krier. “For the average homebuyer who doesn’t want to be told where he or she should live and just wants to buy a starter home, how are we being consistent with encouraging housing affordability?” he asked SAWS CEO Robert Puente.

SAWS appeared to boil their answer down to ‘go live somewhere else’: “That individual is making a personal choice to live where he or she wants to live … and therefore, that personal choice has some consequences and that is, that’s what the cost is to live there,” said Puente. “And that personal choice should not be shared by all the other rate payers … they are excluded from that particular house, that particular mortgage, but they do have other options—an existing home, a different mortgage, a home that, instead of [being] $125,000, is $120,000. So there are still a lot of other opportunities for that family.”

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