After deplorable conditions were discovered at a Northside mobile home park late last year, City staff is now looking into a system that would require park owners in San Antonio to submit to routine, “proactive” health and safety inspections.
Officials are still looking into what kind of funding and staffing such an initiative would need, but Michael Shannon, interim director of the City’s Development Services Department, reckoned it would require a dedicated staff member.
That would likely be paid for by increasing registration and/or permitting fees, Shannon told the Council’s Neighborhoods and Livability Committee on Monday.
There are currently 113 mobile home parks registered with the Metropolitan Health District, he said, which includes more than 7,000 lots all over the city. The annual registration fee is currently $35 per lot and properties are not inspected unless a health or code violation is reported.
In addition to overflowing septic tanks, piles of trash, and makeshift plumbing on the premises, City officials found high levels of E. coli in the soil at Oak Hollow Mobile Home Park in October. At least twelve families were ordered to leave the park – many stayed in hotel rooms for a time, which the City paid for.
Oak Hollow was the “worst we’ve seen” when it comes to absentee landlords, Shannon said, but about two-thirds of San Antonio’s mobile home parks have recent code violations.
“Regular inspection of mobile home parks will prevent us from being blindsided by an issue,” said Councilman Ron Nirenberg (D8), who is not a member of the committee, but spoke Monday as he and his office contributed to the development of the inspection proposal. Nirenberg is challenging Mayor Ivy Taylor in a runoff election on June 10. “When slumlords misbehave, they [should] pay,” he added.
The City filed a lawsuit in civil court soon after seeking remediation, including reimbursement of City costs. The Bexar County District Attorney’s office is also considering pressing criminal charges against the property owner, Joe Mangione.
“Based on what I’ve seen at Oak Hollow, the law shouldn’t permit someone from doing business in this fashion again,” Nirenberg told the Rivard Report earlier Monday afternoon. “Taxpayers shouldn’t have to pay” for remediation, and inspection should catch these situations before they get to the point of evictions.
But not all mobile home parks are slums, noted committee member and Councilman Rey Saldaña (D4). The City should work to “fix more of the bad ones than hurt the good ones.”
The City will host a series of stakeholder meetings over the next 90 days with residents, park owners, permitting staff, neighbors, and others to figure out how the new inspections could be effectively enforced without disproportionately punishing good actors, Shannon said.
City staff will then come back before the committee and the full City Council could vote on rule changes for mobile home parks as soon as late summer or early fall.
“In light of events where the conditions of mobile home parks have caused the relocation of residents,” Mayor Ivy Taylor stated in an email, “I’m certainly supportive of any policy that seeks to address the problem before it gets to that point.”
This change would be the latest embodiment of coordination efforts between City departments and local nonprofits to mitigate the effects of mass displacement, Nirenberg said, many of which were initiated after Mission Trails Mobile Home Park residents had to leave their homes when a developer purchased the land to build an upscale apartment complex.
“As a result of Mission Trails several years ago we’ve been looking at where there are gaps in policy and how we can make sure that things like that don’t happen again … where a large number of resident are displaced because of development and revitalization,” he said. The City is working on “establishing better protocol so we’re not doing these things on the fly.”
The Department of Human Services, for instance, has a new policy that outlines which departments to call and which nonprofits can provide access to basic services.