From Blighted Trailer Park to MELA Luxury Apartments

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Left: An trash-filled lot at Mission Trails Mobile Home Park. Photo taken in April 2014, before residents were forced to leave. Photo by Robert Rivard. Right: A rendering of Mission Escondida courtesy of B&A Architects.

Left: An trash-filled lot at Mission Trails Mobile Home Park. Photo taken in April 2014, before residents were forced to leave. Photo by Robert Rivard. Right: A rendering of Mission Escondida Luxury Apartments, which will be built in the trailer park's place. Courtesy of B&A Architects.

Ground Zero in San Antonio’s gentrification debate is a 21-acre plot of land that sits prominently above the Mission Reach of the San Antonio River just south of Concepción Park and a 10-minute walk to Mission Concepción. The now vacant parcel is the former site of the Mission Trails Mobile Home Park and the future site of MELA, the Mission Escondida Luxury Apartments, a 600-unit development that will be built in two phases starting this year.

For John White and Tom Conlee, the owners of San Antonio-based White-Conlee Development, the tone and volume of protest over their purchase and plan to redevelop the long-neglected trailer park might be the worst experience they’ve had in developing nearly 100 properties and 21,600 apartments here and across Texas.

Public anger that might have been directed at the absentee Colorado landlord and indifferent City officials who permitted such squalor to exist unchallenged, instead was directed at White-Conlee after it purchased the trailer park, necessitating the relocation of the 296 residents, 150 of them children.

Media coverage of the situation has since died down, yet many facts never became part of the very emotional public conversation, and also did not make the report issued April 22, 2015 by the Mayor’s Task Force on Preserving Dynamic and Diverse Neighborhoods and approved by City Council on Thursday.

(Read more: Amid Task Force Dissent, Council Approves Gentrification Guidelines)

Third World Conditions

Until the sale, no one intervened on behalf of the Mission Trail residents to address the squalid living conditions at the trailer park: uncollected brush, unsanitary pools of standing water, leaking sewage and dozens of abandoned, stripped and collapsing trailers. Some of the abandoned trailers were used by street prostitutes and their customers, according to residents I interviewed last year.

The task force did not ask one of the most fundamental questions about Mission Trails: Why did city officials permit such conditions to exist in the first place? There were no city inspections or citations issued to Mission Trails MHC LLC, an entity affiliated with Colorado-based American Family Communities that sold the property to White-Conlee. American Family Communities leased trailer pads to residents and also owned some the trailers that were rented to tenants who did not own their own trailer.

By not using City code enforcement powers to force the owners to improve the property, the City failed to address the underlying problem of people living in illegal and unacceptable conditions. The report leaves the impression by omission that the City will only focus on pockets of poverty once they become of interest to developers.

The media, including the Rivard Report, also failed to draw public attention to the trailer park’s conditions before the sale. Such media attention would have undoubtedly led City staff to at least consider requiring the owner to bring the property up to code or risk continuing fines.

The Esperanza Peace and Justice Center, which organized some of the residents to protest the White-Conlee project, while others said they rejected the overtures, also failed to identify the squalid living conditions at the trailer park as an issue just as it ignored high crime rates, heavy drug dealing and the blight around the Hays Street Bridge before it led protests of construction of the Alamo Brewery on the edge of Dignowity Hill. The organization’s interest in tenant rights at Mission Trails developed only after the property was purchased for redevelopment.

The report also failed to note that residents of Mission Trails did not have lease agreements to live there. They lived there on a month-to-month arrangement. Whatever the emotional arguments were surrounding their relocation, in Texas such tenants have very limited legal rights without written lease agreements. In any case, property owners have the right to sell their property and no ordinance can change that.

The report also ignored the fact that long before the property sale, the blighted living conditions had led many residents to relocate, leaving much of the park empty and conditions worsening for those who remained. Some residents spoke fondly of life at Mission Trails, but the reality suggested otherwise. There were more than 200 trailer pads in the park, but only 135 trailers, and 30 of those were vacant and unsuitable for habitation, ranging from burned-out trailers to others heavily vandalized or stripped of building materials. American Family Communities owned 25 of the trailers. Only 80 trailers were owned by residents.

