Among San Antonio’s aging housing stock, there are more than 700 so-called “shotgun” houses, many in need of major repair.
On Thursday, City Council voted to commit funds to rehabilitate three of them while also passing an ordinance to reduce the wholesale demolition of old homes.
The council approved a transfer of $302,000 from the city’s Neighborhood and Housing Services Department to fund the San Antonio Affordable Housing (SAAH) Shotgun Pilot Program, providing money that will go toward repairs on three of the narrow homes, all on the near West Side.
When completed, the homes will be available for rent to households that make up to 60% of the area median income.
In 2021, a team that rehabilitates owner-occupied houses for Neighborhood Housing Services of San Antonio completed repairs at a dilapidated home at 222 Furnish Ave. in the Lone Star District. But the nonprofit has since terminated the contract it had with the city.
SAAH will complete the pilot program initiated by the Office of Historic Preservation (OHP), which commissioned a study in 2019 to look at how rehabbed older buildings could meet the affordable housing needs of San Antonio. Among the study’s recommendations was to repair homes rather than demolish them or build new dwellings.
Three-fourths of all housing in San Antonio consists of homes built before 1965, according to OHP. Over the past 10 years, more than 1,500 homes built before 1960 houses were demolished. Such housing, often providing shelter for low-income residents, is increasingly vulnerable to demolition.
Another of the OHP’s initiatives aimed at preserving those homes and improving affordability won council support Thursday when all but one member voted to approve the city’s first deconstruction ordinance. The ordinance would mandate taking apart dwellings and other residential buildings when possible to salvage reusable building materials rather than demolishing the structures.
Though the possibility of a deconstruction program was first raised in 2017, Council first heard details about a proposed ordinance in February. At the time, staffers said annually about 500 buildings in San Antonio are razed. Sixty-nine percent of all demolition permits issued in the last decade were for residential structures, according to OHP.
Mechanical demolitions contribute to over 15,000 tons of waste, officials said, and every year since 2009, about $16 million worth of salvageable material has ended up in landfills. If removed through deconstruction, the material could be reused in the repair of other homes and ultimately prevent future demolitions.
Some of the material could be sent to the Material Innovation Center at Port San Antonio. The center will serve as a temporary lay-down space for building materials available to the community at no charge, but also as a site for skills training and research in reused materials.
“Sometimes buildings are going to come down — there are times when a building removal is necessary,” said Shanon Shea Miller, OHP’s executive director. “But when that happens, those materials can be reused and extend the life of other buildings in our community.”
Miller said that in addition to the environmental benefits of deconstruction, there are many social, economic public health benefits associated with removing buildings through deconstruction.
Under the ordinance, OHP will administer the deconstruction process through a permitting process similar to demolition requests. The new rules would become effective in three phases, starting on Oct. 1.
The first phase calls for applying the ordinance citywide to single-family and small multifamily residential structures built before 1920 and to the same types of structures with a historic zoning overlay or within a neighborhood conservation district, such as Beacon Hill.
In phase two, to become effective on Jan. 1, 2023, the ordinance will apply to single-family, multifamily and rear accessory structures built before 1945 and the same types of structures within historic or conservation districts.
On Jan. 1, 2025, phase three kicks in, requiring deconstruction of residential single-family structures, multi-unit structures and accessory structures that were constructed before 1945, regardless of zoning overlay.
The rules also apply to the same structures built before 1960 that have been designated historic or are located within a neighborhood conservation district.
“Our program priorities are to support affordable housing repair and production, as well as increased access to affordable materials, [to] increase our local pool of tradespeople and make renovations more cost-effective,” Miller said.
Funding to offset the cost of deconstruction, estimated to be about $3,000 more than a typical demolition, is available from the Alamo Area Council of Governments Solid Waste PassThrough grant and OHP’s budget. The department’s website, sareuse.com, features resource guides, a list of certified contractors and other information on deconstruction.
But the potential added cost of deconstruction passed along to homeowners is what concerned one councilman about the program.
“If this is such a great idea, why not let private industry do this, open it up and provide incentives to private industry to do this program without passing that cost to the end-customer for whatever is going to be built after that,” said Councilman Clayton Perry (D10), who cast the lone vote against the ordinance. “That’s where my biggest heartburn is.”
A heat map created by OHP shows most of the city’s demolitions occur on the West Side. Councilwoman Teri Castillo (D5), whose district covers that area, said she was proud to offer support for the ordinance.
“We know that there’s no silver bullet, but this adds a tool to our arsenal to ensure that we mitigate community displacement,” Castillo said. “Deconstruction can boost [home rehabilitation] efforts by providing inexpensive materials which still fit the character of older neighborhoods, and the deconstruction process means that some of the existing structures could be retained, which lowers rehab costs.”