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News Fallen through the cracks 

Because of a financial snafu, Juanita Segundo could lose her home to the San Antonio Housing Authority

Visiting Juanita Segundo’s house, the first thing one notices is a tall wooden cross, painted white and hung with miniature Christmas lights, planted in the lawn. Three times a week, the Segundos hold church services for friends and family, including Segundo’s eight siblings, eight children, 19 grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren, in the living room, where they’ve knocked out two bedrooms’ walls to create a church. During services, her family performs — her husband strums the guitar, and her son and daughter play the drums and keyboard — while the rest of the makeshift congregation sings.

Juanita Segundo sits on a salvaged pew in the church she and her husband built in their living room. Segundo is involved in a land dispute with SAHA, which may lead to the loss of her West Side home, where she has lived for 35 years and where she raised eight her children. (Photo by Mark Greenberg)

Segundo has lived in the house since 1965 and owned it since 1970. Four of her children were born there, and one still lives at home. Yet, because of a dispute over its ownership — involving a money lender, two banks, and the San Antonio Housing Authority — Segundo could lose her home.

In the fall of 1984, Leonel W. Salazar visited Juanita Segundo, a widow with eight children, and offered to save her home, in default and perilously close to being auctioned off on the south steps of the County Courthouse. Before Salazar left, he convinced Segundo to sell him a warranty deed on the house, guaranteeing that she held clear title to the property, on the house for $10. In exchange, Salazar agreed to pay off her $8,000 HUD loan, and sell her back the house for $12,000. (A search on Salazar’s name in the County Clerk’s database retrieves 543 records, many documenting transactions similar to the one he made with Segundo.)

At the time, Segundo thought Salazar’s loan would be the end to her housing issues, but 21 years later she knows it was just the start. “It was as if an angel from heaven came to see me,” says Segundo, “but later I found out it was the devil himself.”

Last month, Segundo received a letter from the San Antonio Housing Authority requesting that she sign a lease on the house, for which, according to the Bexar County Appraisal District, SAHA holds the deed. Yet, Segundo also holds a HUD-signed deed that says the house belongs to her, and she believes SAHA obtained its deed through Salazar’s apparent financial irresponsibility.

At a November 3 SAHA board meeting, George Alejos, LULAC District XV affordable-housing director, asked SAHA to transfer ownership of the home back to Segundo. He claimed that SAHA’s previous President and CEO, Melvin Braziel, had promised to give Segunda back her house, but also that, after 35 years of uninterrupted living in the home, during which time no one else maintained the property, she can claim homestead rights.

SAHA’s board tabled the issue until the December 1 board meeting. SAHA spokesman Mark Kinkade said the housing authority’s lawyers are investigating its options with regards to the house. “`CEO Henry Alvarez’ staff` is still discovering these types of problems,” says Kinkade, referring to the previous administration. “As we continue to refine the business process, and become more accountable, we are trying to set these issues right.”

At 62, Segundo is unable to work because of health issues: A diabetic, in the last five years she has been hospitalized for ovarian cancer, kidney failure, and a car accident. Her husband, Juan, 68, is a non-denominational Christian minister. He is trying to become a U.S. citizen and does not work, so the two live on her monthly Social Security disability income of $579 and whatever money their son, Juan David Segundo, who lives at home with them, can provide.

With the living room committed to the church, Segundo and her husband live in the kitchen and a bedroom. On her dresser, Segundo collects angels of all shapes and sizes, and, in a three-ring binder she has carefully collected all the papers associated with the house. “I’ve had to,” she says. “No one else was going to look out for me.”

In 1970, Segundo bought the house with a HUD loan of $8,650. In 1984, after a period of illness, she fell behind in the payments. She believed that, with the warranty deed for security, Salazar would pay off her HUD loan in one lump sum, and then she would pay him off at $250 a month. Instead, Salazar used the warranty deed to secure a $12,740 loan from Travis Savings and Loan. A year later, he renewed the loan, at $16,725.

In 1988, HUD sent Segundo the deed for her house; her loan was paid in full. Yet in 1989, Salazar’s lawyer sent Segundo a notice that she was $965 behind on payments; pay or lose the house. “I thought I was done,” she says. “I had paid him the whole $12,000, but he kept saying no, there was still the interest. I thought the $12,000 included the interest, but he said it did not.”

Segundo did not have the money. In 1990, Salazar, $1,500 in arrears on his payments, defaulted on his loan, and a letter from Travis Savings and Loan notified Segundo that she would soon have a new “landlord.” She worked with a lawyer from Bexar County Legal Aid, and according to legal documents appears to have negotiated to pay off the loan, making a one-time deposit of $1,000.

That amount was not enough. Later that year, Segundo’s house sold on the courthouse steps to Travis Savings and Loan for $10. Although the deed does not appear in the county clerk’s land records, the appraisal district shows the property transferred to SAHA in 1993.

In 1999, SAHA served Segundo with a notice to vacate. Structurally unsafe, her house was set for demolition. “How could they tear down a good house?” asks Segundo. “We put a lot of love and sweat into this house for almost 40 years.” This time, Legal Aid did not have the resources to take her case; she waited to be evicted — but a second notice never came.

Segundo reportedly met with SAHA CEO Melvin Braziel in 2003. With three other executives present, Segundo says, Braziel told her that SAHA would try to sell the house; if no one bought it, they would set a court date to settle ownership, but SAHA would forfeit its claim on the property by not appearing in court on the appointed day, thus transfering ownership back to Segundo. Those promises were never fulfilled.

A St. Mary’s University law professor said, in an “off-hand” opinion, that neither Salazar nor Travis Savings and Loan had any legal claim to the house, because the warranty deed — and Salazar’s subsequent deed of trust with Travis — served as security for a loan, not for the purchase or direct upgrade of the house.

SAHA, the law professor said, could claim it had no knowledge of Segundo and Salazar’s legal entanglements, but the fact that she was living in the house, and had been for 35 years, should have been a catalyst for the housing authority to investigate her title rights to the property.

“I’m not disputing that SAHA is the rightful owner,” says Alejos. “The mere fact that they’ve waited 13 years to claim ownership, while she has lived there continuously since 1965. That in itself is enough to get her the house. They want her to sign that lease. She’s not going to sign.”

Alejos has filed an open-records request to see the minutes of Segundo’s meeting with Braziel. He says the executives who were present — whose names he declines to mention — will corroborate that Braziel did, in fact, promise to help return Segundo’s house.

As things stand, SAHA is asking Segundo for $550 a month if she signs the lease, $600 if she does not. If the housing authority transfers the deed to Segundo, she would have to pay taxes on the house. Alejo says he believes the appraisal district would refer to its 1992 value, $19,800 according to Bexar Appraisal District. (SAHA is exempt from property taxes.) However, Segundo’s neighbors homes are valued at $35,000-47,000, and according to BCAD, their taxes were assessed at $1,000-1,400 last year.

“My children will help me pay the taxes if I couldn’t pay them,” says Segundo, who hopes others learn from her mistake. “If I help others not get scammed, that will be a double blessing for me. I tell people: Learn to read and write; ignorance is no excuse.”

By Susan Pagani

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