This article was originally published in San Antonio Express News here.
Candidates started filing for San Antonio City Council elections on Jan. 13.
A week later, some big news rocked District 5, which has 11 candidates competing for the seat being vacated by a term-limited Shirley Gonzales.
The San Antonio Housing Authority abandoned its plan to partner with a private developer to raze the West Side’s historic Alazán Courts and replace them with mixed-income apartments.
SAHA now plans to redevelop Alazán itself and maintain it as a public-housing complex.
All kinds of logistical questions remain: Where will the funding come from? Where will residents stay while their units are rebuilt? How long will the process take?
Nonetheless, public-housing advocates have praised SAHA’s policy reversal.
For District 5 candidates, the issues underpinning the Alazán Courts debate are fundamental to the district they hope to represent — much bigger than the 501 units the complex holds or the 33 acres on which it rests.
It’s about the West Side’s chronic population loss and need to attract new residents vs. concerns that gentrification could damage the social fabric of its neighborhoods. It’s about displacement, the value of history and the question of what kinds of economic development are healthy for a community and what kinds are damaging.
Teri Castillo, a housing advocate who is competing in the District 5 race, sees SAHA’s change of course as a victory for community members who objected to the private-housing plan.
“I think this is the result of community work and organizing and bold and brave tenants speaking out, up against the demolition and the practices that were going over the last few years,” Castillo said.
Castillo was among those decrying SAHA’s plan to work with the NRP Group, a for-profit developer, to tear down the 501 units and replace them with 648 apartments, only 10 percent of which would be reserved for families making less than 30 percent of the area median income (about $26,200 for a family of four).
The NRP plan likely would have forced out many current Alazán Courts residents, destroying the familial bonds of the complex, forcing some families into different school districts and disrupting the established patterns of their lives.
It also raised questions about whether some families would be able to find any affordable housing at all.
“They were going to be replaced with mixed-income, but they were being sold to the community as affordable,” Castillo said. “Not affordable to the working residents of Alazán, not affordable to the working residents in District 5.
“No plan was ever presented on where the community would be relocated to. We were told that residents would be given housing vouchers, but we know that in San Antonio there is a shortage of landlords who accept vouchers.”
District 5 hopeful Geremy Landín said the displacement issue has trumped all others for him.
“The biggest issue here is that no one wants to displace residents,” said Landín, the director of marketing, communications and community relations for STAAMP Allergy.
“That’s been my biggest concern. And if one resident is displaced, there’s an issue, because we shouldn’t have to force people out of where they live in order to say that we’re bringing some sort of prosperous growth or new opportunities forward.”
The average Alazán household earns $8,796 a year and pays $131 in monthly rent.
Landín, who was homeless for much of his last three years at Fox Tech High School, said he had conversations with a SAHA board member who worried that under the NRP plan, Alazán Courts residents who have fallen behind on their rent (a problem intensified by the job-killing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic) could have faced exclusion from a private apartment complex.
At the same time, Landín believes that the existing, 80-year-old cinder-block units, which lack central air and heating, need to be replaced.
“I come from a single-mom household,” Landín said, “so I think, ‘Would my mom want to live there or would she be wanting, hoping for something new to come along that she’d be able to put her family in?’”
Jason Mata, a local nonprofit executive, said the NRP plan not only would have displaced Alazán residents, it also could have put pressure on local school districts faced with an influx of new students.
Mata said many of the existing units are dangerous. For that reason, he welcomed the idea of building new Alazán Courts units at the complex’s current location.
“I’m more into the safety part of it,” Mata said. “And that the families stay united.”firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter: @gilgamesh470