The last remaining tenant of an affordable housing apartment complex across the street from Alamo Heights High School sued the school district last month after it sought to evict her from the property it purchased last year.
Selina Jones, who has lived in the $500-a-month apartments since August 2017, claims that Alamo Heights Independent School District is violating a state law that requires a political entity to pay relocation costs when it forces tenants to move, according to the lawsuit. Texas RioGrande Legal Aid filed the suit on behalf of Jones and Roy Hummel, a former Desert Sands tenant, in the 438th District Court.
In the suit, Jones seeks a temporary restraining order to stop the school district from prosecuting an eviction against her and displacing her until it provides the assistance she claims she is entitled to under the Texas Property Code and the federal Uniform Relocation Assistance and Real Property Acquisition Policies Act.
“Without relocation assistance and advisory services, (Jones) will become homeless and/or experience housing and economic instability,” the suit states.
The school district said in a statement that it disputes Jones’ claim that it must provide relocation assistance and that its attorneys will “defend our district taxpayers against that claim.”
The Alamo Heights Independent School District bought the Desert Sands Apartments in March 2020 with plans to demolish the eight-unit complex, likely to build a parking lot for the high school, the suit states. Upon purchasing the property, the school district notified residents that they had to move out by June 30, when coronavirus cases were rising in Bexar County, but postponed that date to Sept. 30 after community members asked the school board for more time.
Jones, who works from home, recently found a new apartment but does not have the means to move without assistance. If she cannot find affordable help to move, she could lose both her job and her home if Alamo Heights ISD does not provide relocation assistance, said Lizbeth Parra, Jones’ attorney at Texas RioGrande Legal Aid. The school district won an eviction suit against Jones last month, which Parra is appealing.
The suit alleges that the Texas Property Code requires a political entity like a school district to pay moving expenses, provide financial assistance to find new housing, and compensate for other costs related to moving if an individual is “displaced in connection with the acquisition” of property.
In its answer to Jones’ petition, attorneys for Alamo Heights ISD claim that Jones is not entitled to relocation assistance because the reason the school district required Desert Sands residents to move out is not code enforcement or a demolition program but the “natural termination of their leases.” The residents had month-to-month leases that could be terminated by either party.
Jones requested in writing relocation assistance from the school district Aug. 24, as did Hummel, according to the suit. They never received any funds for moving costs.
On Aug. 31, Jones received a written notice that her lease would be terminated on Sept. 30 and that the school district would take legal action if she did not move out by then, the suit states. Hummel received his notice Sept. 4 and moved out Sept. 30 because “he felt threatened and harassed by” Alamo Heights ISD, “uncomfortable and unsafe in his home,” and wanted to avoid an eviction on his record, according to the lawsuit.
Jones received multiple subsequent notices to vacate, the final of which stated that an eviction suit would be filed against her if she did not move out by Nov. 9, according to the lawsuit. While she has found another apartment, Jones still needs help to pay for moving expenses, she said.
“Injury from the premature displacement is an injury that cannot be compensated with money or measured with any pecuniary certainty, because forced homelessness during this pandemic endangers the health of Ms. Jones, who does not have family who can assist her through this process and will result in her unemployment,” the suit alleges.