Six months ago, the circa 1920s home at 222 Furnish Ave. looked like a goner, with trees and vines growing through the walls – no doubt encouraged by the light coming in from the partially collapsed roof.
On Monday, City Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales (D5) handed the keys to the newly renovated house to its owners, marking it as the first success of the city’s Shotgun House Project. The final cost of the repairs is estimated at $100,000.
Handing over the keys to the owners was moving, Gonzales said.
“I feel very excited to finally see the project come to fruition,” she said. “If we can assist owner-occupier [homes], I think it can help many people stay in their homes for generations.”
The initiative, developed by the city’s Office of Historic Preservation, aims to restore and preserve some of the many historic and culturally significant “shotgun” homes, so-called for their narrow depth. Gonzales secured $250,000 to pilot the project in District 5, selecting three homes from a short list identified by OHP, which it culled from an inventory of more than 300 potential candidates.
Researchers from the University of Texas at San Antonio are collaborating on the project, to help demonstrate the cultural, economic and environmental benefits of rehabilitating these small historic homes.
Angela Lombardi, an associate professor in UTSA’s Department of Architecture, has been closely involved in the restoration process. She noted that the Lone Star neighborhood of small houses built in the 1920s and 1930s around the Furnish Avenue home remains largely intact.
“It’s a small-scale neighborhood, but really reflective of the history of the community,” she said. “We want to keep this history to tell the story of the community, the Mexican American population, and immigrants.”
Renovating these modest homes, many of which were built by and for skilled laborers in the community, not only preserves affordable housing stock for low-income residents, but is much more environmentally friendly than tearing down and building new.
Humberto Martinez, whose family has lived in the Furnish Avenue house for three generations, and his wife, Laura, looked stunned as they got out of their car and saw the completed renovation for the first time. The couple moved out of the home six months ago and stayed with family near Kirby until this week.
Despite its deteriorating condition, the couple had no interest in selling the home, surrounded as it is by family and life-long friends. Instead, they had hoped to renovate it themselves, but the scale and price tag of necessary work continued to grow, overwhelming the couple.
Now, thanks to the project, they’ll be moving back into a safe, secure and efficient home that could house family members for generations to come. Martinez tried to put his gratitude into words.
“You can’t explain it, with all these people here for us, we are lucky, very lucky,” he said.
Edward Gonzales, assistant director of the city’s Neighborhood and Housing Services Department, is optimistic about the future of the initiative. The city recognizes the need to renovate these types of homes, he said, and the project has been an excellent training opportunity for contractors and architecture students.
The other properties chosen for the pilot include 1107 Guadalupe St. and 1107 Smith Alley, both on the near West Side. Construction on both will begin in July. Once they’re complete, city officials will identify additional historic homes for renovation.
Gonzales has secured $254,000 for the next round of Shotgun House Project renovations, and hopes to see the program expand with additional resources.
“The hope is that with the housing bond money and with some of the American Rescue Plan [funds] … we could use some of that to invest in some of these older homes – especially the owner-occupied,” she said.