1515 Mission Rd Google Earth

Unprecedented Relocation Assistance

The task force’s report calls for longer relocation periods for displaced renters, and it calls for communicating with a larger population of potentially affected neighbors and nearby residents, but the end result of the Mission Trails relocation process suggests the most valuable assistance could be in the form of cash subsidies paid by developers to displaced renters.

Under Texas law, White-Conlee had no legal obligation to help renters relocate, but the company, while vilified by many, actually demonstrated remarkable sensitivity to the tenants and spent $900,000 relocating them, paying them cash stipends, and in legal fees. Critics can question their motives, but not their actions.

In the end, White-Conlee gave every trailer owner $2,500, paid in $100 bills. White-Conlee did not pursue reports that some trailer owners or renters who really lived elsewhere were paid, too. In the end, no one who lived there turned down the money.

Seven months from the time the zoning approval for the new development was issued, all the residents had accepted the cash offer and other benefits. No one was forcibly evicted. The same individuals were given guaranteed locations at one of six area trailer parks with a one-year rent subsidy worth at least $3,000. The tenants paying American Family Communities $350 a month to live in deplorable conditions are now paying $100 a month to live in well-tended trailer parks in far better surroundings.

Mission Trails Mobile Home Park residents were relocated to six different mobile home parks by  White-Conlee Development.

Mission Trails Mobile Home Park residents were relocated to six different mobile home parks by White-Conlee Development.

White-Conlee also paid the cost of moving trailers to their new locations, for set-up and utility hook-ups, and for dumpster services to haul away all the trash left behind at Mission Trails.

Mission Escondida Luxury Apartments

The coming multi-family development will include 10,000 sq. ft. of retail along with approximately 300 apartments in the first phase of construction set to begin this year. The developers want the project to be a model of sustainability. Not a single heritage tree is being cut down. Rain collection and storage will be used to irrigate native landscaping. The property itself is not historic; it dates to the 1950s when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dredged the river and created the site with landfill.

Site map of Mission Espondida Luxury Apartments.

Site map of Mission Espondida Luxury Apartments.

There will be a new level of connectivity to the Mission Reach , including an extension of the public pathway open to residents and the public,  and a kayak put-in and take-out amenity. The development will have a Doggie Day Care center, a bike program and kayak storage.

The apartments will range in size from 524 to 1,149 sq. ft. and rent for $1,000 to $1,600 a month.  The building exteriors will be limestone and stucco. Phase one public spaces available to all the residents will include a gym, yoga studio, a commercial demonstration kitchen for culinary events, an outdoor pool with grilles, and a business center. The price begs the question of whether the apartments really will be “luxury,” but the use of the words gives the developers the ability to call the project “The MELA.”

The project was designed by B&A Architects of San Antonio.

 

*Top image: Left: An trash-filled lot at Mission Trails Mobile Home Park. Photo taken in April 2014, before residents were forced to leave. Photo by Robert Rivard. Right: A rendering of Mission Escondida Luxury Apartments courtesy of B&A Architects. 

Related Stories:

Housing Summit Focuses on Equality

Amid Task Force Dissent, Council Approves Gentrification Guidelines

Council Hears Gentrification Task Force Briefing

Mayoral Candidates Talk Gentrification with Esperanza

51 thoughts on “From Blighted Trailer Park to MELA Luxury Apartments

  1. The outrageous cost of rent will keep the riff raff out. But, why does every development plan always have to be luxury apartments? I would rather live in a luxury trailer park than in apartments

  2. A perfect example of why gentrification shouldn’t be a bad word. This was a win win for everybody involved besides maybe a few drug dealers and prostitutes. If the gentrification task force and EPJC wanted to really get something accomplished, they would focus on ways to ensure that the people they represent are benefiting from the coming real estate boom, rather than trying to prevent it.

  3. This doesn’t talk about the mobile home families’ new issues that they have been concerned about: were those new trailer parks close to schools like these, or close to their jobs so they were able to keep them? There are lots of areas that are ignored, but these people had a reason for wanting to live where they were – it wasn’t merely a cheap place to live, it was in the city. Where are their voices in this story to ensure that everything is as hunky-dory as it is made to seem here? Also, this says that there were only 80 mobile-home owners, so were there renters, and what happened to them?

