The Acero apartments under construction last September. Photo by Ben Olivo | Heron

If city charter amendments excite you, if, when you type "m" into your browser, Municode pops up, if articles of incorporation make you want to put on Boyz II Men, you’ll enjoy reading this post.

If, however, you're like most people and would rather bang your head against a brick wall repeatedly than ingest more than three words of municipal prose, BUT you plan to vote in the May election, you'll want to keep reading.

On the ballot will be a proposal to change Section 98 of San Antonio's city charter. 

Currently, that section limits San Antonio's voter-approved bonds to public works projects such as for streets and sidewalks, parks, and drainage. You may remember the 2017-2022 bond program, an $850 million package composed of 180 projects across the city that voters overwhelmingly approved three years ago. 

If approved by you, the amendment would broaden the charter language, allowing for bond dollars to be spent directly on the creation or preservation of what officials call "affordable housing," or sometimes "workforce housing"—housing that's priced for people making below the area median income. Those housing projects, of course, haven't been determined.

A change to the city’s charter would simply set the stage for bond dollars to be able to be spent on housing, and voters would decide if they pass in the next bond election, which is likely to occur in May 2022.

So, what kind of "affordable housing" projects could potentially be possible if the city charter is changed?

In recent weeks, members of the City Council and the Housing Commission asked city officials for examples. Here are some, from the mouths of City Attorney Andy Segovia and Assistant City Manager Lori Houston.

If voters amend Section 98 of the city charter, San Antonio bond dollars could fund:

» construction of affordable housing projects (either directly, or by infusing cash into a project built by a developer, either for-profit or nonprofit; also known as gap financing)

» rehabilitation of existing housing stock, which could include the San Antonio Housing Authority's aging public housing communities, such as the Alazan Courts on the near West Side

» construction of a homeless shelter, or a homeless-related facility

» land banking, meaning the city would acquire land and set it aside for future housing projects

» the Section 8 voucher program, although Segovia didn't specify exactly how this would work

[et_bloom_inline optin_id="optin_1"]

It's worth emphasizing that these are possibilities, ideas, examples, should voters amend the charter two months from now. There is a long and involved community process that determines the projects—what they are, how much they cost, where they're located—which the City Council ultimately must approve just to place them on the ballot. Then, it’s up to you to say "yes" or "no."

The language would change from ...

Current charter language

to this ...

Proposed charter amendment language


Is there a need for more 'affordable' housing?

Under Mayor Ron Nirenberg, San Antonio has prioritized the construction and rehab of below-market housing. 

In September 2018, the City Council adopted the policies put forth in San Antonio's Housing Policy Framework, concluding a year of work by members of the Mayor's Housing Policy Task Force and community partners.

The original report identified a need for 18,681 affordable units to be created over the next 10 years. But many of the task force's original housing goals have already been met, and even doubled for units for household at certain income levels, according to the city. Since last year, the city's housing department has begun recalibrating San Antonio's housing goals.

Over the summer, housing officials determined the below-market housing shortage to be more in the range of 47,000. While the Neighborhood and Housing Services Department (NHSD) continues its recalibration, let's look at more concrete numbers.

The San Antonio Housing Authority has roughly 6,000 public housing units, which serve the city's most vulnerable low-income residents. Compare that figure with the 40,000 people who are on SAHA's waiting list, and you can judge for yourself whether San Antonio is in a housing crisis.

Up until now, San Antonio used mostly indirect methods of supporting below-market housing. Rebates on city property taxes, which are given to developers of any type of housing in urban areas or regional hubs identified in the SA Tomorrow Plan, is the most popular incentive. They can add up to several millions of dollars and are often criticized for helping to built primarily market-rate housing.

The city also waives development and San Antonio Water System (SAWS) fees, a savings often in the hundreds of thousands of dollars to developers. Until recently, it started providing grants from its tax increment reinvestment zones, or TIRZs, which were originally created to fund infrastructure upgrades in San Antonio. In the last year or two, they've been used as gap financing for housing projects that include more affordable rents.

Then there's the bond dollars themselves. The 2017-2022 program was the first time San Antonio used the bond to help create below-market housing. Voters approved $20 million for ancillary housing projects. Instead of the bonds funding housing construction costs, they covered the cost of infrastructure, laying down the groundwork for a developer to then come in and build the housing.

The result so far has been four projects, totaling $18.8 million in bond spending, that the city said will yield 592 affordable units.

There's some trepidation about what the charter change could mean. Before the City Council voted in February to place the amendment on the May ballot, some described the measure as a pandora's box that could open up the possibility of a major sports stadium being funded by bond dollars. City officials responded by saying any bond project must be approved by voters, and that there would be several months of public input before it would even make it onto a ballot.

Others said the language should be more specific to housing, but city officials said they liked the fact that it was open ended, which allows for economic development-type projects to be placed on future bond ballots, as well.


Housing limitations

City officials say the current city charter language is too restrictive.

"We're the only large Texas city that I know of that has limited itself to public works," Segovia told the City Council recently.

In the bond program approved three years ago, homeownership, officials say, is challenging because of a 30-year covenant that states only families making 80% of the area median income, or AMI, can own the home. This might reduce the sales price, or prohibit the homeowner from owning the home indefinitely should their income increase.

[ Scroll down for a chart showing AMI levels. ]

If the language was broadened, each development could have its own covenants that would make sense for each site, Segovia said.

Loosening the rules would also allow the city to target the lowest-income families in newer housing developments, officials said.


The core services argument

One councilman, District 10's Clayton Perry, said bonds should stick to what he called core services. He pointed out how City Manager Erik Walsh and other top city officials have said the next bond program is likely to be somewhere in the range of $200 million less than the last one in 2017, which was $850 million. That means less funding for streets and sidewalks, drainage, and other public works upgrades should below-market housing take up a chunk of the next bond total.

"Right now, we have over 400 miles of F streets, that means failed streets, with a ticket of over $800 million to fix," Perry said at the Feb. 11 council meeting, referencing information he received from the Public Works department. "D Streets that are getting close to be F streets: $284 million."

When also factoring in San Antonio’s drainage needs, sidewalk repairs, and maintenance to city-owned facilities, the price tag is roughly $2 billion.

"Our yearly maintenance program, we will never catch up," Perry said. "We will continue to fall further back on these requirements. Our streets don’t get better, they get worse."

Nirenberg disagreed with Perry’s argument that housing is not a core service the city should be funding.

"Our goals should be to reduce the number of cost-burdened households in our community," Nirenberg said during meeting.

"I think most would agree that housing infrastructure is no less essential than energy, water or transportation," he said.

It will be interesting to see if voters agree with Perry. In 2017, all 10 districts overwhelmingly approved the $20 million housing bond. It’s worth noting that the lowest approval percentage came from District 9 district at 62%. However, District 9, which is John Courage's district, had the most number of people voting in favor for the proposition (15,805)—by far—considering none of the construction sites offered were located in the district.


Pandora’s box?

Aside from housing, future bond proposals could also include what officials described as economic development projects.

Such projects, according to Houston and Segovia, could be:

» providing some kind of incentive to lure a corporation

» a relief package for small businesses suffering from crises such as the current pandemic

City attorneys have argued repeatedly that San Antonio is only undoing a restriction it placed on itself in 1997, when there was backlash against local dollars being spent to build the Alamodome.

During a recent Housing Commission meeting, commissioner Sarah Sanchez, who serves as the executive vice president at the San Antonio Economic Development Foundation, said recruiting corporations would ultimately make housing more affordable by lifting up wages.

"The ability for San Antonio to attract and compete for jobs is highly important to creating affordable housing in San Antonio," Sanchez said. "That basically rises the tide, increases income levels and the ability to afford housing, so to speak."

"It is a smart move and helps San Antonio to be more competitive."


The Alazan Courts taken on Feb. 3, 2021. Ben Olivo | Heron

Helping SAHA

Now under new leadership, the San Antonio Housing Authority (SAHA) has said it wants to maintain the current number of public housing units (an about-face from the previous administration’s policy) and even expand the total. It also said it wants to self-develop, meaning it would not seek to partner with an outside developer.

It’s still unclear what the funding sources will be, although SAHA expects federal housing dollars to become more available under the Biden administration.

Locally, housing advocates have asked whether the charter amendment would allow for city dollars to go toward SAHA’s federally-owned public housing stock.

City officials are optimistic.

The change to the charter, which is currently an impediment, would certainly open up the possibility. The only hurdle would be the section of the city charter (Article I, Section 3, Paragraph 5) that addresses urban development, which prohibits the city from transferring property to housing authorities. Officials believe San Antonio would have the option to fund the rehabilitation of housing SAHA already owns.

"If SAHA owns a property and they need assistance with the rehab of that property or public improvements from that property, we would seek an opinion from the (Texas attorney general) because we believe this provides the flexibility to do that," Houston told the council.


Why now?

Houston and Segovia told the City Council and Housing Commission recently that the charter would have to be changed this year, in order to open up the language and thus the options for the next bond vote, which could happen in May 2022. The city’s charter review committee had eyed such a change in recent years, but it didn’t make any recommendations because charter proposals added by the the firefighter’s union petition took up the committee’s bandwidth.

