The San Marcos Area Chamber of Commerce and the Four Rivers Association of Realtors hosted a forum for the Place 5 and Place 6 City Council candidates on Oct. 7. Zachariah Sambrano is running up against incumbent Mark Gleason for Place 5 while former city council members Mark Rockeymoore and Jude Prather are running for Place 6. Melissa Derrick is the Place 6 representative; however she decided to not seek reelection.

Among the issues discussed and that candidates hope to address during their term if elected are the “missing middle” housing shortage, the homeless population and property taxes.

With Hays County being one of the fastest growing counties in the country, San Marcos is not alone in feeling the growing pains. One of the topics discussed was the lack of adequate housing that is not a traditional single-family home and large apartment complexes.

Sambrano, who is on the planning and zoning commission, said he thinks the city needs housing stock. With a low inventory of housing the existing homes are going up in value, making it harder for the residents to afford them. He said half of the residents make under $35,000 a year while the median price for single family homes has risen to $280,000.

To combat this, he said the city needs to work to build more options, such as townhouses, condos and multifamily homes, in a smart and sustainable way.

Addressing the same issue, Gleason said he thinks missing middle projects need to be looked at on a case-by-case basis to ensure land is used effectively. He also mentioned a development code that was put in place a few years ago and hopes that more tools can be put into place to provide more housing options for the growing community.

Rockeymoore mentioned that some residents have complained about the number of new developments throughout the city. However, with the city’s rapid growth, it is inevitable, he said.

Prather also noted that over half of San Marcos residents cannot afford a mortgage of $165,000. He also mentioned a task force that was put together to address housing and affordability that “fell on deaf ears” at council. For now, he said, there needs to be more regulatory pathways to support housing affordability.

Coupled with the lack of affordable housing is the population of homeless citizens and the higher property taxes that keep the prices rising.

Sambrano called out the current City Council members that voted to approve a higher tax rate that effectively costs the citizens more money and leads to displacement. He said he does not believe the council should have raised taxes when people’s wages are not rising with them.

“The ISD lowered their tax rate, the county lowered their tax rate, and yet the city didn’t,” Sambrano said.

Gleason said that, while there is a homestead exemption for those over age 65, one of the things being discussed within the council is creating an exemption for every homeowner, regardless of age.

As he is a sitting member of the council, Gleason responded to Sambrano saying that while he was not happy about the property tax rate increase, it was necessary to fund the police department—which he said has seen a rise in violent crimes and is short on responders.

In closing, Prather said that he is running for office to help leave the community better than it was found.

Gleason said if he is re-elected, he will work to attract high-paying jobs that can yield more opportunities for homeownership and expand the property tax base to alleviate that strain of homeowners.

Sambrano said that, despite being young, he is running for the people of San Marcos. If elected, he said he will fight to have more affordable housing, bring in high-paying jobs and put people first.

“Whoever you vote for has the best interest of San Marcos in mind, all of us do. So it’s going to come down to your preference and what you want for the future,” Rockeymoore said.

Early voting begins Oct. 18 and election day is Nov. 2.