    • While I’m sure “these people had a reason for wanting to live where they were,” this applies to all sort of people. Lots of people want to live places where they can’t afford. The simple fact is that these folks didn’t own the land so they had no right to stay there. Under your logic, should everyone who rents an apartment have a right to stay there for the rest of their life, paying the same rent forever? What kind of property rights system are you proposing we use to replace our current system and what would be the consequences? These are the things we need to hear more about.

    • Why is there an obligation on anyone’s part to “ensure” everything is “hunky-dory” for the residents? Americans have developed the greatest sense of entitlement in the history of the world in the last several decades.

      We should certainly help those who can’t help themselves, but no-one is entitled to live wherever they please and at the property owner’s expense. So many of these comments suggest a flippant attitude towards the rule of law.

  4. What would have helped is if that heartless developer had offered to give the families an alternative and made sure there was space for them in the new complex. Why should they have to leave their home to make room for something they would never be able to afford to live in. They should have offered them all an apartment at a reasonable fixed rate for life. How little that would have cost the developer, and given him golden status in the city he is counting on making big money on. That kind of good publicity you can’t buy. They had a chance to be the heroes. Some folks might have chosen to move there because of a gesture like that. But what he got was a shit storm of controversy, and bad press for being the face of gentrification hurting citizens. I would not live there, ever. There needs to be a balance in improving communities and respecting the people who live there. Unfortunately, finding that balance has been a battle that began long before this. We can take it back pretty far, all you gotta do is pick up a history book. Well, then again, it depends on who’s history book you pick up.

    • “Why should they have to leave their home to make room for something they would never be able to afford to live in. ”

      — Because they don’t own the land, period. This is the law. We all live by the same rules.

      “They should have offered them all an apartment at a reasonable fixed rate for life.”

      — Wouldn’t it be nice for us to to have a luxury apartment along the river at a fixed rate for life. When am I going to get mine? By the way, do the kids and grandkids get the same thing? Is there some special legal status that accrues to a person who live in the Mission Trails Mobile Home Park that the rest of us aren’t aware of?

      “How little that would have cost the developer, and given him golden status in the city he is counting on making big money on.”

      — How little? Not little at all. If it so cheap and easy to provide people with free apartments for life, them I’m assuming you are personally out there providing lots of them. For a variety of reasons, this kind of thing would bankrupt the project and it never would get built. Would that be a good thing in your eyes?

      “..the city he is counting on making big money on”

      — I think this should read “the city they are investing money and willing to take a financial risk in despite the crazy opposition to a project that is obviously a good thing.”

    • Kristel, these people did not own the land. They had MONTH TO MONTH leases they knew could be broken if the OWNER sold the land. The OWNER chose to sell the land, therefore the tenants had to vacate. If you’re mad these people were displaced, you should direct your anger at the previous owner for selling. Your assertion that these people should all be offered a brand new apartment at a fixed rate FOR LIFE is so unbelievably absurd and that attitude is why our country is in so much debt. Because people like you think it is reasonable to expect handouts just because you’ve been inconvenienced. Those “heartless developers” took a blighted piece of land full of drug dealers and hookers and is making it reflective of the stature of our city. They did the city a favor. Should we start offering drug dealers free apartments at a fixed rate for life? It’s so easy to get on a soapbox and protest development, but development in this case (and many others) is a GOOD thing and will make our city safer, cleaner, and more appealing to people and companies looking to relocate. If you want to live in a place where drug dealers and hookers get free housing, I suggest you move to Detroit. I think they have a lot of vacant properties there. These people all got way more than they were legally entitled to, and you’re still griping that it’s not enough. The fact is, for people like you, nothing is ever good enough, you always think you’re owed more.

  5. The greater good. Mistakes were made. Some low level people at Code Enforcement…they did it.

    Purging the “ugly” is dirty business.

    You can dry your hands now.

  6. I’m glad someone finally had the courage to write the truth. That place was a slum, and the slum dwellers that lived there made out like bandits. There are areas of town that would kill for this kind of development to come in and wipe out the trash that is living there currently.

    • I hope that I misread your comment. I really hope you are not referring to the former residents of this trailer park as trash. I know none of the people who lived there. Do you? Enough of them to make such a derogatory generalization?

      Can we refrain from ad hominem attacks on these 296 folks who were relocated?

