For one long, unforgettable night last August, a desperate Hamid lay on the pavement next to his wife, two young sons and eight-day-old daughter in Kabul, pressed against the airport fence by a growing crowd of Afghan people seeking escape in the wake of the American troop withdrawal.
A year later, with the harrowing journey to safety behind them, Hamid rests easier.
A former interpreter for the U.S. armed forces, Hamid is working in San Antonio for a refugee resettlement agency, his sons are enrolled in school and his youngest, Helena, is taking her first steps.
When he awakes from an occasional recurring nightmare of men breaking into his house and dragging him out, he finds himself in their new home.
The comfortable three-bedroom apartment is in a property owned and managed by Franklin Apartment Management, which has worked to ease the transition to life in San Antonio for many refugees.
Since August 2021, when Afghan refugees began fleeing in large numbers ahead of the U.S. withdrawal, about 2,000 of them have resettled in San Antonio with the help of the Refugee and Immigration Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES), Catholic Charities of San Antonio, and other local resettlement organizations.
Housing was the most critical need during the initial wave of arrivals, and though those needs remain, the sense of urgency has waned, said Marisol Girela, associate vice president of social programs in the San Antonio office of RAICES.
“We’re no longer running, so that’s a good thing,” she said. “I can’t say that things are OK. But I feel like we’re past the crisis.”
After the refugees arrived last fall, many were housed in temporary situations, with friends, family or in short-term rental housing. Later, Girela said, they were lucky to secure permanent housing for the hundreds of Afghan refugees within a “reasonable amount of time.”
One of those places was an entire apartment development that was under construction last year, called Park at 38Thirty, where Hamid’s family lives now.
Located near Wurzbach and Interstate 10, the Franklin development is situated where refugee communities from many countries have settled in recent years, finding the support they need close at hand. As a Housing and Urban Development property, Park at 38Thirty leases to families and individuals making 60% of the area median income, which is set by HUD at $71,000 for a family of four.
A year ago, several buildings within the complex were already finished and ready to be leased. The final building is nearing completion now, said Ryan Baldwin, senior vice president of San Antonio-based Franklin Apartment Management, which owns and manages 30 developments in San Antonio and others throughout the state and in Tennessee.
In September 2021, 10 refugee families moved into some of the complex’s 196 units, with the resettlement agencies supporting the first three months’ rent.
Since then, the number of refugees residing at Park at 38Thirty has continued to grow. After some initial hesitation on Franklin management’s part, “it just became such a really just positive and heartwarming experience,” Baldwin said.
But there were still challenges to overcome — the biggest being the language barrier. In addition to translating its leasing documents into Pashto, Franklin is making plans to add another playground to better accommodate the number of young children living there.
The company also hired Khalid, another Afghan refugee, to work as a leasing manager. (The San Antonio Report is not using Khalid and Hamid’s last names to protect friends and family members who remain in Afghanistan).
Khalid experienced a similar journey as Hamid, narrowly escaping persecution in his homeland for his work as an interpreter with U.S. military troops, and later arriving in San Antonio with his wife and two small children by way of El Paso.
“In the beginning, it was a little tough, since it’s a new world for all the refugees,” he said. But they are learning, Khalid added, and things are getting easier.
Representatives from Catholic Charities helped Khalid obtain a green card so he could work in the U.S. and also introduced him to Franklin Apartment Management which hired him at Park at 38Thirty last spring.
It didn’t take long for Khalid to learn his new role, Baldwin said.
In addition to a fluency in six languages, which helps him communicate with refugees who live at Park at 38Thirty where the majority of tenants are people from Afghanistan, Khalid’s professionalism was a good fit for Franklin’s needs, Baldwin said.
Khalid is also hoping to move soon from older apartments nearby into Park at 38Thirty. His family now includes a new baby daughter, along with a 3-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter.
Not every danger was left behind in Afghanistan: Park at 38Thirty is also located near the Villas Del Cabo apartments, where Lina Sardar Khil, the 3-year-old daughter of Afghan refugees, was kidnapped in December.
“We do have patrol service [at Park at 38Thirty] but I will say since that situation has occurred, I find that people tend to be together in groups more, at least in that neighborhood,” Baldwin said.
RAICES is now advocating for the federal Afghan Adjustment Act being considered by Congress, Girela, said. If passed, the statute would create a pathway to permanent legal residency for certain Afghan evacuees like Khalid and Hamid.
Though Hamid said he will always love his country, he is happy to be making his home in the U.S. Looking back on his own childhood as a refugee, Hamid sees how different this experience has been.
“When I was a little kid, probably 7 years old, my father was working for the military and then the Soviets attacked my country,” he said, recalling that the family fled to Pakistan and then Iran to escape communism. “My older brother died on the journey.”
Soon after, Hamid’s mother and father visited seven different neighborhood schools, attempting to enroll their son. Each school rejected Hamid because he was Afghan. His father was despondent, Hamid remembers.
This time he felt accepted, he said.
“I remember the day that I took my son to the U.S., in San Antonio, to the school,” Hamid said, emotion welling in his throat.
“I was sitting in the school, and my son was enrolled in the school … regardless of me being Muslim, of me being a refugee, of me not being an American yet — they took my son,” Hamid said.
“I love America for that,” he said.