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.
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."
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).
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."
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."
San Antonio Housing Authority, Mission DG chosen as partners on $51M Granada Homes rehab (Oct. 11, 2020)
The San Antonio Housing Authority (SAHA) has been given permission to pursue subsidies that would help renovate the 1920s, 12-story Granada Homes senior apartment building at South St. Mary's and Villita streets.
The SAHA board of commissioners on Thursday voted to allow the agency to pursue 4% low-income housing tax credits and up to $30 million in tax-exemption bonds toward the rehab of the Granada’s 249 units at 311 S. St. Mary's St.
The $51 million project is a partnership between the Granada’s owner, a local affiliate of D.C.-based AFL-CIO, SAHA and Mission DG, a local developer that’s partnering with SAHA on the mixed-income Tampico Apartments on the West Side.
A total of 94 vouchers will help keep affordability levels low and current residents in place, according to SAHA.
The income mix of the current residents being served is unclear, as is the income mix of the apartments after rehab.
"We will have to verify the incomes of the current residents," Tim Alcott, SAHA's real estate and legal services officer, said in an email. "Most of the residents are 30% (area median income) and below. We will continue to serve the current residents."
According to SAHA's meeting agenda, "It is proposed that all 249 units be reserved for tenants whose incomes average 60% or less of the average median income."
In the San Antonio-New Braunfels area, a person at 30% of the area median income, or AMI, makes $15,120, while a couple makes $17,280, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Roughly 20% of the units will be rehabbed at a time, according to SAHA. All units will have rent restrictions, and will accept the Section 8 voucher, according to SAHA.
The local AFL-CIO affiliate, registered as Granada Trades Council Housing, Inc. on local property records, selected SAHA after initiating a bidding process, Alcott said.
“Several respondents approached SAHA to be a partner to assist with the affordable housing aspect of the project,” Alcott said.
Mission DG, he said, was selected by the AFL-CIO affiliate as SAHA’s partner on the project. According to SAHA, Mission DG is acting as the developer and guarantor of the loans, and will contribute debt and equity into the rehab—although it’s unclear how much.
The tax credits and bond allocation may not be awarded by the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs until the end of the year, according to the meeting agenda.
The Granada building first opened as the Plaza Hotel in 1928. It's one of the few downtown buildings reserved for senior living. SAHA owns two others: The Lofts at Marie McGuire Apartments, 211 N. Alamo St., and the Villa Hermosa Apartments, 327 N. Flores St.
The Granada was converted into a seniors community by the AFL-CIO in 1968.
» Granada building could get major renovation via SAHA partnership (Sept. 4, 2020)