"We can only have changes to the city charter every two years," Segovia said. "Actually, given the timing of when the firefighter petition changes were passed, the earliest we can make a change to the city charter is this coming May."

"If there is really any hope of having a robust housing area for our bond projects and our upcoming bond elections, we have to get it changed in the city charter this May," he said.

Many have expressed concern that such a change, which usually goes through a months-long public input process via the city charter review committee, is being fast-tracked.

"I also was wondering why the charter review commission wasn't reconvened," said Jessica O. Guerrero, who serves as chairwoman of the Housing Commission. "I understand the timeline was rushed, especially this last year, presented challenges. I just see this as a such a big critical step in continuing to invest in the goals of the Mayor’s Housing Policy Task Force, that the Housing Commission is charged with oversight of … that process set new precedent in public participation … and this process for amending the language disrupts that progress."

It’s unclear who generated the idea of changing the charter at this time. Many of the City Council members seemed surprised that they had to decide whether to place the amendment on the upcoming ballot, a concept that was presented to some council members late last year. The Housing Commission also seemed unaware of the potential change.

In an email, the Heron asked Houston and NHSD Director Vero Soto who from the city generated the idea. They did not respond.


On Feb. 11, the City Council overwhelmingly approved in a 10-1 vote to place the charter amendment on the May 1 ballot. Here’s how they voted.

» Roberto Treviño, District 1 — y
» Jada Andrews-Sullivan, District 2 — y
» Rebecca Viagran, District 3 — y
» Adriana Rocha Garcia, District 4 — y
» Shirley Gonzales, District 5 — y
» Melissa Cabello Havdra, District 6 — y
» Ana Sandoval, District 7 — y
» Manny Pelaez, District 8 — y
» John Courage, District 9 — y
» Clayton Perry, District 10 — n


[ninja_tables id="21439"]

Setting It Straight: An earlier version of this article misidentified Clayton Perry's district. It's District 10.

Heron Editor Ben Olivo can be reached at 210-421-3932 | | @rbolivo on Twitter

Dirt that will eventually become The Legacy at Alazan mixed-income apartments abuts the Alazan Courts near El Paso and South Colorado streets. Photo by Ben Olivo | Heron

From an outsider’s perspective, the apparent sudden shift in the San Antonio Housing Authority’s approach to redeveloping the Alazan Courts came as a shock.

For more than three years, SAHA’s plan, which had been blasted by housing advocates, called for the demolition of the 80-year-old public housing community sprawled across 26 acres just west of downtown, and having it replaced with mixed-income apartments. Many of the 1,200 residents, whose average income is $8,700, would have been given the Section 8 voucher and with it the chance to live in a better neighborhood, even though roughly 58% of voucher holders, by SAHA’s own estimate, are not able to find new housing.

Then came a change at the top. SAHA CEO and President David Nisivoccia left Jan. 6 to become the top executive at Denver’s housing agency. Replacing him the next day in the interim was Ed Hinojosa Jr., who previously served as SAHA’s chief financial officer.

Two weeks later, a much different plan emerged: Not only would SAHA maintain the Alazan Court’s 501 public housing units, it would do so by keeping residents on site.

Big picture, whereas the previous SAHA administration—and administrations before it—sought to demolish the city’s remaining public housing stock, and replace it with mixed-income developments that offered some market-rate housing, an urban renewal strategy introduced by President Clinton, Hinojosa now intends to reverse the nationwide trend and preserve, then expand public housing in San Antonio.

Hinojosa insists the new direction is one the agency has been crafting for months, one that was cemented when Joe Biden won the election in November, thus shifting the federal government’s role in public housing in the U.S. in a more progressive direction. Couple the philosophical change in Washington, D.C., with economic hardships brought on by the pandemic, and it was time for SAHA to change course at Alazan, Hinojosa said.

"What’s different today than a year ago is just that: the impact of unemployment on the housing market, the impact of people losing their wages and not being able to pay rent, and the eviction moratoriums … which I think would never have been imagined a year ago," Hinojosa said. "All of those factors sort of coming together, and us really being concerned about the impact on our residents, many of whom are behind on their rent."

Hinojosa said nearly 300 households at Alazan Courts are behind on their rent. The only thing keeping them in place is the national eviction moratorium for federal properties. "And rightfully so," he said in a recent interview.

Had the previous plan been kept, and those residents in arrears eventually took their chances with a Section 8 voucher, out in the free market, beyond the protections afforded to them as residents of public housing, it may have been impossible to find a landlord willing to take them in as tenants.

Kayla Miranda, who lives at the nearby Apache Courts, which SAHA considers part of the same property as Alazan, said families who live in public housing who make $50 to $100 a week couldn’t afford a Section 8 voucher, anyway, and that the previous SAHA administration was setting them up for failure.

"If they get a house … they're not going to be able to afford to pay water, trash, sewer, and their rent," said Miranda, who began fighting SAHA’s eviction policy in 2019 when she was threatened with an avalanche of fees from policies Nisovoccia later admitted, when pressed by the city’s Housing Commission, were excessive. "They don’t have the protections that public housing residents have. It was falling on deaf ears before. At least now … they listened to our comments."

Before the philosophical change, Nisivoccia said the housing authority would be working with residents in arrears, and who might have other blemishes on their leasing record, to better their chances of finding a place. CREDIT SCORES. /// But even Olga Kauffman, a healthcare consultant who sits on SAHA’s board of commissioners, and who aided Wheatley Courts residents in their transition before that East Side public housing community was demolished and replaced with the mixed-income East Meadows a few years ago, cast serious doubt on the strategy.

. . .

This story’s nutgraph

Why should anyone outside of the West Side care about what happens at the Alazan Courts? Because Alazan and Apache, and San Antonio’s other remaining public housing communities—Cassiano and Lincoln, also on the West Side—compose the last remaining public housing stock, which houses San Antonio’s most vulnerable families. Alazan, in particular, because it’s the oldest of the remaining communities, is ground zero for the debate on whether San Antonio should de-concentrate PUBLIC HOUSING


"In public housing, 250,000 units have been rebuilt as mixed-income," Hinojosa said. "So we’ve lost 250,000 public housing units in the last 20 years as a nation."

In San Antonio, an estimated 6,000 public housing units—Alazan, Apache, Cassiano and Lincoln—remaining today, while 40,000 people sit on SAHA’s public housing waiting list, Hinojosa said.

In a level of candor not shown by the previous administration, Hinojosa described the housing that SAHA was helping to build, through partnerships with for-profit developers, as not public housing, but close to it. Although SAHA provides families with vouchers tied to specific properties, to help bring rent closer to their income levels, Hinojosa described apartments for people making 30% of the area median income as "not public housing, REST OF THE QUOTE."

The Section 8 voucher waiting list is almost as bad.
/// Hinojosa says SAHA issues roughly 50 vouchers a month, and that 58% or so are able to find new housing. For Hinojosa, the numbers of the original plan weren’t quite adding up. In the first phase, SAHA would have relocated 250 residents. MORE MORE MORE????
/// The waiting list for a housing voucher, which has been closed for several years, stands at around 8,000. SAHA officials said they’’l. open up the waiting list soon.

. . .


REWORD —— As far as the new direction goes,
REWORD —— The optics appeared as simple as one CEO out, another steps in. For the San Antonio Housing Authority (SAHA), one CEO left, another took over, and there was a sudden shift in direction. Perhaps one that housing advocates would consider more humane.
Cha Guzman and her letter

Aside from public housing, Hinojosa is now addressing many of the issues advocacy groups, such as a group of vocal SAHA residents and the Esperanza Peace & Justice Center, have chided the housing authority on in recent years.

??? ??? — It also signaled a less adversarial response to its critics, who used the slogan "people over profit" as an objection against the agency’s strong push to partner with for-profit developers on housing that was predominately market-rate or close to it.

For example, Hinojosa said any future partnership with for-profit developers must include some percentage of public housing, or close to it. He also addressed the CUSTOMER SERVICE< MAINTENANCE ISSUES And yet, one can’t ignore the change in tone . . . David Nisivoccia Seemingly all of the issues housing advocates and SAHA residents complained to Nisivoccia about But interim SAHA CEO Ed Hinojoa Jr. begs to differ on that assessment. /// Q: The pandemic has been going on for almost a year, and I hear you on all the points you made, but a lot of folks are going to point out the fact that David Nisivoccia left. You come in and now there’s a new direction for this property that had been very contentious before. Can you speak to that? A: No, I think one other factor that happened is the Georgia elections. When we learned of the result of the Georgia elections, and the Democrats taking control of the Senate, I think in all housing authorities’ minds across the nation, that single event helped changed the funding environment and the outlook for funding in our industry. So today the discussions in Washington, D.C., are about expansion of public housing. There’s something being called the Green New Deal for Public Housing … on a large scale of reinvestment in public housing. That’s being driven by (Sen.) Bernie Sanders and promoted by Congresswoman (Alexandria) Ocasio-Cortez. And what I would say is because of the change of control of Senate, Bernie Sanders will be the budget committee's chair for the Senate. I really think that completely changes the outlook from a few weeks ago. COME BACK new developments to have public housing also address maintenance and customer service housing as a human right

. . .