  7. Bravo. Finally an honest appraisal of the situation that should put the anti-gentrification movement on the defensive and put a spot light on their anti-capitalist agenda. People who care about making San Antonio a better place should be unified against this kind of nonsense. The anti-gentrification movement in the City aren’t people to be listened to or taken seriously. The fact that such advocates can’t accept these changes along the Mission Reach as progress for the City when it couldn’t be more obvious is beyond belief and should be proof to all that their agenda is thoroughly corrupt and deserves to be completely marginalized.

    • Phil, I could not agree more. I only wish that this truth had come out long ago.

      Dealing with the core causes of generational poverty to avoid this sort of displacement in the future, however, is a completely different conversation.

  8. I concur with you, Bob. Where was the Rivard Report when those people needed you to publicize their plight?

    Nice piece though. It looks amazingly like after the fact investigative reporting.

    Perhaps you should consider a similar sanity check on the shot spotter scam, for scam is what it truly is. Your spot light could save the city millions in 2016.

    • GPF:
      It took seven months from zoning approval to the last resident leaving. How were we supposed to report on where they moved to or what the costs to the developer were or the design of the coming multi-family project until the moves and payments actually transpired and the design was completed? You specialize in pointing a finger in all your comments. What exactly are you doing to make San Antonio a better city? We’d love to learn more. –RR

  9. From an enlivened community to blighted (luxury) apartments. Why is it assumed that development is an automatic improvement in the quality of life of native San Antonians? This kind of development is yet another in a continuing stream of vanilla floods to have engulfed the communities of real diversity that have emerged from the serendipitous and autonomous direction of real people living real lives. San Antonio – soon to be a snow globe of resident theme parks.

    • Enlivened? It was a slum, filled with slummy people who hit a jackpot. This native San Antonian says we need this type of development, we can’t stand for third world conditions and people that self tolerate third world conditions.

    • Why does the new development have to be apartments? Also, why does every new development end with the word “Reach”

    • The choice of words is interesting: “Vanilla floods…snow globe.” If perhaps these are just poorly chosen words that are innocent of racist intent, I don’t think there can be any mistaking the reference to “native San Antonians” makes it clear that Magpie believes there should be some special status accorded to “natives” over persons who move to San Antonio or the Southside or wherever.

      Ask yourself, would you accept the same sort of logic in other precincts of the city or elsewhere in the county (i.e., privileging the rights of “natives” of Alamo Heights, Des Moines or Germany over the rights of those who have moved there from some place else?). Or, how about special rights for “natives” of the USA. I’m guessing you would that kind of idea quite noxious but somehow you are supporting the very same idea right here in your backyard.

      As to the reference to “real people” with “real lives,” what is behind the idea that some people (i.e., those who might live in “luxury” apartments) aren’t “real” and don’t live “real lives”? While one could say these are just words, I’m afraid there is some real prejudice behind those words. We are all real people. This isn’t some reality TV show. Just because someone is different than you or might seem generic from a distance doesn’t mean they aren’t “real.” The richest person in San Antonio (let alone middle class people living in apartments) is just as “real” as any resident of that trailer park. Denying the humanity of any class of people is a pretty ugly idea with a heinous history.

  10. These are the words of the people who lived there……and I lived nearby for many years. Have you? It is easy to tell who is riding a raft on the vanilla floods.

      • Vanilla-bland. Perhaps then you have a financial interest in the development? “Jogging distance” is revealing. All of this is a matter of class values being used as justification for removing people (squalid or not) because the land has suddenly become desirable for development. Beginning of story. End of story.

        • Magpie

          Your comments contribute little to the conversation. Class warfare? Jogging, I suppose, is one of those class activities, no doubt, that fit into your racist paradigm. Why don’t you get busy identifying another unidentified pocket of blight being ignored by the City and bring it to our collective attention for remedial action rather than protest all change and improvement? Move from anonymous critic to engaged citizen and we will work with you. –RR

        • “Removing people” is a little dramatic. Did you read the article? These folks all had month-to-month leases which could be terminated by either party. The owner sold the land and the leases were terminated. I rented a house on a MTM basis and it was sold to an owner who wanted to move in. I had 30 days to move out. I didn’t expect the new owner to pay for my move and subsidize my new rental property as a bonus. I think using terms like “vanilla-bland” dilutes your message from a thoughtful opposing viewpoint. I get what you’re saying that not all development is good, but even “vanilla” apartments are an improvement from the squalid conditions mentioned in the article. I simply don’t understand how someone could think that kind of dilapidation is preferable. Did you look at the pictures? Hardly looks like an “enlivened community” to me.

