SAHA retrenches

The President and CEO of the San Antonio Housing Authority announced his resignation last Thursday, one of several recent internal changes in the department that may represent a deeper shift in the City’s approach to low-income housing.

The official line is that Henry Alvarez resigned from SAHA to lead the San Francisco Housing Authority, but his four-year run at SAHA was marred by lawsuits and public criticism over the Mirasol Homes project, a low-income housing development completed in 2001.

For Janet Ahmad, founder of the non-profit consumer-advocacy organization HomeOwners for Better Building, Alvarez’s departure is just another example of the fallout at SAHA over the past 18 months because of the agency’s failure to adequately address the problems at Mirasol.

“It’s significant,” Ahmad said. “It was one of the problems that we saw that this agency was not being run efficiently.”

Although Alvarez inherited the Mirasol problem, Ahmad and other critics were dissatisfied with SAHA’s attempts to resolve the situation.

Ahmad and League of United Latin American Citizens have been working to aide the Mirasol residents, who began to notice serious problems with their houses soon after moving in. `See sidebar, this page.` The five-neighborhood, 247-home development on the West Side was funded by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development’s HOPE VI program. Almost two years ago residents began complaining about mold problems, sickness, and deteriorating foundations in the homes. The City sued Magi realty, the original contractor that hired KB Homes, and created a task force to address the residents’ problems. Magi then sued KB Homes for the poor construction. The lawsuits are still pending.

Ahmad, who advocates requiring homebuilders to be licensed, said she thinks KB Homes ongoing involvement with SAHA’s efforts to address Mirasol are part of the problem. The Mirasol Task Force consists of 11 committee members, including representatives from SAHA, residents, and KB Homes.

“That’s like putting KB on the jury,” Ahmad said. “They sat there and dictated the laws. It’s like they were saying, ‘We’ll let you fix our mess. But we have to give you permission to fix our mess.’ In the meantime, home owners are still sitting in those houses that are contaminated.”

In February, Mayor Phil Hardberger announced sweeping changes to SAHA’s board of commissioners, replacing five of the seven members.

SAHA is still working to resolve the homeowners’ issues by making repairs to the houses. The key to rectifying the situation, however, is aiding the homeowners who want to sell and start fresh, said Ramiro Cavazos, the newly appointed chairman of the board of commissioners.

“I don’t think the offers are fair enough concerning buying their homes,” Cavazos said. “The threat of the mold is being resolved through the homes being fixed right now, but the residents that want to move out, we want to make sure we give them fair benefits.”

Cavazos said he thinks SAHA has already proven it has changed with its handling of the recent mold problem at the Blanco Apartments. The board of commissioners approved $3.6 million in financing for the senior apartment complex, removed 96 residents, and protected their belongings. They plan to move the residents back into their renovated apartments by the end of the year.

Cavazos said Alvarez’s departure is another opportunity for SAHA to become a more accountable, transparent agency.

“I think there is a need for change going forward to make sure that we don’t get stale in our approach to providing high-quality housing for seniors, elderly, or low-income residents,” Cavazos said. “This is a very, very important population. They live on the margins and have a lot of obstacles in their life. We need to handle and treat them with sensitivity and respect.” •


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