To demolish or not


Although the tone has changed from adversarial to cordial, housing activists and West Side preservationists aren’t completely on board with the new plan.

SAHA intends to demolish and rebuild the Alazan Courts over phases that would span many years. Hinojosa said the barracks-style units are in too bad shape to rehab, which is what preservationists prefer????.

"I toured the units ... the bathrooms are small and substandard by today’s standards, and very industrial looking," he said. "The rooms are small. The closet and storage space is small. The unit I went into had a space underneath the stairwell; in fact the stairwell is very steep and narrow. There was a space underneath the stairwell made to accommodate the washing machine, and also halfway in that space and halfway in the living room there was a manhole cover. And the manhole cover was used to access underneath the homes, the plumbing and electrical. Those just aren’t today’s standards, and we really think that our residents deserve better than that. So our intention would be to demolish and rebuild based on today’s standard with proper amenities."

SAHA is currently building a mixed-income community adjacent to Alazan Courts called The Legacy at Alazan, which will be able to house some of the residents who will have to move before demolition begins. SAHA is also considering building housing on the baseball field on the Apache side of Guadalupe Street, which bisects the two communities.
/// 40 units of public housing
/// Apache 200 units

"We would use that for staging people so they can move out as we rebuild certain sections," he said.

"What we’re going to do first is engage our residents in the process and see what works for them," he said.

Leticia Sanchez, a West Side activists and co-chair of the Historic Westside Residents Association, said she was relieved when she learned SAHA intends to keep Alazan’s residents on the site. "We just didn’t want to lose our residents, and we also didn’t want our schools and churches to be affected by the loss of our community members," she said.

But she also cast concern about SAHA’s plan to demolish the circa-1940 buildings, which preservationists say are part of the West Side’s cultural identity.

"It just seems always we have people with money come in and tear down buildings and structures that, even though they may not appear to be in great condition and meaningful to anyone else, they do mean a lot to our community," said Sanchez, who’s also a member of the Westside Preservation Alliance. "It’s a blow to us to hear that SAHA still plans to raze them."


and then also as a person who lieves in a green comm,. and not just me, our association hates waste, we want money to be well spent, and we know that it’s more expensive to tear down, remove and build a new structure, we want saha to consider rehabilitating the buildings because structures like that arne’t made any more as we see with the Garden at San Juan, they have only been around for 6 years and already they show major signs of ware. and that’s just because construciton isn’t made the way it used to nbe. the materials that were used are not long lasting, and so we don’t want there to be more destruction in that it would cost more money. oh now we have to talk about moving people again, because the structure is falling apart.


"I’m grateful that we’re not going to lose our residents, but at the same time it’s not the big win we were hoping for," Sanchez said.

It’s unclear whether housing advocacy in this city has reached the height that it has in modern times. Certainly, when the Wheatley Courts were being demolished, that plan didn’t
San Juan
Victoria Courts

. . .


Hinojosa declined to give a timetable for when Alazan would be completed. By all accounts, it will be a process that will space many years.

"Our main concern is the residents and not displacing residents outside of Alazan, so that they stay in the community," Hinojosa said. "At this point I don’t know if the reconstruction will occur in groups of 15 units, 60 units, 70 units. A lot of that is going to drive the timeline—how big of a piece we can manage—and we want to work through that with our residents."




they have not presented an alternative, but that alternative does depend very heavilty on the new admin to support public housing
and it will eventually depend very heaivluy on the city to subsidize it as well


PP —— Green New Deal

While preservationists like Sanchez are only somewhat satisfied with the new direction, others like District 5 Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales are completely against it. Gonzales, who will term out this May after four consecutive terms as the near West Side’s council representative, pointed to SAHA’s push for the redevelopment of Alazan; originally the agency was trying to land a Choice Neighborhood grant, an program under President Obama that sought to de-concentrate public housing and replace it with mixed-income communities, but in a more humane way by providing social workers for those being displaced, and services inside the new communities for lower-income families.

"You know that this project was a very long time in the making, and I believe one of the reasons why it was ever even considered was since I got on the council, I’ve been putting a lot of pressure on SAHA to improve the living conditions of the people who are living at Alazan Courts."

"The new products SAHA is building bare beautiful and modern and having that level of quality in a product is very uplifting for people."


GONZALES /// those things about people being very much in arreas is not new
that’s not new information, we know that people that are in very poor situations are often in aarreas with all of their bills
i think that was always presented, the extent of the poverty
people in those situations are
but keeping them poor and keeping them in substandard housing, that doesn’t revolve anything, that just continues to perpetuate the issue

that particular model, of concentrating poor people

we do have to have some way of getting mixed incomes

that was part of the model


Q: If I could also say, what’s happening nationally is a change in conversation about public housing. If you talk with Dr. Christine Drennon from Trinity University (director of the urban studies program) she will say that this philosophy of de-concentrating poverty was a process that started in the '90s and for over 20 years, we as a country believed that it was best to put poor people with others of different income levels.

There’s new evidence—Christine is more an expert at this than I am—that suggests that that theory that started in the late '90s was inaccurate and was a faulty assumption. And today, the growing belief is that the most important thing is housing stability. For an individual that’s poor and perhaps their family’s in crisis, the best thing for them is housing stability, not the location of the housing.

And that’s what will help them achieve some sort of stability in their lives and be able to improve their lives, based on that conversation that’s changing nationally, and locally. And I think that’s kind of the backdrop of one of the other factors that’s playing into the decision here.




and this model of concentrated poverty just doesn’t exist anymore

the fed gvt in decades hasn’t funded a project that concentrates poverty in one area

of course ive had a relationship with saha all these years, sometimes contentious but always open

i have never met ed hinojosa

then the new chairperson, . . . who should be ont he board, i just felt like without consulting anyone, in ternally, they made this executive decsion which they have the full auhtoryt to do, tbu it’s just not the way i expected coperation to happen


i feel like it was a haste decision by the board and by the chair, and by the director, after many many years of trying to get specifically the alazan courts to a standard of living that people can be proud of

it has caused me a trenemdous amoutn of heartache
tormentend by this decvision
i felt like we were on the right path


GONZALES /// displacing anybody for any reason is going to be very traumtic, and we’re goig to have to support them during that transition.

i think that’s really important, one of the things that has to be mentioned . . . how many people wanted to come back . . .many people with eh voucher, were ok with their new place. i thnk it depends, people i know were given the option to come back

we can learn from what happend at wheatley, it’s been quite a few years now. one of those examples, was building the other propertioes close by so that they could stay in the N, and particularly ikn the schools. esp we know that alazan has a lot of families, and those families could stay in the same school if they wanted to

???? gentrification


/// 70% of all building in th district, that’s housing, office, residential, MF, was built before 1970. if you want to move into my district, you really have very few options. i think that’s a very important as we’re tryig to dev other buildings. other development. we do want people that have a cvhoice to come live here too. i really believed in the model that we were working on. it’s not perfect, but at least we were heading in a direcito to support individuals for a better quality of life



they made a decision based on what i blieve was pressure from activists, the majority of whom don’t live there.

HER PROGRAMS — addressing gentrification

. . .

Other directives

Hinojosa said SAHA is now committed to maintaining the public housing at SAHA’s other communities, such as Cassiano and Lincoln.

"Yes, we’re committed to our residents and think it’s going to be an important factor at both of those locations," he said.

In recent years, SAHA has taken some heat for partnering with for-profit developers

developers tax breaks


Q: What about other partnerships that the housing authority has pursued. There’s the one with the Lynd Company near the Pearl. The St. John’s Square in which David knew the developer because they both lived at the Steel House Lofts. What’s the future of these types of public-private partnerships?

A: Let me separate the transactions where we have residents like Alazan, Lincoln and Cassiano, as you also mentioned. Those properties as you know have to all be improved and reinvested in. The approach we’re taking with Alazan is very important to us. It’s very important for us to protect our residents and prevent their displacement outside of the area. And I hadn’t mentioned this before, there’s also an initiative by the mayor’s office, an anti-displacement policy that has been drafted, and it’s being circulated for comment. It’s also coming into play with our thinking.

That’s one kind of deal where we have residents and we don’t want to displace anybody.

The other transactions you mentioned are new construction that’s going in on vacant land. We very much value the partnerships we have with Lynd Co., NRP, at St. John’s Square. And those will all bring additional affordable housing to San Antonio. Those transactions are different in that they are not displacing people.

Q: Some of those are PFC deals where developers are getting a full property tax exemption. Is SAHA going to continue those types of agreements where half is market-rate and the other half is 80% AMI, maybe a little bit of 60%?