  11. In some municipalities, when mobile home park land is sold, a deed restriction is placed on the buyer requiring the park to remain operational for two or more years after the sale, with residents’ right to enforce this requirement stated in the deed.

    Particularly as mobile home parks can serve as publicly supported low-income housing as well as affordable workforce housing — both in short and in some cases shrinking supply in San Antonio, with awareness that the low income tax credited Maverick Apartments building near the River Walk was also recently cleared of residents by the new owners.

    Mobile home parks can also act as economically diverse and dynamic housing (noting the resurgence of interest in tiny homes) mixing seniors, students, artists, workers, families and visitors. They can operate in amenity-rich areas close to downtown, as Austin’s Pecan Grove RV Park near Barton Springs has proven for years, even with new public hike and bike connections and private development surrounding.

    The majority of households in many neighborhoods inside the 410 loop and near the Mission Trail site earn well below San Antonio’s median family income of $49k. While rents at $1,000 to $1,400 a month might not seem luxurious or outrageous to the author, it is difficult to imagine households earning less than $34k (the majority of households in many neighborhoods within the 410 loop) or workers earning less than $17 an hour affording these rents without experiencing real poverty. My historic neighborhood in San Antonio also frequently exhibits standing water and other signs of failing public water infrastructure, boarded up or deteriorating structures and surprisingly blasé attitudes about illegal substance use and sales, but thankfully reporters have had the sense or courtesy not to refer to our area or residents as a ‘blight’ or disease.

    The use of hygienist discourse by the author to attack the poorest residents and unit owners in San Antonio and promote new luxury development is at least consistent, but it obscures some obvious questions. Why weren’t the 296 displaced residents (150 of them children) offered units in MELA at their current monthly rate (month-to-month is typically how long-term leases are extended for trustworthy renters and rate payers) in exchange for their real property and connections with the site as well as the sudden change in land use — helping to address the recognized shortfall of affordable housing in San Antonio? Why weren’t Mission Trail residents housed in temporary accommodation close to the site during construction, so that the 150 kids could continue at their current schools and residents with their work and lives with minimal disruption or burden?

    To help preserve and build economically diverse and dynamic communities within the 410 loop, the City needs to move towards buyer deed restrictions on mobile home park lands as well as on apartment complexes and other structures providing publicly supported lower-income housing — to help protect residents of such properties when they are in transition. To help address the shortage of affordable workforce housing, the City should likely also explore rent controls to preserve and increase the stock of housing options downtown and within the 410 loop for residents earning 50% or less to 100% of San Antonio’s median household income.

    http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/local_news/article/Income-is-S-A-s-great-divider-3755547.php

    http://www.expressnews.com/business/local/article/Cisneros-continues-his-quest-to-serve-San-Antonio-5969787.php

    http://low-income-housing.credio.com/l/27366/Maverick-Apartments

    http://traveltips.usatoday.com/austin-area-rv-parks-51763.html

    • Question: “Why weren’t the 296 displaced residents (150 of them children) offered units in MELA at their current monthly rate (month-to-month is typically how long-term leases are extended for trustworthy renters and rate payers) in exchange for their real property and connections with the site as well as the sudden change in land use…?”

      Answer #1: What real property are you referring to? These folks didn’t own any real property. If there was, then these folks could have stayed there forever so long as they could pay the taxes. The reason they couldn’t stay is that they didn’t own any real property.

      Answer #2: Why don’t we all get to move to bigger, nicer, better-located (take your pick or just go for all of the above) housing and then pay the same rent on a month-to-month basis? Silly question? Of course you know this is not even remotely close to the way our market economy works. If you don’t like the system, then advocate that it be changed across the board so everyone gets treated fairly but it makes no sense to act like a completely different set of rules should apply in this one situation.

      “Helping to address the recognized shortfall of affordable housing in San Antonio?”

      – If San Antonio has a “shortfall” in affordable housing, then I guess every other city in America must be in “crisis.” San Antonio has some of the cheapest housing of any major city in the USA. We also have a relatively low paying job base and a relatively low level of educational achievement. The focus needs to be on better jobs and better education, not trying to artificial lower the cost of housing (especially housing right on the San Antonio river).

