Monday morning, the 170 or so seniors living at the Granada Homes woke up to a snow-covered downtown in their warm apartments. Then the rolling power outages started and the situation turned dire.
For most of the week, the 92-year-old building had power, but no water pressure. The building runs on a boiler system and requires water pressure to create steam that then feeds the heat exchanger. On Friday morning, water pressure in the building was at about 60 pounds per square inch, or PSI. Granada’s system needs 80 PSI to generate heat.
As of last night, water pressure returned, and the Granada, an historic 12-story community for low-income seniors on the River Walk, is slowly getting back to normal.
As the week started, however, it was touch and go for the elderly residents.
Early on, when highways were closed, food deliveries stopped, in particular the weekly commodities drop off from the San Antonio Food Bank. Residents were surviving on what they had in their fridge.
Without water to flush their toilets, residents started packing snow from the third floor terrace overlooking the River Walk into buckets. Some even went down to the river to collect water.
“When you’re in situations like this, and you can’t have all your good things, you improvise … do what you have to do to survive,” said Sam Alvarado, 90, a civil rights organizer who’s lived at the Granada since 2012. “In the old days, that’s the way people did it.”
Pat Moreno, 64, is one of the youngest residents at the Granada, and Alvarado’s friend. She said they usually go out for breakfast, but since the blast hit, the restaurants were closed.
“I was using all my bottled water to wash dishes and to cook,” Moreno said. “We got so desperate that we said, ‘What are we going to do?’ Well, no one is out here helping us, so we have to do it for ourselves. It was desperation.”
Moreno, like some others, had electric heaters, so the temperatures in their rooms didn’t drop as low. But others, like Alvarado, slept in chilly conditions for most of the week. Moreno began calling public officials, including Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Calvert, Precinct 4, and requested water, heaters and blankets. Alvarado tapped his friends at the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC).
On Wednesday, bottled water finally arrived courtesy of the Bexar County’s Office of Emergency Management. On Thursday, the hot meals started from various groups and volunteers. On Friday morning, it was chorizo and egg, and potato and egg tacos from the Arizona Cafe on South General McMullen Drive on the West Side.
“They’ve been living on what they had,” said Queta Rodriguez, a volunteer who brought in the tacos. “We’re going to try to keep feeding them hot food, and of course, continue to give them water so they don’t have to go out there.”
Earlier in the week, residents were given the opportunity to go to the heating center at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center, but most didn’t want to go either because they feared the sleeping conditions’ impact on their frail bodies, or being exposed to Covid-19.
“Because of Covid, we only had two go,” said Shane Denn, the Granada’s building engineer. “Our average age is like 72. They’re in that most vulnerable area when it comes to Covid.”
The Granada, which first opened as the Plaza Hotel in 1928, is owned by San Antonio Building and Construction Trades Council, a local affiliate of D.C.-based AFL-CIO.
Denn said he’s been in touch with public officials throughout the week, as well.
“Most of these big facilities, they run off boilers and chillers,” Denn said. “You’re talking about any kind of hotels and apartments, anything of any size.”
The Granada is due for a complete renovation, which could begin in June or July, Denn said. That renovation, which is being done in partnership with local developer Mission DG and the San Antonio Housing Authority (SAHA), will include a complete replacement of the boiler and chiller systems.
The plan is to keep the Granada as senior housing. At a SAHA meeting in October, an agenda packet said that all 249 units would be reserved for “tenants whose incomes average 60% or less” of the area median income.
On Friday morning, as the tacos arrived, the mood among the residents seemed better than it must have been earlier in the week, when they were without relief.
The lobby of the building was chilly, and many residents wore coats or jackets or were covered in blankets.
“It’s a big experience for us, because we’ve never been through something like this,” Olivia Lopez said. “And now it’s exciting because they’re coming, they’re blessings to us, and we have everybody helping each other.”
“I’m good. I’m blessed. I’m 77.”
San Antonio Housing Authority, Mission DG chosen as partners on $51M Granada Homes rehab (Oct. 11, 2020)