San Antonio City Council on Sept. 8 approved an ordinance that shifts from demolition of the oldest local homes and toward deconstruction of such housing in a way that reduces environmental concerns and promotes repurposing of building materials.

Shanon Shea Miller, director of the city’s office of historic preservation, said beginning on Oct. 1, the city will require selective disassembly of residential structures and related features to maximize recovery and reuse of materials.

The new policy, Miller added, would also lower the amount of hazardous particles entering the surrounding neighborhood, as well as landfill waste and greenhouse gas emissions.

According to city officials, it was in 2017 when then-Council Member Roberto Trevino submitted a council consideration request to explore a deconstruction policy that would urge greater focus on “unbuilding” older homes rather than entirely demolishing them, a city staff memo said.

Since 2018, the office of historic preservation has worked with the city’s Deconstruction Advisory Committee, neighborhood groups, developers, architects, construction contractors,and other stakeholders, Miller said.

The office of historic preservation will implement the ordinance in three phases, initially starting in October with a focus on 3% of all housing demolition permits.

That focus will expand in January 2023 to single-family and multifamily housing built no later than Dec. 31, 1945. A third and final phase of ordinance implementation, beginning Jan. 1, 2025, will affect housing built no later than Dec. 31, 1960.

The new deconstruction ordinance also affects residential housing located in a historic zoning overlay area or within a Neighborhood Conservation District, local officials said.

According to city permit data, more than 500 buildings are demolished in San Antonio every year—a 68% increase since 2012. Data shows that most demolitions in recent years have been concentrated in urban core neighborhoods, such as Tobin Hill, Mahncke Park, Lone Star, Dignowity Hill, the Spanish colonial missions corridor and Knob Hill.

Miller said salvaging building materials from housing demolition sites can yield many socioeconomic, health and community benefits. Several council members, such as District 7 representative Ana Sandoval, agreed. Sandoval said outright deconstruction helps to avoid putting asbestos and harmful particulate matter into the air.

“When structures are demolished instead of deconstructed, dangerous, small particulate matter becomes airborne, endangering the health of on-site workers and that of neighboring residents. This initiative is as much about protecting workers and residents’ health as it is preserving our historic structures,” she said.

District 5 representative Teri Castillo said the new deconstruction ordinance will bolster affordable housing repair and production, increase access to affordable housing materials, develop a local circular economy, and grow San Antonio’s local salvage and upcycling industries.

City officials said, in the past 10 years, more than $16 million worth of salvageable building materials ended up in a landfill.

“Deconstruction is a handy tool that will tackle the multiple crises San Antonio finds in relation to public health, affordable housing and climate change.” Castillo said.

District 10 Council Member Clayton Perry, who cast the lone “no” vote against the ordinance, said the local real estate community may view the new requirements as a mandate and feel they must pass down additional development costs to customers, such as homebuyers.

Perry also said the city should let the private sector take on more leadership in forming and implementing the new deconstruction ordinance.

“Every time we turn around, here we go again, raising the costs of housing,” Perry said.

District 9 Council Member John Courage said there are examples of a government beginning a program, seeing it become successful and then incentivizing the private sector to take a more active role to ensure it is self-sustaining.

“Maybe that’s what we will see with this undertaking,” Courage said.