A: I think what you’ll see is SAHA going to push to get more public housing created in any new transactions that we pursue. Our public housing inventory is about 6,000 units, including Alazan. We believe there’s a tremendous need in San Antonio. There’s a law called the Faircloth Amendment that only allows us to rebuild public housing, which we’ve removed. Under that law, we can build another 1,800 units of public housing. So we will pursuing all avenues to increase the amount of public housing in San Antonio. That’s what we’re going to be asking in new transactions, in new deals that come forward.

There’s also a discussion nationally of repealing the Faircloth Amendment, and providing better funding to enable it to come to fruition. We’re going to be watching that very closely as well.

Q: SAHA moving away from partnering???

A: In any new deals, we would try to put public housing into them. Refugion,
just south of hemisfair
it has i believe 40 units of public housing.
About a 200 unit complex
Rest is affordable
You’ll see we’ll try to insert

Q: Refugio done at expense of Victoria Courts, Done along time ago.
Before you were saying, the public housing that exists now
On new construction, on land that is current vacant or unused
You want to incorporate public housing

A: That will be how we change the new deals coming out.

Q: Do you think developers will go for that?

A: You’re right, but up to now we’ve been pushing for 30% units which are not exactly like public housing but serve many of the same clientele as public housing. Many of our current developers already have and allow section 8 vouchers into their developments. Those individuals with vouchers can be 30%, 40%, 50% income level individuals. I dont’ think they would be opposed to the concept.

Q: Lynd partnership.
If that development will accept the Seciton 8 voucher

A: It’s my understanding that all of our dev accept section 8 vouchers. I’d have to look into that, but that’s generally what we require

Q: 8:45

A lot of complaints leveled toward saha, having to do with living conditions.

A: Two things

I had a meeting with a group of tenants on Friday, the intention was to listen to their concerns. There are concerns raised about maintenance. It’s a whole separate discussion. At the time, ??? started going toward mixed-income communities, that philosophy 20 years ago, there was also push to defund public housing that started at the same time. It was an effort to push housing authorities into another model. So, over the last 20-25 years, we have been severely underfunding both on operations and on capital investment, and I think that factor is changing under the current discussions in Washington. The discussions that are happening are that public housing should be fully funded, voucher funding should be increased significantly. And the capital backlog that is $70B across the country should be completely funded. That’s another factor we hadn’t talked about. I’m optimistic that the funding situation is going to change quickly and that will enable us to address many of the maintenance issues. A lot of them are money based. Some are pandemic based. Because of the pandemic we are only responding to emergency work orders ….. 12:00

The other issue of customer service we need to continue to address.

Within saha, and at a national level, we keep hearing that housing is a human right, and as an org we believe that, and so internally we are starting a discussion about that and what it means for us and our opertiaons

You asked about eh beaucraticness

Some of our procedures were put in place 20 years ago, we need to revisit all of that

When we do it in the context of housing as a human right we think it’s giving us the proper context.



"I’m much more supportive of Ed’s," Guzman said.

“On a good year, we receive $13 million a year (from HUD) for our full portfolio,” he said. “Once you strip away some soft costs and a loan the agency took out on that program years ago, we have about $7-$8 million to spread across 6,000 public housing units. If you take the average cost of wanting to renovate or fix up versus redevelop, about $100,000 per unit, at 500 units: that’s $50 million. That would be about 10 full years of our capital fund program and ignoring the rest of our portfolio. I want all the residents to know and understand: We’re not ignoring Alazan. It’s just a financial challenge. … The deterioration of Alazan has been happening over 20-30 years.”

. . .

SAHA leadership

brought on the question: who runs SAHA

Hinojosa response

What Nisivoccia said …



i developed this with him. This is a dev that the board and staff kind of seeing how we really had not given the comm a view of what the new alazan would look like, that we thought we needed to rethjink it, and give them a better view on . . .we also came to the determination that it really needed to be 500 units instead of less. and that, there’s enough low income comm that we needed to keep them low income, i thnk that the staff was listening to the comm, theboard was listening to the comm, and we jept kind of really taking to heart and trying to understand and see if there was any way that we could change it, and the only way to change it was to not go through with nrp as th eplans had been estabnlished. and modified in a way that would cost more money but would respohnd to the comm better.

if i can remember, i would tell you, but i think ed is much more ammeanable to rethinking and ed began meeting with the comm right after david left and kind of began to understandf how important this was. i htink ed being open to what the comm was saying and me being worried at not having listened, and then our meeting, we just said, ok



we need new building that will focus on safety, on the children being safe.

and so, theyre still not going to be happy with us

i’m so very happy. i dont think they understdoo

we’re going to bjuild one building a sample building so that alazan apache comm see what they’re getting before we start razing any of the buildings, so that they see, we thjought that would really make a difference. uinderstanding our comm has been promised a lot, and many peopoe have come short from their promises, we understand why we aren’t being believed that this is going to be a beautiful safe comm for the alazan residents. if we build a sample building, then they will see what’s coming for them

and i think that will raise their trust and move some of the comm into the new building as they move out from the old units

we thought that would be a better approach.


i just think studying the situation gave us a greater understanding of how we needed to go about it. i think really, kind of pinpointing, what are the things that we need to change. there are multiple crosspoints, and so ed is the money guy. he was the cfo for 12 years, and ed said, we can afford this dr guzman, it was jiust kind of sitting with the staff and gaining a broader understanding of what we could do. and i think just kind of being able to study things, helped us come to a better understanding ofg what we shoudl be doing

i really do think that ed has made a huge difference

there was a call in, they called in,

Sofia Lopez

called in, and said how happy she was that she had changed, and some of the other people called in, i just, as chair of saha, i try to listen, but let the staff dicsuss, because that’s their responsibillity more than mine. i htink mine is more listening


that’s why we’re not coming off, we are not chanigng our mind in the most important thing, and the most important thing is that the children and famlies of alazan get a place that they feel proud of living in and that can be safe for them, and that can be comfortable for them, which is not now

and we researched anmd beyond the doubt there is no way to make those safe and comfortable for the children and the parents

so what we tried to do is listen to the groups, and then listen to the alazan residents hwo in my estimation are the most important because they know what it is like to live there. and some up witht the things that make sense, just devoted to low income and now have the rent levels. have more units rather than less units. the things that the groups were suggesting made sense. we adipted, mainly more units, and low income, those two things made tremendous sense to us in thinking it through


JUNE COMMENTS — The purpose of SAHA is to house the poor.

seemingly the shift

im not sure, i thnk that in
i had just joined the board
as i have seen saha, and i have studied rthe needs of san antonio, i too have grown, and that’s what i always try to do, i walsys try to learn as i’m working, because i think it’s important, and i do still believe that our main mission is to house the poor. and i believe that the biden admin and i am a yellow dog democratic to the end, you must understand, i thin kthat the trump admin may have given options to david’s way of doig it, but it hinkt hte research also has shown that in fact the low income, there’s so much homelessnes than thtere used to be and there’s such great need that we really need to concentrate on the needs.

the more we know,we may be changing some of the ways things were being done because were utilizing informtation and the believe of a new admin as guidepoints, and that’s what i . . . i mean an institution that doesn’t grow and learn is an institition that will die

we want to be the kind of institution that will grow and learn, and that causes changes.

we’re working hard and i think that
i have great hope for this new admin, to kind of understand the needs of the homeless and poor, and to help grow more housing in the u.s. not jkust in san antonio.

Q: scathing letter

A: i talked with graciela a couple of weeks ago, g sanchez from esperanza. And she brought up the letter to me. I was not aware of it before except what i had read in the news. It was in the news, and so I was just tangentially aware of it

We were meeting about other issues, and i mentioned to you that i’m listen to our comm
Listen to her concerns about alazan
I basically told her, it wouldn’t have gotten to that point with me, we would have been able to just pick up the phone and talk to each other.


Q: I have to push back in that there are people who believe the complete opposite of what you’re saying. I would put David Nisivoccia in that category. Again, this new direction is a complete 180 from what he was proposing. I guess I would just ask you again, is this as simple as (Nisivoccia), when he was CEO, thought of Hope VI and Obama’s Choice neighborhoods as the way to go, and now you’re coming in and you agree with the opposite approach?

A: I think maybe you’re reading a little more into it. I’ll tell you this work on Alazan started a year and a half ago, and that was before Covid. That was before the economic crisis. That was before these discussions about public housing and increasing the inventory of public housing were happening. It was also before some of these discussions about whether de-concentration is better than not having concentration. All of those factors are happening. And if you ask me, I’m working with a futurist on another project. What I’ve learned from him is that these times of crisis, whether it’s the pandemic or the economic crisis or the unemployment crisis, because people are unable to pay their rent, all of these things come together and they accelerate change at a rate that is faster than what would normally happen.

I think I can answer your questions this way: It was going to happen anyway. But the fact that all of these factors sort of put pressure on change maybe caused it to happen quicker.

Q: And you’re saying these conversations were happening before David left SAHA?

A: Yeah, and you know the board—I don’t know if people realize, but the committee was still deliberating on (Alazan Courts). There were no decisions made by the committee prior to David leaving. They ran 60 or 70 different forecasts about how to structure the deal. And so we live in interesting times. I keep reminding myself a year ago: Who would have thought about a rent moratorium?

