After years of preparation and protests, the San Antonio Housing Authority has abandoned its plan to demolish and redevelop Alazán Courts into a mixed-income complex.
During a board committee meeting on Thursday, SAHA officials announced that the housing authority has canceled its preliminary contract with NRP Group, a development and property management company, and will develop the site itself, reviewing options again for the city’s largest and oldest public housing complex.
The project reset comes after strong criticism from Westside community advocates and some residents who said the redevelopment would result in the displacement of Alazán’s vulnerable, low-income residents. The average resident’s yearly income is less than $8,800.
“We are not killing the project,” said board Chair Ana Margarita “Cha” Guzman. “The issue I think is that … we didn’t have time enough to work with the community.”
SAHA came to the decision after further researching the dire financial conditions of its residents and the impacts to the overall economy of the coronavirus pandemic, said Brandee Perez, SAHA’s chief operating officer. “We recognize that our economic crisis is still underway. … [SAHA has] some flexibility to update our policies as well as make them more resident-focused … and that may not be the same for some private landlords.”
Under the proposal, the 501-unit public housing complex that is home to more than 1,000 people would have become a 658-unit mixed-income development with rents set to different levels of the area median income (AMI), from market rate to less than 30 percent AMI.
But that could price some residents out of the new complex as previously proposed. Perez said more than 400 current residents earn 30 percent AMI or less, noting “that’s a family of four making less than $26,200.”
Nearly 300 families who live at Alazán are currently behind on rent, and 213 families earn less than $150 per week, she said.
News of SAHA’s reversal thrilled neighbors and community organizers listening in to and commenting during the online meeting.
“This is the housing authority of my dreams,” said Sofia Lopez, a housing advocate who had opposed the redevelopment. Housing authorities should be “dedicated to public housing and responsive to the community.”
SAHA began preparations to redevelop Alazán Courts in 2016, concluding that rehabilitating the 1930s-era structures would be cost-prohibitive. The housing units are too small and outdated to be renovated up to SAHA’s standards, officials said last year.
The housing authority drafted a plan for demolition, financing, and redevelopment along with a proposal to have NRP Group, which has dozens of housing developments in San Antonio, develop and manage the site for SAHA. The plan was to move current residents to other SAHA projects or Section 8 housing options in phases while portions of Alazán were demolished and rebuilt.
A SAHA spokesperson said a contract was not yet finalized and there will be no financial impact to the agency. SAHA planned to take advantage of $44 million in federal bonds that were set aside for the agency last year. Those bonds, which expire at the end of 2022, would have paid for only the first phase of the project.
The Esperanza Peace and Justice Center, Historic Westside Residents Association, and other groups have held numerous protests asking SAHA to slow down its demolition plan in order to pursue other financing and development models that would preserve the historic buildings at Alazán and public housing stock.
“This decision is profound and shows us that SAHA is listening to the tenants and the community at large,” said Esperanza Executive Director Graciela Sanchez. “I look forward to continued, true engagement.”
Ed Hinojosa Jr., SAHA’s interim president and CEO, said the housing authority will pursue as many avenues for funding as possible with three goals in mind for the development of Alazán: no relocation of residents, maintaining or growing the number of public housing units, and managing the property itself.
“[Additional federal resources] may be available soon through Biden administration policies and congressional authorizations, which may provide new opportunities for a creative approach to expanding public housing,” he said. “SAHA will continue advocating for new federal funds for capital improvements for all of its public housing properties.”