A San Antonio Housing Authority (SAHA) property slated for demolition has been named one of America’s most endangered historic places.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation put the Alazán-Apache Courts, a public housing project located on the Westside, and the oldest in the nation, on its annual list of “America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places.”
The list highlights buildings and places the National Trust considers to be important examples of the nation’s heritage that are at risk of destruction or irreparable damage. The Westside Preservation Alliance and Esperanza Peace and Justice Center nominated Alazán-Apache for the designation.
In describing why the National Trust selected the property for its most-endangered list, it notes that “though Alazán-Apache Courts provide the San Antonio community with affordable housing and represent a part of Mexican American history, the San Antonio Housing Authority is planning to demolish these historic structures.”
Opened in 1940, the Alazán-Apache Courts is the oldest and largest public housing complex in San Antonio and was built with the support of former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt to replace substandard housing in the area. Rental rates are based on a resident’s income and the majority of the people living there are Hispanic. It is located in the city’s most impoverished zip codes (78207).
“Abject poverty is not a historic designation worth protecting,” stated Michael Reyes, director of communications and public affairs for SAHA, in a statement provided to the San Antonio Report after Thursday’s announcement by the National Trust.
Reyes said the organization “reconfirmed what we already know — the Alazán community is historic, and so that is why it is important to invest in its future,” but he added that recognizing its historical significance is as important as providing modern living conditions for the residents.
Built of cement cinder blocks acceptable for construction in the 1930s, the homes cannot easily be rehabilitated for central air conditioning and heating systems, dryer connections, and interior insulation to protect against extreme cold and heat.
Reyes said a survey of residents showed that 81 percent would prefer their homes to be rebuilt rather than remodeled, and SAHA is exploring a variety of public and private funding sources to build a new Alazán community.
In 2017, SAHA announced its intention to demolish the Alazan Courts in a plan similar to the Housing Authority’s redevelopment of Wheatley Courts on the city’s Eastside, which was carried out with a 2012 Choice Neighborhoods program grant. Unlike during that project, however, Alazán’s 1,200 residents would be relocated in phases as the buildings were razed and rebuilt over time.
The nearby Apache Courts, with another 600 residents, is not included in the Housing Authority’s demolition plans.
Los Courts, as the property is also known, has been home to some of San Antonio’s leading performing artists and civic leaders, including Gloria Rodriguez, founder of the nonprofit AVANCE, according to the Esperanza Center. The community advocacy organization is asking people to sign a petition that would urge SAHA to save and rehabilitate the structures rather than demolish them.
“We should be preserving housing stock, not destroying it,” stated Kayla Miranda, an Alazán-Apache resident quoted on the Esperanza Center website. “We are talking about 1,200 of my neighbors and friends that would be displaced if our homes were demolished … In a truly affordable housing crisis, what possible excuse could the housing authority have to reduce available public housing units?”
SAHA currently provides housing assistance to 57,000 children, adults, and seniors in the form of public housing, housing vouchers, and mixed-income housing programs. With an annual operating budget of $185 million, SAHA owns real estate assets valued at $550 million.