Yes, but had Nisivoccia not left for Denver, would this new direction still be happening?

"Yeah, I think we’d still be having those same conversations," Hinojosa said. "I don’t doubt it."

/// /// /// NOTES ///
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Timeline for the Gardens at San Juan
when were they demolished, when were they rebuilt?

Victoria Commons

are there others???

spreadsheet with the developments

501 units
1,238 residents

184 units
599 residents

6,092 total number of public housing units
13,137 total number of public housing tenants (as of yesterday, Nov. 17)

Wheatley Park Senior Living - occupied @ 93.75%
44 units @ 60%AMI
28 units @ 50%AMI
8 units @ 30%AMI
80 Total Units

East Meadows II still remains under construction.

Park At Sutton Oaks - occupied @ 88.46%
46 units @ Market
88 units @ 60% AMI
25 units @ 50% AMI
49 units @ 30% AMI
208 Total Units

Gardens at San Juan Square - occupied @ 92.06%
189 units @ 60% AMI
63 units @ 30% AMI
252 Total Units

a move that was announced in early November.





I started writing about the plan in 2017, when SAHA was attempting to redevelop San Antonio's oldest public housing stock under the U.S. Choice Neighborhood grant program. Conceived under President Obama, the program was intended as a more humane way of razing concentrations of public housing, and replacing them with mixed-income developments. But the way SAHA handled the conversion of Wheatley Courts into the mixed-income East Meadows on the East Side a few years prior—which, to date, has been San Antonio's only Choice redevelopment—rankled many housing observers. Many characterized Wheatley Courts residents as being displaced by the redevelopment and scattered across the city, sometimes finding themselves in worse situations than they had been in at Wheatley. SAHA later admitted uprooting those households at once was a mistake. Only about a fifth of the 248 households returned to live in the new digs at East Meadows.

Other public housing communities, such as Victoria Courts and the San Juan Homes, were also razed and redeveloped into newer mixed-income communities in the last 20 years.

The Alazan Courts strategy would be different, SAHA said. The agency proposed to demolish the 31 units and rebuild in phases, which would allow residents presumably the chance to occupy some of the newer-built SAHA housing nearby on the West Side while a new community was gradually going up on the Alazan site. Or, residents could take their chances with a voucher. Housing advocates said the move still amounted to displacement, because of the impact it would have on fragile low-income families. The strategy to de-concentrate public housing was embraced by former SAHA President and CEO David Nisivoccia, who often clashed with housing activists over how best to redevelop Alazan. The activists said Alazan should be rehabbed, not demolished. In early January, Nisivoccia left SAHA to become the chief executive at the Denver Housing Authority. New at the helm is interim SAHA President and CEO Ed Hinojosa Jr., who has completely changed the strategy for Alazan.

Now the plan is for SAHA to self-develop Alazan, while keeping residents in on the site. This means SAHA has disengaged with developer NRP Group on the project.

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Heron Editor Ben Olivo can be reached at 210-421-3932 | | @rbolivo on Twitter


especially . . . since tirz are being used for more than infrastructure

use a blank

People sleep against the Aztec Theatre in subfreezing temperatures in the early morning hours of Monday, Feb. 15. Photo by Ben Olivo | Heron

Days before the wintry mix began pounding San Antonio early last week, the city's homeless outreach groups mobilized. In downtown, a coalition of specialists and volunteers canvassed the streets and warned those exposed to the elements that temperatures would fall to single digits, below zero with the wind.

One of them was Raymond Martinez, 63, who I met Monday morning on a snow-covered East Commerce Street near the Aztec Theatre. He said he had spent the night with about five or six others who had cocooned themselves inside blankets on the sidewalk next to the Aztec as snow fell relentlessly, and he expressed frustration when I asked him what it was like.

"It's been an ugly experience," said Raymond, who was shrouded in a white blanket while returning to his spot. Around him, people in clean clothes and with a much different outlook on the snow and the cold walked up and down Commerce. "I only got one blanket. I'm 63 years old, and I don't know what to do no more. It's hard, because people have no compassion (to) get you a cup of coffee or a hot meal."

Raymond Martinez, 63, slept on a sidewalk overnight Sunday into Monday morning, Feb. 15, during the snow fall. Photo by Ben Olivo | Heron

A man named Carlos, who looked to be Raymond's friend, and who was also swaddled in blankets, interrupted the interview.

"Since you're reporting, my name is Carlos," he said, coughing several times before finishing his sentence. "What I want to ask you for … if you can help us out with a little change."

I had a couple of $1 bills and offered one each to Raymond and Carlos. Carlos took his, and Raymond told me to give his to Carlos. Then the interview continued. I wanted to know why they decided to stay on the streets when emergency shelters were opening up, including at some churches. He said he didn't want to go to Haven for Hope because of the rules, although the shelter had suspended many of them due to the crisis.

"Have for Hope is good, but they have a lot of restrictions," he said. "Like say if you forgot your mask, they'll put their ass in your face, 'Put on your damn mask' … Get out of my face like that. What's wrong with you, man? Attitudes. Shit like that."

He continued.

"I guess every man has his own mind and what to do in whatever condition of weather it is. I decided to stay out here, because I had nobody to take me nowhere else. I had no other choice, but to freeze my ass. I'm lucky I'm still alive."

Valerie Salas, Christian Assistance Ministry's (CAM) director of homeless services, was one of several outreach specialists who had been warning those on the streets that temperatures would dip well below freezing three days before it did.

"We've been outreaching since we heard about this front coming, letting them know how bad it's going to get, and I don't think they were really believing it until it hit last night," Salas said on Monday in the basement of Travis Park Church, where she was helping Corazón Ministries, a nonprofit that operates from the church, shelter folks that afternoon.

"There’s definitely places they can go, other churches, but it wasn't until last night, until they were making last minute (decisions), 'OK, we're getting snowed on.' "

Travis Park Church, 230 E. Travis St., opened as an emergency shelter last week. Photo by Ben Olivo | Heron

Travis Park Church was one of a handful of downtown emergency shelters that opened before the freezing weather pummeled San Antonio.

Corazón Ministries usually services 800 homeless people a week through warm meals, doctor check ups, among other services. Pastor Gavin Rogers likened the effort last week to that of a hurricane shelter, but said the outreach becomes stigmatized when it's focussed on the homeless population.

"That's unfortunate, because really we should have the same resources as a hurricane (shelter)," Rogers said on Monday as backpacks and other personal belongings sat next to empty cots in the sleeping area. They were empty because the sheltered were upstairs watching a movie, "The Help," while volunteers sanitized the space. "Unfortunately, this hurricane is cold and only basically affects people in extreme poverty and homelessness, and that's a challenge we're all guilty of understanding, including myself."

Rogers made those comments Monday afternoon, not knowing hundreds of thousands of San Antonians would be without power for much of the week. He was a member of one of several outreach teams that also included nonprofits Church Under the Bridge, Life Restored Church, and Last Chance Ministries, in coordination with the City of San Antonio’s Department of Human Services.

"We went to everyone of those sleeping bags last night and nights before," Rogers said. Many came in on those nights before the first snow fell. Others called in the middle of the night, when temperatures became unbearable, when they were ready to come in.

Still, others declined the help.

"They don't want to leave their environment," Salas said. "They'd rather be out there. They want to actively drink by the hour. They want to actively use. And those are things … although there are barriers that these emergency shelters do not have that other places had before, even with that leniency and freedom, they just don't want to leave their environment."

Valerie Salas of Christian Assistance Ministry surveys downtown streets on Thursday. Photo by Ben Olivo | Heron

When I asked Salas, 38, to describe what she does …

"What I do? Are you sure? Did you bring a helmet?," she said on Thursday half-jokingly.

That morning, Salas was assaulted by a homeless man she knew. He was high, and the church was already at capacity. She wanted to give him a jacket, because he had none.

"He does this boxing-in-the-air thing, which is fine, and then I walked back outside because I was bothered that he was only wearing a sweatshirt," she said. "So I was like, 'Here, just, at least take a jacket.' Let's figure this out type of thing. And that was stupid, because he just got the brick and chunked it at me."

The man took off yelling.

"Basically, I don't have a life and I just drive around trying to save people," Salas said three days after I met her at the church and what had been, for Salas, a full week of transporting people while operating on little sleep. When she wasn't driving around engaging with the homeless, she was at Travis Park Church helping run the shelter. "I love the mentally ill. They fascinate me, and I just want to spend the rest of my live with them. That's kind of it in a nutshell."

Salas, a mother of two, was homeless about eight years ago. Haven for Hope is where she got sober after enrolling in their treatment program. That was in 2013. She stayed for three days and would have stayed longer, but she found a sponsor who took her in.

A couple of years later, she started working at a downtown law firm and on her lunch breaks, would come downstairs to talk to the homeless.

"I was just so fascinated by them," Salas said while patrolling East Commerce during the second snow fall. "I was fascinated by their stories. I was fascinated that they don't want help. I was trying to tell them, because I had just come out of Haven, come to Haven. You can be saved. And they didn't want it. I was fascinated by that."

