Thursday, May 18, 2017

City Housing Commissioners Skeptical of "Relocation Plan" for Displaced Tenants

Posted By on Thu, May 18, 2017 at 6:00 AM

click image The now-abandoned Mission Trails mobile home park - KSAT, SCREENSHOT
  • KSAT, screenshot
  • The now-abandoned Mission Trails mobile home park
Manuel de la O was in the hospital with pneumonia when he found out his new home, the one with a beautiful view of the San Antonio River, was no longer his. The San Antonio City Council had just voted to rezone Mission Trails, the 21-acre mobile home park he called home, to make way for a 600-unit luxury apartment complex.

"I was so excited that this house was finally mine," de la O recalls. "And then it was taken away."

After returning from the hospital, he accepted the few thousand dollars the developer was handing out to the newly displaced Mission Trails residents and moved into a faraway apartment complex. After the rental assistance dried up, de la O was unable to pay the unit's $800 per month rent, so he moved out. "I was homeless, living in my van, for a long time," he said. "The city didn't care."

De la O's story was one of many documented in a 100-page report released in early May that detailed just how disruptive the 2014 displacement was for many of the Mission Trails residents. The report, published by a group of affordable housing activists and researchers called Vecinos de Mission Trails, found that many of families the city had promised to keep from being impacted by such an unexpected change instead spiraled into homelessness, extreme poverty and health crises after the move. Housing advocates see the report as a clear example of how city policy promotes gentrification. City Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran, who represents the area, largely disregarded the report as a political move.

On Tuesday, the city committee created in the wake of the Mission Trails move, the Housing Commission to Protect and Preserve Dynamic and Diverse Neighborhoods, heard the city's response to the report's findings. But it did little to quell the committee's concerns.

In a brief presentation, Richard Keith, assistant director for the Planning & Community Development, told commissioners that the city should probably update a 2014 "relocation assistance" plan that was never voted on.

"It's not yet a formal city policy," Keith said. “The Vecinos report is a reminder that we have this relocation policy we need to finish.”

He suggested commissioners use the three-year-old policy as a "first step" to make a new relocation plan informed by the Mission Trails report. The plan would specifically help tenants who are displaced by a development project that receives city assistance.

Some commissioners seemed puzzled by the presentation.

"I think we need to first consider what constitutes displacement that can't be avoided," said commissioner member Carol Rodriguez. "What can we do to avoid displacement in the first place?"

Her concerns were echoed by commissioner Gabriel Velasquez, who said this approach underscored a bigger issue with the commission's purpose.

"We're not having real conversations about how poor people are stressed in our community," Velasquez said. "There's a piece we haven't been addressing. We're not dealing with concerns or needs of people who are victims of displacement."

And if they create an official policy for tenants uprooted by city-funded development, will it meet the long-term needs of the displaced community? Commissioner Rod Radle said that most city relocation projects he's been a part of are essentially "Band-Aid programs." Sure, the city can help a displaced tenant with moving fees and rent for a few months. But, Radle asked, "What happens after that period of time?"

De la O had hoped to testify in front of the commission with other former Mission Trails tenants, like Sherry Posy, who said she's seen her friends' lives "destroyed" by the move. They wanted to show commissioners that the city's current relocation plan did little to help their community. "A lot of us were not given enough money to pick up our lives and start over. A lot of us are still in a lot of debt," Posy said.

But even though Posy and de la O say they signed up to testify Tuesday, their names were never called. Commission Chairwoman Jennifer Gonzalez told Marisol Cortez, the lead author of the Vecinos report, to "come back next month."

The same day as the meeting, White-Conlee Development, the new owner of the Mission Trails property, told the Rivard Report that they'd break ground on their new luxury apartments this summer.


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