Responding to accusations of wrongful evictions and mismanagement, San Antonio Housing Authority President and CEO David Nisivoccia told the City’s Housing Commission on Wednesday that the nonprofit agency will take short- and long-term steps to address tenant concerns and will undergo an internal policy review process.
While the data shows that evictions are trending down, Nisivoccia said, each eviction impacts someone’s well-being.
“These actions deal with human beings and we want to address it as such,” he said.
More than two dozen Alazán-Apache Courts residents and neighborhood advocates attended the commission’s meeting to call for a moratorium on evictions and fees until a third-party investigates what some called “unreasonable” and “inhumane” policies and practices.
Nisivoccia said SAHA’s longstanding policy is to halt eviction notices and pause evictions during winter holiday weeks unless it’s for criminal activity, but he stopped far short on of agreeing to broader moratoriums.
Leticia Sanchez-Retamozo, co-chair of the Historic Westside Residents Association, left the meeting unsatisfied.
“Everything he’s saying is about long-term [solutions],” Sanchez-Retamozo said. “People have been suffering for years. More immediate action is needed.”
The group, associated with the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center, is currently helping several residents fight eviction or find new housing. The group is considering taking legal action against SAHA, Sanchez-Retamozo told the Rivard Report after the meeting.
“We do all we can to prevent evictions,” Nisivoccia told the commission.
SAHA offers alternative payment schedules, late fee exceptions, and repayment agreements for qualifying residents, and new residents can take an optional Early Engagement course that covers tenant rights and information about resident councils and organizing, he said. The agency also works with nonprofits and other programs for financial assistance.
But Nisivoccia acknowledged that some fees may not be needed, such as a second late fee charged to tenants who fail to pay their rent after 15 days.
Immediate changes at SAHA facilities will include a verbal warning of eviction before written notice is issued, eviction notices at SAHA’s Alazán-Apache Courts sent “directly to my desk,” and the keeping of receipts and other documentation to record repairs for which tenants are charged, Nisivoccia said.
Overt the next weeks and months, SAHA will review and improve its training policies for employees as well as its fee schedules, he added.
Many of these policies have been in place for more than a decade, he said. “This is an opportunity to review those policies.”
Notices to vacate are sometimes misunderstood by residences as a completed eviction, he said, but that merely starts the process.
Three-day notices to vacate, he said, could take 61 days to implement because of the review and appeal process. Those are typically issued to tenants who threaten the safety of others or are engaged in criminal activity.
Thirty-day notices to vacate, which are given to tenants who repeatedly violate their leases, could take 141 days.
Some residents said they were treated with disrespect and others manipulated by SAHA staff to vacate their housing – leaving them homeless.
SAHA can have the best policies in the world, but that “does not actually mean that they are being followed by SAHA staff,” Sanchez-Retamozo said, adding that a third-party agency should investigate claims of misconduct – not SAHA.
“I take [those accusations] very seriously,” Nisivoccia said, noting that due process must be given to both the staff member and the tenant. “I believe we’re all humans and we’re allowed to make a mistake … but I am not hesitant to remove employees either.”
SAHA’s overall eviction rate is 3.14 percent, he said. That’s less than Bexar County’s, which is 4.1 percent, according to Eviction Lab. At the 501-unit Alazán-Apache Courts, there were 55 evictions in fiscal year 2018, or nearly 11 percent, and 44 evictions in 2019, or 8.8 percent.
SAHA has plans to raze the Alazán-Apache Courts complex and replace it with mixed-income housing units. Current residents will be relocated to other SAHA residences in phases or given vouchers for other housing.
The eight-member commission does not directly oversee the operations of SAHA; rather, it was formed to guide the implementation of the City’s affordable housing policies. It can make policy recommendations to City Council.
“One of the areas of responsibility or focus in the plan is how do we address displacement and gentrification,” said Housing Commission Chair Lourdes Castro Ramírez, so the commission should be part of SAHA’s policy review process.
Residents and advocates have taken these issues up with SAHA’s board, Sanchez-Retamozo said, but those meetings were unsuccessful.
Nisivoccia agreed to report back to the commission to review proposed changes to the eviction and fee policies.
“We are here to house people,” he said. “It [brings] me no joy if we have to move down the path of eviction.”