Some of her friends in recovery got jobs at Centro San Antonio, and she'd walk over to check on them to "make sure that they're working their program, and if they needed support," Salas said. "I was naturally outreaching."

Salas interrupts her origins story as she drives up to the people squatting next to the Aztec. They've been out in the elements for years, but in freezing temperatures for four days. Salas rolls down the passenger’s window.

"Nicky, Nicky," she says, talking to a woman sitting in blankets, the sidewalk strewn with trash. "Did you change your mind?"

"Nah," Nicky says.

"I'll buy you whatever you want," Salas said. "I love you … OK."

She drives a few feet forward.

"Carlos? Anthony? No?"

"Are you inviting me to your house?," one of the men asks.

"Am I willing to go to any lengths?" Salas says to me. "Let's contemplate this."

She directs her attention to someone else she knows.

"Princess, is that you? Did you change your mind? Do you want to come inside?"

A man shakes his head.

Raymond, the person who was frustrated the morning after the first snow fell, actually came in to Travis Park Church for two nights during the week.

"Raymond did come," Salas says "There was another one we took, Albert … with the legs."

Monday morning, I saw Salas roll up to the Aztec, help a man up from his belongings, and tried to help him walk toward the compact passenger van when he fell to the sidewalk, shivering, and crawled the rest of the way into the vehicle.

"Anyways, that's how I started outreaching, like as a job," she said. "The general manager (at Centro) noticed me … he was like, 'Why do you keep stalking my guys?' I told him I'm just a person in recovery and I lived at Haven with them. They are my brothers in recovery and I just want to make sure they have support."

That was in 2016. She joined Centro's homeless outreach team, doing the work as an employee of Haven for Hope, but contracted through Centro.

Just recently, on Jan. 1, she joined CAM on McCullough Avenue, near the Interstate 37 overpass, which she describes as an emergency room for the homeless. There, the ministry provides clothing, help obtaining an ID card, pays utility bills for families, among other services.

Salas helps a homeless man named Jonathan get into a compact van on the way to Haven for Hope's hotel shelter on Chávez Boulevard on Thursday. Photo by Ben Olivo | Heron

Salas's phone doesn't stop. She's talking to other outreach workers who are spread across the city. A homeless couple is across from an Adult Video Megaplex and the man says he has a broken hip. She’s getting calls about a guy outside a laundromat on the East Side. Earlier in the afternoon, she helped book a room at the Gibbs Hotel on Alamo Plaza for a mother and her son. They had stayed at the Convention Center warming center the night before, but wanted out after the mother's phone was stolen, and she felt she was being threatened by a man who was also staying there.

"This is outreach, boots to the ground," Salas said before circling back around to the Archdiocese of San Antonio's event center on Commerce and Camaron streets, where several people were hanging out on the steps as snow continued to fall.

"I like CAM because I still get to work with the clients. It's direct work with the clients, but it's just a different kind of work. This is out of the norm because of the situation."

She explains the psychology of why people don't want to come in.

"Just substance abuse issues, mental health issues. I don't know what the term would be but anger authority issues where they don't want to follow certain rules, or don't meet the criteria to go into a shelter," she said, "meaning you have to have ID, you have to have a clean UA (urine analysis), which are very real right now because of Covid, before the storm. The intake processes were different before Covid."

Expecting some of the homeless to have a clean urine analysis or an ID is unrealistic for those suffering from alcoholism or mental illness, she said. San Antonio needs a low-barrier shelter, she said. At Centro, where she used to work, they've now employed four homeless outreach workers. The city's Department of Human Services is gearing up to hire a team of outreach workers, as well.

"You can have a million outreach workers, that’d be great," she said, "but where are you going to put them? The mental health services need to expand. There’s just not enough beds."

John Diaz talks to Salas at a laundromat on South Hackberry Street on Thursday. Photo by Ben Olivo | Heron

The man at the laundromat is John Diaz, who used to preach downtown, but has since moved to spots on the East Side. He's ready to come in, but wants to wait for his friend, Vincent, who was sleeping under I-37 on East César E. Chávez Boulevard, next to the Alamodome.

"Mr. Diaz, right? I haven't seen you in forever," Salas said. "So this is where you've been."

"Yes, ma'am. I've been over here on the East Side," Diaz said sitting against the building with a Little Caesars pizza someone had just given him. "I've been here begging for blankets."

"No, it's too cold. Let me take you inside. There’s a couple of options. I can take you to the Convention Center. They're taking a lot of people in. They are serving serving food there. They'll let you stay overnight. Or, I can take you to Haven."

"Oh no."

"Or, I can take you to the hub (the city's Homeless Resource Hub on West Travis Street), which is open until 6. From there, they'll transfer you to Life Restore Church or CUB (Church Under the Bridge). I would suggest I take you to the Convention Center."

"The Convention Center, I think."

But Diaz was waiting for Vincent.

"I'm concerned about my friend, my brother. I ain't going to just go in and leave him out like this."

"I'm concerned about you, too."

Salas writes her number on the pizza box and begs Diaz to call her when he's ready to go to the Convention Center.

As Salas heads back to the van, Diaz begins a mini sermon for the hour.

"There's not a person in this world who doesn't need help. Everybody needs help. Stop being proud."

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Heron Editor Ben Olivo can be reached at 210-421-3932 | | @rbolivo on Twitter

Residents of Granada Homes on South St. Mary's Street receive tacos from Queta Rodriguez (right) and Geremy Landin on Friday morning. Photo by Ben Olivo | Heron

Monday morning, the 170 or so seniors living at the Granada Homes woke up to a snow-covered downtown in their warm apartments. Then the rolling power outages started and the situation turned dire.

For most of the week, the 92-year-old building had power, but no water pressure. The building runs on a boiler system and requires water pressure to create steam that then feeds the heat exchanger. On Friday morning, water pressure in the building was at about 60 pounds per square inch, or PSI. Granada’s system needs 80 PSI to generate heat.

As of last night, water pressure returned, and the Granada, an historic 12-story community for low-income seniors on the River Walk, is slowly getting back to normal.

The Granada Homes, 311 S. St. Mary's St., on Thursday morning just before the second round of snow began to fall. Photo by Ben Olivo | Heron

As the week started, however, it was touch and go for the elderly residents.

Early on, when highways were closed, food deliveries stopped, in particular the weekly commodities drop off from the San Antonio Food Bank. Residents were surviving on what they had in their fridge.

Without water to flush their toilets, residents started packing snow from the third floor terrace overlooking the River Walk into buckets. Some even went down to the river to collect water.

"When you’re in situations like this, and you can’t have all your good things, you improvise … do what you have to do to survive," said Sam Alvarado, 90, a civil rights organizer who’s lived at the Granada since 2012. "In the old days, that’s the way people did it."

Granada residents haul water from the San Antonio River earlier in the week. Photo Courtesy Pat Moreno

Pat Moreno, 64, is one of the youngest residents at the Granada, and Alvarado's friend. She said they usually go out for breakfast, but since the blast hit, the restaurants were closed.

"I was using all my bottled water to wash dishes and to cook," Moreno said. "We got so desperate that we said, 'What are we going to do?' Well, no one is out here helping us, so we have to do it for ourselves. It was desperation."

Moreno, like some others, had electric heaters, so the temperatures in their rooms didn’t drop as low. But others, like Alvarado, slept in chilly conditions for most of the week. Moreno began calling public officials, including Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Calvert, Precinct 4, and requested water, heaters and blankets. Alvarado tapped his friends at the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC).

Sam Alvarado visits Pat Moreno in her apartment on Friday morning. Photo by Ben Olivo | Heron

On Wednesday, bottled water finally arrived courtesy of the Bexar County’s Office of Emergency Management. On Thursday, the hot meals started from various groups and volunteers. On Friday morning, it was chorizo and egg, and potato and egg tacos from the Arizona Cafe on South General McMullen Drive on the West Side.

"They’ve been living on what they had," said Queta Rodriguez, a volunteer who brought in the tacos. "We’re going to try to keep feeding them hot food, and of course, continue to give them water so they don’t have to go out there."

Earlier in the week, residents were given the opportunity to go to the heating center at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center, but most didn’t want to go either because they feared the sleeping conditions’ impact on their frail bodies, or being exposed to Covid-19.

"Because of Covid, we only had two go," said Shane Denn, the Granada's building engineer. "Our average age is like 72. They’re in that most vulnerable area when it comes to Covid."

The Granada, which first opened as the Plaza Hotel in 1928, is owned by San Antonio Building and Construction Trades Council, a local affiliate of D.C.-based AFL-CIO.

Denn said he’s been in touch with public officials throughout the week, as well.

"Most of these big facilities, they run off boilers and chillers," Denn said. "You’re talking about any kind of hotels and apartments, anything of any size."

Volunteers deliver buckets of water Friday morning to the Granada Homes. Photo by Ben Olivo | Heron BEN OLIVO | HERON

The Granada is due for a complete renovation, which could begin in June or July, Denn said. That renovation, which is being done in partnership with local developer Mission DG and the San Antonio Housing Authority (SAHA), will include a complete replacement of the boiler and chiller systems.

