Three small homes near downtown San Antonio and the West Side are the targets of a new $250,000 pilot program aimed at preserving the city’s existing affordable housing stock.

The City already has an owner-occupied rehabilitation program for the homes of low-income residents, but this program focuses on homes smaller than 1,000 square feet – including “shotgun” homes – in City Council District 5 for cultural, economic, and environmental benefits.

“It really is a part of our cultural identity,” said Shanon Shea Miller, director of the City’s Office of Historic Preservation. A City Council committee received an update on the pilot project Monday from Miller and other City officials. “Many of these buildings were built for and by … skilled laborers in our community. It’s really a reflection of those working class communities and it’s an important part of our cultural history.”

The Office of Historic Preservation’s Shotgun House Initiative, started in 2018, identified more than 300 shotgun homes in San Antonio. “The oldest dates to the 1870s,” according to City documents. “They can be found in almost all of San Antonio’s older neighborhoods and have been located in Districts 1, 2, 3, and 5.”

Rehabilitating these structures instead of building new ones saves not only their history but the materials used to build them – offsetting the need for more materials, Miller said. Though traditional shotgun homes are the focus of the program, participation isn’t limited to those who fit the architectural definition.

Contractors familiar with traditional or historic rehabilitation are few, and the pilot program will serve as a training program, as well. A best-practices guide will be produced at the end of the pilot for rehabbing smaller, older homes, Miller said.

Repairs of the three homes – the inclusion of one is still pending – are slated to be completed in April or May.

Beyond the physical repair of these homes, the City aims to find out more about how the municipality, property owners, and nonprofits can finance more rehabilitation projects.

Each home represents a different ownership condition: 222 Furnish Ave. is owner-occupied, 1107 Guadalupe St. is occupied by a tenant, and 1107 Smith Alley is vacant.

The cost of repairs for the Furnish home (an estimated $100,000) will be covered through the City’s existing owner-occupied rehabilitation program and there will be enough funding from other sources within the City’s Housing Policy fund for some repairs to a second home, said Veronica Soto, director of the City’s Neighborhood and Housing Services Department. The total costs of repairing the Guadalupe and Smith Alley homes are still unknown, Soto said.

District 5 Shotgun House Rehabilitation Pilot Project and an overview of the Office of Historic Preservation Shotgun House Initiative. Photos taken on January 11, 2021.
Funds to repair 222 Furnish Ave. will be covered through the City’s owner-occupied rehabilitation program. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

“We are asking our three partners to help us identify additional financing and funding sources,” Soto said.

The pilot is a result of collaboration among the City; the University of Texas at San Antonio’s Department of Construction Science; Neighborhood Housing Services of San Antonio, a nonprofit housing development organization; and Micro:SA, a nonprofit providing support for urban core microbusinesses that includes training for independent building contractors and tradespeople. 

The pilot includes a $50,000 contract with UTSA, which will document the houses’ historical data and narratives from people who live in them, Soto said. This could lead to a noncontinuous historic district for shotgun homes.

The City will also contract ($50,000) with Micro:SA to coordinate with construction sector leaders to develop a strategy for ongoing recruitment and support for small contractors.

Neighborhood Housing Services will serve as the lead contractor on one of the three rehabilitations for $50,000.

The Shotgun House Rehabilitation Pilot Project was spearheaded last year by Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales (D5). She hopes the pilot project informs an effort to create a similar citywide program.

The 2019 study “Opportunity at Risk, San Antonio’s Affordable Housing Stock” found that roughly 33,000 homes built before 1960 in the city could be rehabilitated for affordable housing.

“Maintaining existing older housing as a central component of a comprehensive affordable housing strategy, using a wide array of tools, would put San Antonio at the forefront of addressing the affordable housing crisis in America,” the report stated.

This pilot program is one of those tools, Miller said. “It’s critical that we maintain our existing housing stock in order to meet those affordable housing needs.”

Councilman John Courage (D9) and Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) noted that the cost of rehabilitating older structures often stems from having to comply with strict building codes – which the City could make more flexible for rehab projects.

Miller acknowledged this concern, recalling the comments of a structural engineer who said that wood “doesn’t know the building codes have changed.”

“I think you are both right,” she told Courage and Treviño. “[We can use] this as an opportunity to look at our building codes … and how [the City] might better take into account the value of the existing material.”

Iris Dimmick

Iris Dimmick

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and workforce development. Contact her at iris@sareport.org