      “Why weren’t Mission Trail residents housed in temporary accommodation close to the site during construction, so that the 150 kids could continue at their current schools and residents with their work and lives with minimal disruption or burden?”

      – Once again, this is not how our marketplace works.

    • Hi Mark! While I disagree with your view, I do appreciate the fact that it was presented in a logical argument. Just 1 quick note I want to make–

      1) The Maverick apartments were losing their Section 8 designation, so the tenants would have had to move out regardless. That, in conjunction with the huge unpaid debt on the building, is why the previous owner finally parted with the project. There are only 70 or so units in that building, most of which are small studios, and the building was lightly occupied at the time of sale, so the number of displaced folks was relatively low.

    • “Why weren’t the 296 displaced residents (150 of them children) offered units in MELA at their current monthly rate (month-to-month is typically how long-term leases are extended for trustworthy renters and rate payers) in exchange for their real property and connections with the site as well as the sudden change in land use — helping to address the recognized shortfall of affordable housing in San Antonio?”

      Why would they be? What “real property” did the tenants own? A mobile home on non-owned land or not in a longterm lease is personal, not real, property (https://www.tdhca.state.tx.us/mh/faqs-sol.htm).

      Further, what justification is there for a private property owner to be obliged to pay for a former owner’s tenants to live in the new owner’s new apartments? The notion that one private citizen owes another private citizen financial assistance or some privatized version of welfare is bizarre and frankly frightening. You should be lobbying the government to have moving assistance for situations such as these, not trying to force that obligation on private individuals or companies.

      It seems unlikely you’d be so generous with other people’s money if former tenants of a home you bought harassed you into subsidizing a new luxury apartment for them just because they were poor.

  12. Phil, ‘real property’ includes structures, anything planted in the ground and rights of tenancy – including as established by written as well as oral contract (in Texas) and any property deed restrictions for buyers, including those specific to mobile home park lands or buildings publicly supported to provide affordable housing, such as the Maverick Apartments.

    I’m fairly sure Henry Cisneros and the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce have a good grasp of how our marketplace works, and they’ve identified the gap in affordable workforce and other housing as a critical issue for San Antonio to address:

    From Cisneros’ opening speech as 2015 chairman of the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce (December 2014 – as published in the Express-News)

    “The tsunami of aging Americans, the doubling of the over-65-year-old population, the tripling of the over-85-year-olds, means that cities must think about how they function, not only for their present residents who are aging but for others who wish to retire in a city with amenities geared to people of older ages . . . It’s a question of whether a lot of people will be destitute. It’s a public spending question. . . .”

    Below is, in part, how HUD defines a comparable replacement home for those displaced from affordable housing as a direct result of rehabilitation, demolition or acquisition; COSA might look at this definition and the suite of assistance provided to those displaced from affordable housing in crafting local housing policy:

    A comparable replacement home is:

    – Decent, safe, and sanitary
    – Functionally equivalent to (and equal or better than) your present home.
    – Actually available for you to rent.
    – Affordable.
    – Reasonably accessible to your place of employment.
    – Generally as well located with respect to public and commercial facilities, such as schools and shopping, as your present home.

    http://www.hud.gov/offices/cpd/affordablehousing/library/tenadisp.pdf

    http://www.expressnews.com/business/local/article/Cisneros-continues-his-quest-to-serve-San-Antonio-5969787.php

    • Mark,

      The only real property interest those folks had was a month-to-month lease. If they had a longer term lease, they could have stayed for the duration of their lease. If there was a deed restriction similar to what you described at the Maverick Apartments, then someone would be trying to enforce it. Fact is, none of that exists. Their month to month leases were honored. Thus, they got everything they were legally entitled to and actually a lot more in the form of the relocation assistance they were paid.

      As to whether a shortage of affordable housing exists in San Antonio, please identify some other major city where such an affordable housing shortage does not exist using your definition of a shortage? The reality is that there is a lot of dirt cheap housing in San Antonio. It may not be very desirable, but it exists. If you are going to compare San Antonio to other cities it is competing with, you’ll find that San Antonio excels relative to those cities in having lots of cheap housing. What San Antonio lacks relative to those cities are high-quality neighborhoods and jobs. San Antonio needs these things in order to succeed in developing a high-wage economy that can compete with other cities. The cities that have robust affordable housing programs all already excel in the areas where San Antonio is lacking (and have far more serious affordable housing issues). The markets in those cities can also support affordable housing subsidies because the market rents are so ridiculously high in light of a rather severe supply/demand imbalance. These conditions simply do not exist in San Antonio. Thus, if San Antonio were to try to mirror those approaches, it would be killing off the urban development we have been seeing in attempting to solve a problem that does not really exist.

