UTSA has declined to conduct a study requested by the City of San Antonio that would have analyzed the city’s code enforcement and demolition practices, officials confirmed Tuesday.

The city is seeking a “true academic study” that it hopes will refute, in part, a November 2021 University of Texas at Austin School of Law report that showed the city demolished homes at a much higher rate than other major Texas cities, disproportionally issued demolition orders in poorer and older neighborhoods and targeted code enforcement where more Black and Latino residents live.

The city is still looking to hire another university or organization to perform the study, a city spokesperson said.

While the city has a standing contract with UTSA general research work, the university declined the city’s request because at the time its researchers were already busy working on other housing-related issues, said Joe Izbrand, UTSA associate vice president for strategic communications and external affairs.

“We understand that the city is looking for a timely assessment and, given there are a number of other viable options for conducting this type of research, pursuing those options seemed the best course of action to meet everyone’s needs,” Izbrand added.

It’s unclear how much such a study will cost the city, but it might need approval from City Council.

While some members of a council committee in December were open to funding another study, Councilwoman Teri Castillo (D5) said the city should save its time and money.

“I’m disappointed that this presentation was more an attack on the [report] and less about how we can work together to come up with solutions to ensure that we mitigate the displacement of folks,” Castillo said. “Whether it’s one or 400 families who are being issued notices to vacate and are being displaced, that’s one too many.”

The report found that the cities of Houston, Austin, Dallas and Fort Worth issued no more than 16 orders to vacate or demolish occupied, single-family homes combined between 2015 and 2020. San Antonio issued 626 — nearly 40 times more — during that same period.

Michael Shannon, director of the city’s Development Services Department, said in December that a preliminary review of data by San Antonio city staff found a much lower number: 331 orders to vacate and 73 orders to demolish for a total of 404 orders. 

“There are some fundamental flaws in that report,” City Manager Erik Walsh told reporters at the time. “The health, safety and well-being … of San Antonio residents — that is our priority, and that report attacked that.”

Heather Way, the UT report’s lead author and co-director of the Entrepreneurship and Community Development Clinic at the university, said she stands by her findings.

“It’s just smoke and mirrors to detract from what the real issues are, and that is the City of San Antonio is still an outlier when it comes to issuing these orders to vacate and demolition,” said Way, who noted she has worked in academia for 16 years. “It’s a common thing to attack the messenger when you’re in that defensive posture. … It’s just sort of silly to say this isn’t an academic report.”

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Iris Dimmick

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and mental health. Contact her at iris@sareport.org