The plan is to keep the Granada as senior housing. At a SAHA meeting in October, an agenda packet said that all 249 units would be reserved for "tenants whose incomes average 60% or less" of the area median income.

On Friday morning, as the tacos arrived, the mood among the residents seemed better than it must have been earlier in the week, when they were without relief.

The lobby of the building was chilly, and many residents wore coats or jackets or were covered in blankets.

"It's a big experience for us, because we've never been through something like this," Olivia Lopez said. "And now it's exciting because they're coming, they're blessings to us, and we have everybody helping each other."

"I'm good. I'm blessed. I'm 77."

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San Antonio Housing Authority, Mission DG chosen as partners on $51M Granada Homes rehab (Oct. 11, 2020)

Heron Editor Ben Olivo can be reached at 210-421-3932 | | @rbolivo on Twitter

The Aurora Apartments, 509 Howard St., may soon undergo a renovation.
The Aurora Apartments, 509 Howard St., may soon undergo a renovation. Feb. 10, 2021. Photo by Ben Olivo BEN OLIVO | HERON

Local developer Mitch Meyer wants to build an apartment tower in which to move residents of the low-income Aurora Apartments building so that he can return it to its original use as a hotel.

Meyer is applying for $15 million in federal tax credits from the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs to build the tower, named The Cosmopolitan, a block from the Aurora, in Tobin Hill. He said he’s in talks with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for an agreement ensuring that all 105 Aurora residents would get apartments in the new building at the same rents as before.

Built in 1930 as a luxury hotel, the 10-story Aurora doesn’t have a sprinkler system for its elderly residents. The city has required that all high-rises install sprinkler systems by 2028 after a fire claimed six lives at the Wedgwood senior living tower in Castle Hills in 2014.

“You ever have an old car that you love, but it keeps breaking down?” Meyer said of the Aurora. “These old buildings just get really expensive to operate… It’s really hard to put a sprinkler system in when people live there. I mean, the building is solid concrete.”

Along with the sprinklers, the building needs work done to its roof and its electrical and plumbing systems, as well as its heating and air conditioning, he said.

In 2017, there was a widely-reported bedbug and roach infestation at the building, and it still suffers maintenance problems. Meyer recently had to replace a water boiler after residents went three days without hot water, he said.

“These things happen in old buildings. That’s why we want to build a new one,” he said. “We inspect every week. We do not have bedbugs.”

All residents of the Aurora are elderly and make below 30 percent of the area median income, Meyer said. Their rents are subsidized with HUD housing choice vouchers.

Meyer said that he fears he would have to let his contract with HUD expire if he doesn’t get the tax credits. A spokesperson for HUD didn’t respond to a request for comment.

“If we don’t get the tax credits this year, then (the residents) run the risk of not having a place to live when the contract expires,” he said.

The Cosmopolitan would be built on an empty lot Meyer owns at 311 W. Laurel St. It would\ have a rooftop terrace, a fitness area, a community garden and a dog park, he said.

Architecture firm Gomez Vazquez International has drawn up a design for the project, and Meyer has recruited Joeris General Contractors to build it. All in all, he expects it to cost around $23 million.

Meyer has submitted a pre-application to the TDHCA, said Michael Lyttle, its director of external affairs. The deadline for the full application is March 1. The TDHCA’s governing board will award the tax credits in late July, Lyttle said.

City Council will vote Thursday on whether to support Meyer’s application, along with ten others for separate low-income housing developments across the city.

Meyer has owned the Aurora since 2007. He said he had been “walking down the aisle” with a hotel company about transforming it into a location for their brand before the Covid pandemic upended the hospitality sector.

With the Covid vaccine now being administered, he’s holding out hope that he can still turn the building into a hotel. If not, he thinks it might work as an apartment building, after renovations, though he noted that its floor space is limited, which would make it difficult to position as upscale residential space.

“It would be a boutique motel or something with an extended-stay piece,” he said. “Something a bit more upscale.”


The tips starting coming into the Heron newsroom this week: The pits at Pinkerton's Barbecue are smoking.

Sure enough, a sign on the front doors of the much-hyped barbecue joint from Houston reads "We open Feb. 13."

That is the latest from Pinkerton’s Barbecue, a 5,000-square-foot Hill Country-style barbecue restaurant at the Weston Urban park, along West Travis Street between North Flores and North Main, across from the Frost Tower.

Pinkerton's Barbecue is located in the Weston Urban park.
Pinkerton's Barbecue is due to open this month at the Weston Urban park. Photo by Ben Olivo | Heron

In an interview with the Heron in 2019, Pinkerton’s Barbecue owner Grant Pinkerton described the food as craft-style barbecue. "Man, we have smoked everything," he said. "Everything" translates to prime brisket, beef ribs, pork ribs (glazed or dry), turkey, chicken and pulled pork. Pinkerton’s is also known for its Cajun selections.

In terms of libations, Pinkerton’s has made a name for itself in Houston for its craft cocktail and wine programs meant to pair with smoked meats.

Pinkerton said Weston Urban convinced him to open a restaurant in downtown San Antonio, in particular at the 1.2-acre park, a focal point of the company’s redevelopment of west downtown.

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"They came to Houston and ate our food and presented a really unique opportunity for the whole development down there," Pinkerton said. "It’s a pretty unique opportunity for somebody to open a restaurant in that park space. I thought it would be a great fit for a barbecue joint, one that feels like Texas when you come in. A big part of our place in Houston is that it’s an experience."

After months of delay due to Covid-19, developer Weston Urban opened the 1.2-acre park in early November.

» Pinkerton's Barbecue of Houston to open in Weston Urban park
» 'It was important for us to open the park to people right now'
» A glimpse at west downtown in 10 years

Heron Editor Ben Olivo can be reached at 210-421-3932 | | @rbolivo on Twitter

Construction continues in January on the the mixed-income apartments on Labor Street. Photo by Ben Olivo | Heron

In December, the San Antonio Housing Authority (SAHA) broke ground on a mixed-income apartment community in the Lavaca neighborhood with the placeholder name of 100 Labor Street.

The $53.7 million project is part of SAHA’s decades-long effort to redevelop 36 acres of land in Lavaca, south of East César E. Chávez Boulevard from the Institute of Texan Cultures and Hemisfair, into a master-planned community called Victoria Commons, where the Victoria Courts once stood.

The 213-unit project will include 169 market-rate units, 17 units for households making up to 50% of the area median income (AMI), and 27 for people making up to 30% AMI.

[ Scroll down for a chart showing various AMI levels. ]

It will also include roughly 5,600 square feet of retail space that’s meant to further tie Victoria Commons to the rest of Lavaca.

Last June, when SAHA was voting to push forward the deal between SAHA and developer Franklin Development Company, some commissioners pushed back and asked why there weren’t greater amounts of affordable housing baked into the apartment ratio. As it stands, nearly 80% of the apartments at 100 Labor Street will be market-rate priced. At the time, SAHA officials said the ratios were in line with what Lavaca neighbors demanded in 2013, before the current SAHA leadership was in place. Today, the tone has changed, as the Lavaca Neighborhood Association, at least, is now asking for greater percentages of below-market-rate housing as SAHA continues to build out the area.

Although the 44 units are not considered public housing, SAHA says they will serve "similar income levels" with a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development initiative called project-based assistance contracts that are bound to 100 Labor Street. These residents will pay roughly 30% of their income toward rent.

[ Read more: "Ongoing since the Clinton administration, Victoria Commons final phases draw new concerns from Lavaca neighborhood" ]

In 1998, SAHA began its efforts to redevelop the area, most of which was home to the 600-unit Victoria Courts. Under the now-defunct Hope VI grant program, SAHA eventually demolished the public housing and began building mixed-income communities. The first was Refugio Place in 2004, followed by the Artisan Park townhomes in 2007. Today, SAHA estimates that there are 901 housing units at Victoria Commons either built, instigated or under construction. SAHA intends to increase that number to 1,555 with future developments in Lavaca.

Construction at 100 Labor Street is expected to be completed by December 2022.