      As to the HUD definition of “replacement home” you cite, this only applies to projects where federal funds are being used. It has no applicability to privately-funded projects nor should it. The idea that landlords should be obligated to guarantee these sorts of things to their tenants in perpetuity is absurd.

  13. Thanks Mary! Just sharing my two cents, but I think various aspects of HUD’s comparable housing definition were ignored with recent Mission Trail and Maverick Apartments displacements (a shame, noting HUD’s past and current leadership). Particularly, the functional equivalency and general location tests, including given the poor state of pedestrian infrastructure and connectivity in many areas inside the 410 loop beyond the expanded River Walk.

    San Antonio Chamber of Commerce is right to be concerned about the growing affordable housing gap as well as limited amenity for seniors in San Antonio, including from a competitive standpoint. Why pay $1,400 or more a month (if you can) to live by the River Walk or in a car-dependent 410 loop neighborhood when you could live in downtown Miami luxury for that, with access to comparatively incredible walking conditions and public transport (accessing various airports, medical centers, parks, universities, entertainment complexes, etc)?

  14. Mark,

    When you lease a mobile home space, but own the trailer, it’s considered personal property. The tenants had no property rights. That’s not debatable. There were no deed restrictions in place that you speak of. Had there been, the buyers would have priced it into the deal and waited two years to start development. Apartments are being built because it’s the highest and best use of the property and economically feasible. There’s no such thing as a free lunch, Mark, and if there is I wish someone would displace me. 🙂

  15. I am struck that former Mayor Castro voted against the rezoning of the Mission Trails Mobile Home Park back in 2014. He recognized that the City was not doing enough to help the current residents there.

    The article’s two side-by-side photos, the dilapidated shack and the ostentatious “luxury” apartment (yes, my words) illustrate the ever more obscene income gap in this country. In reviewing this conflict, the Council might have found a compromise solution, one that doesn’t reward the absentee landlord to profit on the sale of property he did nothing but neglect.

    With situations like the mobile home park, the task force should demand that nonprofit developers have first option to buy land and form community land trusts, now legal in Texas. The current residents could buy the homes, but not pay property taxes on the land: http://community-wealth.org/content/community-land-trusts-solution-permanently-affordable-housing

    Writing checks to the residents, no matter how generous the amount, is the easy way out. However, it won’t make the issue (displacement, gentrification) go away.

    • The question or whether the property should have been rezoned is an urban planning issue. From that perspective, Mayor Castro was clearly wrong. A dilapidated trailer park is not the highest and best use for riverfront property located in close proximity to the soon to be world heritage sites of San Antonio and recent, major public investments designed to spur the very kind of private development you are seeing. Basing zoning decisions on what sorts of sufficient gifts are being given (or not given) to certain preferred constituents is improper, unconstitutional and something someone could be so bold as to call extortion. There are cities in the US that operate that way but San Antonio is going down the wrong path if it tries to join them. Mayor Castro made a political decision, plain and simple.

      As the land trust proposal, I’m sure the seller would have been willing to accept more money from a non-profit willing to pay that amount, but there is no such non-profit willing to write large such checks. If there was, then I’m guessing they wouldn’t be interested in paying a premium for riverfront property as there would be far more efficient uses of their resources nearby. The proposal only makes sense if you have some mechanism to artificially depress the value of the land. What you seem to be suggesting with the idea that the task force should “demand that nonprofit developers have first option to buy land” suggests some extralegal taking of property rights. The government doesn’t (or shouldn’t) have the right to dictate to property owners who they can sell their property to or who gets the rights right to buy it. If you own a home and imagine the government telling you can only sell it to certain people (residents of five years, people over 65), then imagine how that would depress the value of your home.

      Why should residents of the “homes” (new or old?) not have to pay taxes on the land?

  16. “With situations like the mobile home park, the task force should demand that nonprofit developers have first option to buy land and form community land trusts, now legal in Texas.”

