This article was updated at 7:29 p.m.
The 80-year-old Alazan-Apache Courts on the near West Side have been named one of “America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places” by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately-funded nonprofit that protects and promulgates the importance of historic sites.
Today, 501 public housing units comprise the Alazan side of the courts on roughly 26 acres north of Guadalupe Street—both Alazan and Apache are west of Alazan Creek near downtown. The San Antonio Housing Authority (SAHA) plans to demolish Alazan in phases over multiple years, and replace the aging units with a new mixed-income development. Last November, SAHA’s board of commissioners approved the plan and chose Cleveland-based NRP Group as the developer. The timeline for the new Alazan development is unclear, SAHA says, because it’s still identifying funding sources. It will presumably include some public housing, as well as below-market-rate and market-rate rents.
“The preservation of historic buildings that provide affordable housing—and the communities that call those places home—should be a priority not only for San Antonio, but all cities nationwide,” said Katherine Malone-France, the National Trust’s chief preservation officer.
SAHA’s plan has received stiff and consistent pushback from West Side preservationists, most notably the Westside Preservation Alliance, which, in partnership with the Esperanza Peace & Justice Center, submitted the endangered sites application to the National Trust in February.
They say SAHA’s plan to raze Alazan, known colloquially as “Los Courts,” “will break up the existing community and scatter its residents throughout the city.” The redevelopment is also seen as a major trigger in the gentrification of the West Side.
The preservation alliance has advocated for the rehab of the barracks-style public housing complex that opened in 1940-41, according to the preservation alliance.
“The plans to demolish Los Courts would not only bring the loss of an architecturally significant site, but also the loss of a deeply embedded community while paving the way for the gentrification that has already taken over other downtown-adjacent neighborhoods,” Sara Gould, a member of the Westside Preservation Alliance, said in a press release.
Kayla Miranda, an Alazan-Apache resident, said SAHA should be preserving its housing stock, instead of destroying it.
“They want to flush us out to make room for higher income individuals and majority market rent properties,” Miranda said in a press release.
SAHA officials have said the cost to rehabilitate the units on cement cinder blocks is greater than the cost to rebuild, although SAHA has not produced specific financial figures when asked by the Heron in the past.
“Residents are unable to have access to a central air and heating system nor washer and dryer connections,” SAHA spokesman Michael Reyes said. “Moreover, interior insulation is not possible which makes winters colder and summers hotter.”
SAHA cited a survey of Alazan residents, in recent years, when it was pursuing the Choice Neighborhood grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), in which 81% of residents said they’d prefer the two-story buildings be rebuilt rather than remodeled.
The Alazan redevelopment is one piece of a larger plan to revitalize the West Side. Current residents will either be given an opportunity to move into the new development, as it’s completed in phases, or into one of the other West Side development’s SAHA is building, such as the Tampico Apartments, which just began construction nearby.
An 88-unit mixed-income project called The Legacy at Alazan at the intersection of El Paso and South Colorado streets, a vacant site that abuts Alazan to the south, is the first phase of SAHA’s West Side strategy. Construction is scheduled to begin in the fall, and take roughly 18 months to complete.
Or, current Alazan residents will be given vouchers.
In a recent interview, SAHA President and CEO David Nisivoccia told the Heron the reduction of public housing units on the Alazan site—from the demolition of public housing for a mixed-income development—would be made up through other programs offered by HUD.
“If a housing authority makes a decision to reprogram a development, HUD gives us what they call ‘tenant replacement vouchers’,” Nisivoccia said.
“One thing we require of all our new developments is that they have to receive Section 8 vouchers,” Nisivoccia continued. “So that client has a choice to come back to that property, just under a different program, Section 8. Or, they have a choice to take that voucher and go somewhere else that they might see as more advantageous to their lives or their children’s lives, for whatever reason. Closer to a job, closer to family, closer to their social network, wanting to escape a high concentration of poverty area.”
In the meeting in last November, when the SAHA board approved the plan, Sofia Lopez, who served on the board of commissioners at the time, rebuked the assertion that a voucher was an adequate replacement for a public housing unit.
“Vouchers are not a perfect program, and landlords across the city are not required to accept them,” said Lopez, who resigned from SAHA’s board this summer for personal reasons.
The preservationists say they’re trying to leverage support for Alazan to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places, which would qualify it for historic tax credits, Gould said.
SAHA has repeatedly described the redevelopment strategy at Alazan as being multi-phased, over potentially 5-8 years, composed of potentially 700 units. It’s a different strategy than the one SAHA employed at Wheatley Courts on the East Side, where SAHA demolished roughly 200 units at once in 2014 for the mixed-income community called East Meadows that stands there today. SAHA officials have since admitted it made an error in razing those courts all at once.
Of the 205 households who left Wheatley Courts, roughly 50 of them chose to return to the site and the new development, according to SAHA. Another 56 received housing vouchers, and 99 are no longer in SAHA programs, the agency said.
Another example of replacing public housing communities with mixed-income is the old Victoria Courts site just south of Hemisfair, which was demolished in 2001; SAHA built the first phase called Refugio Place in 2004, and is still building on the site within the Lavaca neighborhood’s boundaries.
SAHA says it wants to de-concentrate its other public housing communities, most notably the Apache courts, the Cassiano Homes and the Lincoln Heights Courts—all on the West Side. The trend is one adopted by housing authorities nationwide so that people of all socio-economic background “learn and grow from each other,” Tim Alcott, SAHA’s real estate and legal services officer, said at a virtual neighborhood meeting this week.
“The Alazan-Apache community is located in the poorest ZIP code in the poorest big city in America,” Reyes said. “It is not acceptable that Alazan residents must continue to live under these poor and outdated conditions.”
» NRP Group chosen for Alazan Courts redevelopment (Nov. 11, 2019)
» SAHA, NRP Group moving forward with contentious Alazan Lofts project (Aug. 25, 2019)
» How best to revitalize Alazan Courts and the near West Side? It’s complicated. (Aug. 17, 2019)
» Controversial Alazan Lofts gets boost from a reluctant zoning commission (July 17, 2019)
» As downtown development spreads, displacement and gentrification are set to roll over the West Side (May 21, 2019)
» Alazan Lofts project gets assist from non-West Side council members (Jan. 19, 2019)