The San Antonio Housing Authority is planning to build this 220-unit mixed-income development in the Lavaca neighborhood.
Victoria Commons master plan, San Antonio Texas, October 2020

100 Labor Street

» Address: 110 and 111 Labor Street
» Developer: Franklin Development Company (San Antonio), San Antonio Housing Authority
» Property owner: San Antonio Housing Authority
» Occupancy: N/A
» Rent or Buy: Rent
» Height: 5 stories
» Land size: nearly 3.5 acres
» Total units: 213
     » Market rate: 169
     » 80% AMI: N/A
     » 70% AMI: N/A
     » 60% AMI: N/A
     » 50% AMI: 17
     » 40% AMI: N/A
     » 30% AMI: 27
     » Student Units: N/A
» Section 8: Yes, will accept voucher
» Retail (s.f.): 5,604
» Office (s.f.): N/A
» Parking: 281 spaces
» Construction start date: Dec. 1, 2020
» Construction end date: December 2022
» Architect: Alamo Architects (San Antonio)
» Cost: $53.7 million
» Investors & Financing: $42 million HUD-insured 221(d)(4) loan (construction and permanent financing) via Red Capital an Orix Company; $5.3 million value of SAHA-owned land loaned to Franklin Development to "fund the costs of construction," which will be repaid through the project’s cash flow; $4.9 million in Moving-to-Work funds and other SAHA dollars to be loaned to Franklin Development via San Antonio Housing Facility Corporation (a SAHA entity), which will repaid via project’s cash flow.
» San Antonio Incentives: $1.5 million
     » SAWS Fee waivers: N/A
     » City Fee Waivers: N/A
     » City Loans: N/A
     » Est. City Property Tax Rebate: N/A
     » Other: $1.5 million via city’s Inner City Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone (TIRZ)
» Bexar County incentives: N/A
» Texas incentives: N/A
» Federal incentives: See HUD 221(d)(4) loan under "Investors & Financing"
» Return on investment: Franklin receives 50% cashflow for seven years, SAHA receives other 50%


Aug. 7, 2019

The Historic and Design Review Commission grants SAHA final approval for the 100 Labor Street project design. Read more.

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Heron Editor Ben Olivo can be reached at 210-421-3932 | | @rbolivo on Twitter

Construction crews work on the School of Data Science and National Security Collaboration Center at 506 Dolorosa last week. Photo by Ben Olivo | Heron

In December, UTSA began expanding its downtown presence with the construction of a six-story building on Dolorosa that will house its new School of Data Science and National Security Collaboration Center.

The $90 million, 167,000-square-foot building is being built south of City Hall at 506 Dolorosa—on 2.5 acres along San Pedro Creek—and is slated for completion in July 2022. UTSA purchased the property from the City of San Antonio on Dec. 15.

In addition to classrooms, labs and research space for students and faculty, the new building will also have a street-level cafe and an event venue for the public.


The School of Data Science is expected to house 6,500 data science students inside 86,000 square feet of space in the new building, which includes its Open Cloud Institute. More than 70 faculty members specializing in cybersecurity, cloud computing, data analytics, and artificial intelligence will also be there.

The National Security Collaboration Center (NSCC), which is currently located on UTSA’s main campus, is envisioned as a "hub for government, university and industry partners in the cybersecurity field." Those partners will collaborate on efforts such as network security, cyber training and workforce development, attack-and-threat modeling and mitigation, and artificial intelligence.

The data science and cybercesurity schools are expected to collaborate with the city and county, whose offices are nearby, and with downtown’s growing tech district on Houston Street.

"There is no other place that has built an ecosystem combining the community’s business strengths and research expertise in data science, information management and cybersecurity like our ecosystem here in San Antonio," UTSA President Taylor Eighmy said in a press release.

Design rendering for UTSA School of Data Science and National Security Collaboration Center by Whiting-Turner | Jacobs | Overland.
Design rendering for UTSA School of Data Science and National Security Collaboration Center. Courtesy UTSA

The building is being funded by $70 million from the Permanent University Fund, approved by the University of Texas System Board of Regents, $5 million from UTSA’s own institutional funds, and $15 million from developer and philanthropist Graham Weston. A block north, Weston co-built the new Frost Tower, downtown’s first new office tower in decades, and has plans to populate west downtown with more than 1,000 apartment units in the near future, anchored by an envisioned 32-story apartment tower on Soledad Street.

For Weston Urban, part of those plans include renovating the former Continental Hotel property at 322 W. Commerce St. into housing potentially for UTSA's "future students, faculty, and staff."

"The UTSA School of Data Science will be at the heart of the thrust of new innovation over the coming decades," Weston said in a press release. "We can be a national leader in this field—one of the few schools that really separates itself from the pack. This is going to change the face of what UTSA is, and my prediction is UTSA is going to be famous around the country and the world in data science and cybersecurity."

For UTSA’s part, the university is primed to develop adjacent parcels on Dolorosa, including adding the Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Careers Building, an extension of the College of Business on the main campus, west of San Pedro Creek, on land where the former Bexar County jail is currently being demolished.

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The university is requesting funding through the UT system, tuition revenue bonds, and private donors. UTSA has the land under contract with Bexar County, and will be purchased once the jail is demolished.

There are no plans for UTSA third development on Dolorosa, 702 Dolorosa, which the university plans to purchase from the city in early 2022.

There is also no timetable or update for UTSA's other ambitious expansion plan: the expansion of its main downtown campus just west of Interstate 35-Interstate 10.

Related UTSA articles
» UTSA data science school, national security center construction expected to begin in December
» UTSA campus to connect to West Side community in university’s expansion plan
» Weston Urban purchases iconic Toudouze building, eyes synergy with UTSA expansion

Related Weston Urban articles
» Development Profile: Weston Urban’s 32-story apartment gets initial design OK
» Weston Urban buys former Navy Club site on River Walk
» Continental Hotel sold to Weston Urban for mixed-use project

Heron Editor Ben Olivo can be reached at 210-421-3932 | | @rbolivo on Twitter


San Antonio’s emergency housing assistance program, which has helped more than 28,000 households with cost-of-living expenses since last April, could expand to cover six months of rent or mortgage payments for residents struggling during the pandemic.

If ultimately approved by the City Council, the changes would apply to households who are in arrears with rent or mortgage payments, as well as cover the current month’s debt and one future month. Currently, the program pays up to two months of rent or mortgage payments for families or individuals making up to 80% of the area median income (AMI).

» To apply for the City of San Antonio's emergency housing assistance and right to counsel programs, click here
» Browse the city's other Covid-19 relief options

Cash grants, which are offered now in the third month of assistance, would be removed as an option under the revised program. Instead, the city wants to funnel more applicants to case management, connecting them to social services, such as SNAP benefits or childcare programs, depending on the need.

The revisions, which the council’s Culture and Neighborhood Services committee will discuss on Monday, coincides with a $46.7 million boost in rental assistance dollars as part of the CARES Act passed by Congress in December.

The city’s Neighborhood and Housing Services Department is proposing the changes after the program’s recipients overwhelmingly said in a survey conducted from early November to Jan. 1 that they needed more months of rent or mortgage covered.

Households who have already taken advantage of the program are also eligible, and would have their previous month added to the six-month total.

"If someone was approved for two months, they can get up to four additional months of assistance," said Vero Soto, director of the Neighborhood and Housing Services Department (NHSD).

Currently, the program pays up to two months of rent or mortgage, and includes SAWS, CPS Energy, and internet bills, and up to $300 in cash for household making up to 50% of the area median income (AMI). In the third month, they receive $500 cash, only. Families or individuals making between 51% and 80% AMI only receive rent or mortgage assistance (no utilities) for the first two months, and $250 in the third month.

City of San Antonio

The revised program would essentially offer the same benefits, but for up to six months, and with no cash option.

City of San Antonio

To date, the city has approved emergency housing assistance for slightly more than 28,000 San Antonio households, which equals 75,362 people. Of that total, 85% make less than 30% AMI.

[ Scroll down for a chart showing AMI levels. ]

A total of $70.5 million has been spent in the program as of Jan. 30. Last year, from April to Oct. 1, the city allocated roughly $86 million toward housing assistance. The incoming federal dollars, which the City Council is expected to formally accept in mid-February, will boost the program’s total to roughly $133.6 million.

[ View the city's Covid-19 emergency housing assistance program dashboard for more data. ]

One of the main reasons the city is moving away from providing cash assistance, which had been offered through a national nonprofit called the Family Independence Initiative, is because the new infusion of federal dollars can only be spent on rent and utility aid.

Instead, applicants will be set up with a "benefit navigator" in the city's Department of Human Services, which will offer case management for the individual or family. The housing assistance program’s application will be augmented to include questions that will give city staff a better idea of the applicants’ needs.

"We really want to focus on things we cannot offer through the (housing assistance) program," Edward Gonzales, NHSD assistant director, told the Housing Commission on Wednesday.

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During the Housing Commission meeting, Commissioner Taneka Johnson asked whether families could receive cash assistance in the form of a gift card.

"Yes, we would consider a gift card cash assistance," Assistant City Manager Lori Houston said. "We have access to those through our referral system. Once they get to a benefits navigator, that assessment may include a recommendation to include a gift card."

Last week, the City Council agreed to include $2.2 million in funding from the state’s emergency rental assistance program, which the city will use to assist families who live inside Bexar County, but outside San Antonio’s city limits.

After the council’s Culture and Neighborhood Services Committee meeting on Monday, there will be an opportunity for public comment on Feb. 8. The full council is scheduled to consider the revisions on Feb. 18.

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Previously published
» San Antonio receives $46.7M from Covid-19 stimulus for rental assistance
» San Antonio's housing aid program surpasses 20K families served
» City Council adds $24M to housing relief, but lessens benefits per San Antonio household

Heron Editor Ben Olivo can be reached at 210-421-3932 | | @rbolivo on Twitter

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