This story has been updated.
The 85-year-old San Antonio Housing Authority has changed its name to Opportunity Home San Antonio, officials announced Wednesday.
The rebranding comes just one year after Ed Hinojosa Jr. was hired as the agency’s president and CEO and is the culmination of a discussion he started with employees and residents about enhancing the organization’s mission and vision.
“We came to the realization last fall that we wanted to break with the old name and really signify a new beginning,” Hinojosa told the San Antonio Report. “Let’s not maintain the status quo” in affordable housing.
Most major housing authorities, established by the federal government to manage and build housing and programs for low-income families, started in the 1930s — during the Jim Crow era and before the civil rights movement, he noted.
“Segregation was absolutely happening and the people running the government, both federally and locally, were [the] white, male patriarchy — and they were the authority,” he said. “We live in a different time now.”
The new name is an attempt to distance the agency from association with discriminatory policies, he said.
And the word “authority” no longer describes the agency, said Michael Reyes, Opportunity Home’s director of communications and public affairs.
“We’re a completely different housing apparatus,” Reyes said. “We have partnerships, we have alliances, there’s other entities doing housing. And so we’re no longer the authority. … That was a relic of the past.
“We wanted [our] name to be reflective of what’s happening in this century, not last century.”
Housing authorities across the country have made similar changes: the Fort Worth Housing Authority is now Fort Worth Housing Solutions, Portland’s changed to Home Forward, the Utica Municipal Housing Authority in New York is now People First and the housing authority in Fort Collins, Colorado, rebranded to Housing Catalyst.
For Hinojosa the new name represents a culture shift within the organization.
“We had some employee work group [discussions] … and what surfaced is three values of equity, compassion and excellence,” he said. Employees now receive training in equity and trauma-informed care.
“It’s part of moving away from sort of the bureaucratic type of way of handling resident decisions. … The challenge we have is [to foster] culture change in an organization of over 500 people. It doesn’t happen overnight.”
Those values are well illustrated by its shift in approach at Alazán Courts, San Antonio’s oldest public housing project.
Last year, the agency canceled plans to raze Alazán and partner with developer NRP Group to replace it with mixed-income housing amid protests by some residents and housing advocates who were concerned that existing residents would be displaced and unable to afford the housing that would replace the original apartments.
“The new approach is more aligned with our values of equity and compassion,” Hinojosa said. “We engaged an architect to begin working with the community and really get the community to decide how to move forward.”
The Alazán redevelopment process demonstrates Opportunity Home’s shift away from mixed-income partnerships with private developers who receive tax credits.
Over the past two decades housing authorities across the country, including SAHA, “were in a bind” because they had aging public housing projects that needed major investments, he said.
The mixed-income partnerships came with those investments that agencies couldn’t afford on their own — and typically meant demolition and reconstruction. “That was the only option available,” Hinojosa said. “We’ve reached a point now where we’re committed to looking at new creative ways to approach things.”
Since the mid-1990s, an estimated 200,000 public housing units have been removed from communities across the nation, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
San Antonio has lost 1,700 units, Hinojosa said.
“That’s going in the wrong direction,” he said. “At the start of the pandemic, we had 35,000 families on our waitlist [for housing]. Today, we have 70,000 families on our waitlist.”
Opportunity Home will still pursue mixed-income partnerships, “but we just want to make sure that we’re also focused on creating income-based housing.”
That will require finding more funding elsewhere because budget increases from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development are no match for the rising need.
“It’s going to take creativity,” Hinojosa said, and that includes seeking funding from local and state governments.
He sees opportunities in the city’s $150 million housing bond that was approved by voters earlier this year. That bond is meant to support the city’s 10-year housing plan, which identified 95,000 households who struggle to afford housing. More than 28,000 housing units will need to be built or preserved to meet the plan’s goals.
Opportunity Home helped draft that plan and is identified as one of the main partners to implement it.
The agency can no longer rely on federal funding, Reyes wrote in his prepared remarks for the rebranding announcement on Wednesday.
“Equity is not a buzzword, it means challenging the local, state and federal housing policies and lack of funding that defined the last century and continues to affect those needing affordable housing today and those we expect to serve in the future.”