Seventeen homes in San Antonio stood a little bit sturdier and cleaner Saturday after more than 300 volunteers participated in Rehabarama, the City’s one-day home repair event.
Elias Cantu stood under the shade of his carport and watched as students and skilled carpenters painted his three-bedroom home.
Cantu, a native San Antonian who has lived in his home in the Mission Historic District for 47 years, said he was extremely grateful for their work.
“They’re doing a beautiful job,” Cantu said, a job that he could not have afforded on his own. He, like many people who benefit from Rehabarama, is retired and lives on a low, fixed income.
Volunteers replaced rotted wood siding and some trim and used slip-resistant paint on his patio.
“I want to thank each an every one of them,” Cantu said.
Most of the work done Saturday was relatively minor, including window repair, porch repairs, and building wheelchair ramps, said Office of Historic Preservation (OHP) Director Shanon Shea Miller. “But it makes a big difference for residents.”
The volunteers from various construction-related businesses and the University of Texas at San Antonio worked on homes on two blocks of Isabel and Felisa streets next to Mission Concepción.
The annual home rehabilitation event, organized by OHP, was timed this year to coincide with the annual World Heritage Festival, which celebrates the historic Spanish colonial missions’ UNESCO World Heritage designation.
“[Rehabarama] is a very important project that is investing in our community and preserving, revitalizing and utilizing our structures in and around the San Antonio Missions,” said Councilwoman Rebecca Viagrán (D3), whose district includes missions Concepción, Espada, José, and San Juan.
The four missions and the Alamo received World Heritage status in 2015 – the first to receive the coveted designation in Texas. Communities around the missions on the banks of the San Antonio River in San Antonio’s South Side have seen an increase in development as improvements to the river and Mission Historic District continue to draw more residents and visitors.
Work continues on a 228-unit apartment complex next to Mission Concepción on the former St. John’s Catholic Seminary campus.
“About a quarter of the affordable housing stock in San Antonio is pre-1960,” Miller said. “We’re never going to be able to build our way out of affordable housing issues – in any city. So we have to reinvest in our existing building stock. One of the ways to do that is by helping existing homeowners address deterioration and catch up on deferred maintenance [of their homes].”
Mayor Ron Nirenberg and City Council have put more dollars behind owner-occupied rehabilitation and housing displacement mitigation efforts in recent years. The City’s proposed 2020 budget would increase funding for various housing programs by $8.5 million for a total of $34.4 million.
OHP established a Rehabber Club in 2016 to sustain a network of “do-it-yourselfers, craftsmen, contractors, historic homeowners, realtors, and everyday citizens to revitalize San Antonio’s historic buildings” by hosting educational and networking events, as well as providing “plain ole encouragement,” according to its website. The club, sponsored by local businesses and developers, led this year’s Rehabarama.
“We need more people who know how to do skilled trades – who can work on historic houses in a way that’s appropriate to the fabric of a neighborhood,” Miller said. “We use this [event] to train contractors through our Rehabber Club.”
Cosmo Guido, chairman of the board at Guido Brothers Construction Co., said Rehabarama helps keep the craft of restoration alive – and it’s just plain fun.
“We’re a fourth-generation construction company. My great-grandfather grew up doing restoration [and] renovation work – that’s how we got our start,” Guido said. “It’s a great way to give back. … It’s a lot of fun to just spend some time together.”
Big, modern construction projects get a lot of attention, he said, so a lot of workers seek out those jobs. But it’s important to train them on the “dying art” of preservation.
“We’re actually starting a carpentry school in-house to help teach these folks [preservation] skills,” Guido said. “To survive in this industry you have to train and grow your own people – and that’s top to bottom.”
Rehabarama gives people hands-on experience, he said. “The only way you learn is by doing.”
Crews arrived in the neighborhood around 7:30 a.m. and wrapped up work around 3 p.m. as the temperature reached the high 90s.
Since Rehabarama’s inception in 2017, about $400,000 worth of work has been done on 35 homes in the Eastside neighborhoods Denver Heights and Highland Park, according to OHP. Guido is the primary sponsor.
According to OHP, volunteer groups included 104 students from UTSA’s College of Architecture, Construction and Planning and employees from Chase Bank, Guido Cos., Spurs Sports and Entertainment, the City of San Antonio, IBC Bank, KFW Engineers, VIA Metropolitan Transit, Taft High School National Honor Society, Security Service Federal Credit Union, HDR Engineering, and more.