South Side mobile home residents recently forced to vacate
and make way for a luxury apartment complex aren’t giving up the fight to save their community. Represented by a local civil litigation attorney, the residents have filed two lawsuits—one against the City and the other against the property owners—with the hope of bringing justice to their situation.
Residents of Mission Trails Mobile Home Park gathered outside council chambers last month after a rezoning vote displaced them from their communities. Now, they're filing suit agains the City and property owners. Photo by Mary Tuma.
Last month, City council approved rezoning the 21-acre tract of land from “manufactured housing” to commercial and multi-family, allowing local developers White-Conlee to build a $75 million high-end riverfront apartment development in its place, as the Current
While more than 60 residents (including young children and Latino immigrants) testified, oftentimes pleading with tears, it eventually passed in a 6-4 vote, with Mayor Julián Castro and council members Diego Bernal (District 1), Rey Saldaña (District 4) and Shirley Gonzales (District 5) casting a vote against the zoning item. District 3 councilwoman Rebecca Viagran, whose district encompasses the park, voted for the rezoning and vowed to make sure the residents secured new housing.
Developers promised to subsidize moving expenses and hookup fees when transitioning residents to other trailer parks and will provide a $2,500 rent discount to residents and an additional $2,500 from the property buyer if the move occurs before Aug. 15.
However, many residents, especially the disabled and elderly, voiced deep concern over their ability to relocate and worry over loss of proximity to doctor’s offices and accessible medical care.
This week, attorney Nicole Elizalde Henning, on behalf of the roughly 300 low-income mobile home dwellers uprooted from their community, filed two separate suits in response to the displacement. (View copies of the suit below.)
The first suit
alleges the city violated the Texas Open Meetings Act (specifically, when council met in executive session to discuss contractual issues during the May session) and failed to provide notice of rezoning to residents that own their homes in the park. (While notification isn’t required for home renters, City code does mandate home owners must be notified of any changes in rezoning.) Residents felt the property owner or the city should have alerted them to the rezoning, at the least, out of respect. Instead they discovered the change as a result of their own efforts.
“They weren’t required to notify everyone,” Elizalde Henning tells the Current
. “But unfortunately, they notified no one.”
The second suit
, expected to be drawn out much longer than the first, was filed against property owners, Colorado-based American Family Communities and the Mission Trails company. That suit charges the owners with, essentially, being slumlords. The lawsuit alleges more than 20 grievances, such as poor and unsanitary upkeep of the property, including raw sewage, exposing residents to bacterial, fungal and other toxins and an overall refusal to make necessary repairs to homes. It also claims “deceptive” water utility billing methods in violation of Texas Commission on Environmental Quality standards.
“Under Mission Trails MHC, LLC’s ownership, the park has committed numerous reprehensible and serious violations against its residents,” the suit reads. “[
] Defendants’ actions are so egregious, it is impossible to list the multitude of violations committed.”
Elizalde Henning says she contacted both the city and property owners prior to filing suit to settle the issues— offering a proposal to move residents to multi-tenant housing repossessed by the city—but was met with silence. She says no resident has secured alternate housing so far. In fact, she alleges they are on the other end of intimidation tactics from property owners.
Viagran refused to comment on the two suits and says she does not recall correspondence sent by Elizalde Henning regarding sub-standard housing conditions. However, she did stress incoming property managers and members of the City's Department of Human Services have made themselves available to answer questions and “settle misinformation” during meetings held at the Mission Library (from 10:30 a.m.- 6:00 p.m. and daily presentations held from 4:00 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday, Wednesday, and Friday or 5:30 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday.) Viagran's office says an open house will be held Thursday June 12 from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. for all residents who would like to speak to representatives of Implicity Management Group, area mobile home parks, the San Antonio Independent School District (SAISD), Catholic Charities of San Antonio, and the Department of Human Services.
She hopes residents take advantage of the opportunity for dialogue.
“We are working diligently and will continue to work diligently to make sure that everyone has their place secured and everything is followed through,” Viagran tells the Current
. “Our priority has been to make sure residents get the assistance they need. I just hope this lawsuit does not hinder that.”
View both suits here via Scribd:
Mission Trails Suit vs City
Mission Trails Suit v Property Owners