downtown SLC
Downtown Salt Lake City – this is the public transportation I'm used to: consistant, quick, and cheap.

Last year I began feeling a growing discontent with Salt Lake City, the city I called home.  I was comfortable, I had friends and family there, had excellent business connections and a great reputation.  But it is not a friendly place for women and minorities, who find few opportunities for growth and tend to be pigeonholed to specific roles.  I wanted a change.

As a Latina professional, I yearned for a place where I could find other minority professionals, where I stood out for the right reasons. I yearned for mentors and for a place where I didn’t have to break barriers everywhere I went.  I wanted a vibrant world-class city, a place where minorities are valued, with a strong economy, and better weather than Salt Lake City.

I am originally from Ecuador, but I lived in Salt Lake City for most of my life with a couple of stints in Las Vegas and San Francisco.  My background is in business, I have a MBA,  and in a past life I served as the Director of Hispanic/Latino Affairs for the State of Utah.  In that role, I was exposed to public policy, urban planning and economic development strategies.  It elevated my appreciation and awareness of the value of good planning, and taught me how good planning makes a significant, tangible difference in the quality of life for people in a city.

So I did my research and came up with three candidates: San Francisco Bay, Miami and the Austin-San Antonio area.  San Antonio stood out because of its strong economy and reasonable cost of living.

When I first came for a visit, it was love at first sight.  I loved the River Walk, the architecture, the history, the walkable downtown and its progressive SA 2020 agenda.  I loved the diversity – not just the strong Latin influence – but a rich German and Irish heritage, a strong Jewish community, and the visible presence of many different faiths and congregations.  All the items on my list were being checked off, so I took the leap and moved to Texas.

One of the reasons I felt in love with San Antonio: the beautiful Missions. The history they hold within their walls … the stone architecture. I love the soul of this place. Photo by Silvia Castro.

In Salt Lake City, I lived three miles from downtown in an area called Sugarhouse, a neighborhood with quiet tree-lined streets and century-old houses.  It has a central commercial area composed of big box retailers and small local businesses, all in a very walkable, bike-friendly package.  They are currently building a streetcar line that connects Sugarhouse with the countywide light rail system. Sugarhouse was recently named one of the “10 Great Neighborhoods” by the American Planning Association.

Silvia Castro's home in SLC
My 100-year-old home on a tree-lined street in the Sugarhouse neighborhood, Salt Lake City. I loved my old neighborhood; the combination of old houses with plenty of stores and parks nearby. The trees in my neighborhood were some of the oldest, the changing of colors with the seasons is awe-inspiring. Photo by Silvia Castro.

I wanted to find something similar in my new city and started looking at housing options.

Rental housing in San Antonio is done differently from other places I have lived. I didn’t figure this out until after I moved; because of this I found renting in San Antonio incredibly frustrating.  I was looking for a home or a duplex in a walkable neighborhood and I wanted to deal directly with the owner.  In the other cities on my list — Salt Lake City, San Francisco and Austin, Craigslist is a good tool to do this. Not here.

downtown SLC
Downtown Salt Lake City – this is the public transportation I’m used to: consistant, quick, and cheap. Photo by Silvia Castro.

Almost all the Craigslist ads in San Antonio are posted by realtors or large property management companies.  The few places advertised by owner were a bit scary.  We really liked the Alamo Heights and the King William district and looked for housing there to no avail.  I was told by a realtor that it would be hard find a place there that met my requirements, no carpet, dishwasher, washer and dryer.

Finally, with our deadline approaching, we compromised and rented a townhouse in Huebner Oaks, from a property management listing we found on Trulia.com.  Later we were told that all rentals go through realtors or apartment locator services and it was assumed that anyone seeking to deal with the owner directly wanted to hide credit issues and criminal history.  In Salt Lake City, realtors don’t list rentals, property management companies generally rent more rundown multifamily buildings and the best rentals are usually by owner.

Huebner Oaks is a reasonably convenient place to live, but it is by no means a walkable neighborhood.  In fact, our townhouse community doesn’t have sidewalk access or a walkout gate.  It was built with the assumption that residents leave the community only by automobile.  I like our proximity to stores — there are three H-E-Bs, a large shopping center and two multiplex theaters within a three-mile area), yoga, restaurants, etc.  But I still yearn for a place that is walkable, interesting and convenient.

The none-pedestrian friendly intersection at Huebner Oaks.
This intersection is by a commercial center right on Huebner by I-10, and shows how car dependent my neighborhood is today. Sidewalks are cut off in places or built too near to the street, making walking a challenge. This neighborhood, if that is the right word, was not designed with pedestrians in mind. Photo by Silvia Castro.

My first impression of downtown San Antonio is that it was an exciting place with a vibrant urban feel that is missing from smaller cities like Austin and Salt Lake City.  But Salt Lake, for all its faults, tries to make downtown a destination.  It has a lot of events, festivals, and shopping going on downtown along with easy access via light rail, bus and plenty of public parking that was free on nights and weekends.  Access to San Antonio’s downtown seems like a bigger hassle than it needs to be. Since I moved here there have been few events that excite me enough to deal with the lack of parking and public transportation.

I am still getting to know San Antonio.  Slowly but surely, I am starting to find local resources, such as this website, that are easing my transition.  I am looking forward to making new friends and business connections as I figure out this wonderful city.

My list of helpful resources:

The Localist map: A good guide to places and organizations that are unique to San Antonio.  This service was helpful in finding other resources and is updated quite frequently – follow them on twitter (@TheLocalistMap).

Puro Pinche: They are also on Facebook and twitter (@puropincheSA).  Great list of happenings around town, events, concerts, you will learn how to party the San Antonio way.

Publicbeat: find them on twitter (@pb_sanantonio), good focus on public local and unique activities.  It has a list of free or low cost events going on, I found out about kayaking in San Antonio through them.

Downtown Tuesday: I like their Facebook page, information on activities and happenings downtown on Tuesdays – parking downtown is free!

San Antonio Current: (Of course!) Weekly alternative news, you can pick up the print version on grocery stores and coffee shops.

Trulia.com: besides a realtor, the only tool where we found places for rentals, I loved their map feature, you can search in different areas and you can tell if a rental is next to a freeway.  You do have to check the age of the listing as properties are listed that have rented already.

Not Helpful:

Craigslist – don’t waste your time going here for a rental, is filled with postings by apartment communities or by realtors using someone else’s listings as a marketing tool and scams.

Express-News classifieds section: it has potential but a search option is missing and there are not that many rental listings.

Silvia Castro, MBA is a business consultant and project management professional with experience in government, nonprofit, and the private sector.  She recently organized a Cancer Votes event for the American Cancer Society.  You can email Silvia or find her on LinkedIn.

Iris Dimmick

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