Tenants at an apartment complex in Northwest San Antonio have submitted a list of demands to the property’s Austin-based ownership, asking, among other things, for a reprieve from the wave of evictions they say are being carried out there.
At Seven Oaks Apartments on Thursday, roughly two dozen tenants and organizers from the Texas Organizing Project (TOP) approached the front door of the leasing office with the document in hand, calling out through a bullhorn for management to meet them.
The group had gathered under a blazing sun an hour earlier at a gas station parking lot adjoining the complex at 5903 Danny Kaye Drive. They met there because, the day before, management had called on police to kick them off the property, said Ashton Condel, an organizer with TOP.
A similar script played out Thursday, as two police officers arrived at the complex in response to a call from management. The conversation was civil, however, and by then, close to an hour after the petition was delivered, much of the crowd had already left after management did not meet them.
Tenant after tenant described mold, leaky pipes, swollen ceilings, broken air conditioners, unchecked crime and management that is hard to reach and slow to respond.
Many also said they were bearing the brunt of disorganization in the management office, which they said had misplaced the paperwork for their leases and payments in recent months.
The complex has new management after the property changed hands in December, when the 259-unit complex was sold by Chicago-based investor Vasile Trif to Achieve Investment Group, an Austin-based property investment company, for a reported $27.3 million.
The complex’s owners did not respond to requests for comment sent Thursday evening.
Jas Delonde, a tenant of eight months, said that a few months into his lease — around the time the complex changed hands — management lost two money orders he had sent for a total of $800. They then demanded he pay them again, he said.
Willie Rector, a tenant of two years, said her attempts to get housing assistance from the city were frustrated because management did not have an up-to-date lease on file for her, and were unresponsive to her repeated attempts to get an updated lease. She recently received an eviction notice, at which point she said she discovered for the first time that she had been moved to a month-to-month lease.
She stood at the front of the crowd on Thursday, shouting up to the second-story window of the leasing office. Murmurs in the crowd suggested someone may be inside.
“We signed contracts we have to abide by, so they shall abide by them, too,” Rector called out to the crowd. “We signed a contract for working washing machines, but do we have that?”
“No!” the crowd shouted back.
“Do we have AC?”
Two tenants passing by with groceries asked what the commotion was about, but carried on to their apartment. Once the tenants joined the rest of their family in their apartment, they recounted their own experiences.
One family member, Michael Coronado Jr., told the others that a large crowd had gathered outside the leasing office. “I wish I had heard about it earlier,” he said. They wondered aloud how they could obtain the protection from retaliation that the organizers had mentioned.
The family, which lives in two side-by-side units, said both units recently had month-to-month leases imposed on them, costing $100 more per month. They also say they’ve been threatened with eviction notices, which they called part of a drive to push out families like theirs that rely on Section 8 housing vouchers.
Coronado pointed to black mold in the bathroom, and a faucet that appears to have been fixed by management with duct tape. Spotty patches dot the ceiling of the kitchen where leaks once were. A bulge in the corner of the ceiling is a reminder that other leaks remain, building up.
Coronado’s father showed photos of a corpse they said they recently found right outside their door. The spot where the body laid can still be seen through the broken glass of their window — another repair they say management has not responded to.
“I’ve never felt as nervous as I do at Seven Oaks,” said Coronado’s grandfather, Michael Stevenson, a Vietnam War veteran.
The family plans to move to Colorado as soon as they save up enough money for a rental truck.
The list of demands prepared by TOP ask that, among other items, management respond to maintenance requests within three days, that no tenant be forced to move until December, that relocation assistance be given and late fees removed, and that tenants be given copies of their current leases.
The letter was also sent to the San Antonio Housing Authority and District 7 Councilwoman Ana Sandoval.
Organizers say tenants who participate in their effort are protected from retaliation by state law, which protects the rights of renters to organize. But the leverage these groups can wield is limited, as Texas also severely limits renters’ rights when rent is withheld — a primary tool for similar groups in states like California.
The effort comes less than a month after tenants at another complex in Northwest San Antonio organized and submitted their own petition to management. “We see the winds blowing this way,” said Tray Johnson, a TOP organizer who also was one of the founding members of the San Antonio Tenants Union, a housing advocacy group.
Countywide, evictions have nearly returned to their pre-pandemic levels. After plummeting at the start of the pandemic and in the face of eviction moratoriums, evictions have steadily crept upwards in recent months. In February, there were more than 22,600 evictions in Bexar County, just slightly less than the 23,500 evictions in February 2020, according to Texas Housers, which tracks the data.
Seven Oaks is the latest complex purchased by Achievement Investment Group, which since 2019 has also purchased Rio Springs, the Valencia, and Morgan Manor in San Antonio.
The group uses a kind of crowdfunded equity to purchase the properties, called syndication, which has become an increasingly popular business model in recent years.
Achievement is one of many out-of-town investor groups that have rushed to capitalize on the growing renter class in the city. Roughly 1 in 7 apartment units traded ownership last year.