    How would a task force be legally able to demand anything of a private landowner? Are you suggesting that a non-elected government task force should somehow make extra-legal demands of private property owners without due process and the legal requirements of what is effectively imminent domain? This isn’t city land we’re talking about here.

    Should the government be able to dictate who you can sell your house to and what that buyer can do with the house? That’s a frightening 1984 big brother proposition you’re making.

    And the absentee landlord (which I agree is a problem) isn’t being “rewarded” with a profit by the council, the free market is rewarding the landlord by paying him what the market will bear for the land regardless of its neglected condition. This is still a capitalist free market society despite the efforts of busybodies of all ideologies to force everyone to behave in accordance with their value system.

    • In the 1930s, Mexican and Mexican-American laborers on the West Side of San Antonio lived in shantytown conditions worse than those of the current Mission Trail Mobile Home Park. These were mainly pecan shellers beat up and then laid off from the candy factories for asking for a subsistence wage. In 1939-1041, Mayor Maury Maverick demanded the city use federal funds to purchase private land to build nice and clean apartments for these pecan shellers and other low-income city residents.

      At the time, many of the city’s 500 property owners complained that they did not receive adequate compensation for the sale of their land. They wanted much higher rates for the slums. In 1939, at the request of Father Tranchese, pastor of the Church of the Guadalupe, Eleanor Roosevelt herself intervened to make sure that the affordable housing got built. The landowners got paid.

      Today, we say a land owner has the right to let his property fall into ruins, lobby for a zoning change, and then work a deal with a developer of luxury apartments. In turn, over many years, the city tax payers fund the improvements along the San Antonio River, and the absentee land owner turns a huge profit on the sale. The poor folks living in the Mission Park Mobile Home Park walk away with a small subsidy they are supposed to be grateful about receiving.

      John, I understand your point about the rights of property owners. There are other possibilities, however, between Detroit housing projects and gaudy rentals. The mayor’s Task Force said a Community Land Trust was one future option they were considering.

  17. My understanding from numerous conversations with residents over the course of the past 15 mos is that conditions in the park were only bad after American Family Communities took over in 2012. Those owners should be blamed for the living conditions at Mission Trails, absolutely. But to insist on this point as justification for letting the City of San Antonio and White-Conlee off the hook is to miss a larger reality–namely, that AFC purchased the park precisely to run it down, sell it off, and cash in. The standing water, the water shut offs, the sewage problems and other maintenance issues did not start until after AFC took over. That reflects a not-uncommon business strategy among investor-owned mobile home parks (see: http://www.denverpost.com/business/ci_6373098); and, knowingly or unwittingly, COSA and White-Conlee became part of that strategy.

    As for the other ostensibly reasonable points made here…folks can justify all they want, legally and ideologically and otherwise, but I don’t really give a flying eff, frankly. Bob Rivard may have chatted with some folks and taken shots of abandoned trailers one afternoon, but I went to the park week after week, meeting after meeting, and I heard people’s stories and got to know them. I saw them get sicker and sicker from all the stress. One man had a stroke while moving out. At least three families became homeless as a result of the displacement. One a veteran in his 70s with a chronic lung condition. One a single mother with two children. Another family with two children. One woman had a heart attack and died not long after her move. I continue to keep in touch with residents and see how much they are still struggling. So I don’t really care what else can be said about why it was okay or why it wasn’t as bad as people said it was. It was that bad. It continues to be that bad. And yes, the City and White-Conlee are just as responsible as AFC.

    Also–as one who worked there at the time, it is a big problem to identify Esperanza as sole or even lead organizer in this situation. Primarily because it erases the fact that the residents were already organized before any of the community supporters stepped in, and because it erases the contributions of many, many other supporting organizations and individuals who had nothing to do with Esperanza. That is not to disparage their work, nor to say that they weren’t involved, but rather to correct a common assumption that if someone is fighting the city, it must be Esperanza. In this case, it was the residents themselves who led the effort.

  18. Way to make a false equivalency between a city government, with massive infrastructure and funding, and a grassroots organizing group that you imply should have been filling the gap to the Mission Reach residents prior to the displacement.

    I guess that’s your compulsive ‘journalistic objectivity’ – that there are always two equal sides to blame when ‘unfortunate’ things happen. Must be easier to do that instead of actually analyze power.

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