22 San Antonio Public Housing Facilities to Receive Air Conditioning Units

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The Alazan-Apache Courts, the oldest public housing project in San Antonio.

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

The Alazan-Apache Courts is the oldest public housing project in San Antonio.

Last summer, when State Rep. Diego Bernal heard that some San Antonians living in public housing do not have air conditioning, he vowed to find a solution.

Bernal toured several San Antonio Housing Authority (SAHA) sites, then met with Mayor Ron Nirenberg, City Council members, and others to develop a plan that would use some of the City’s local and federal funding combined with philanthropic dollars to provide about $1.5 million for more than 2,500 air conditioning units at 22 different housing complexes.

The initiative would give each public housing resident without air conditioning at least one window unit, Bernal told the Rivard Report.

Given that more than 30 days this past summer saw temperatures at or above 100 degrees, he was shocked to learn that some public housing units have never had air conditioning. “In my mind I was thinking it’s so unbelievable it has to be true,” he said.

And it is. Roughly 2,500 units in SAHA’s housing complexes do not have air conditioning, SAHA CEO David Nisivoccia said, and about one third of those are occupied by elderly or disabled people. Those residents will be the first to receive units, then residents with children.

Public housing didn’t include air conditioning in the 1930s and 1940s, Nisivoccia said. SAHA, which oversees more than 6,200 housing units, had in recent years installed some new air conditioning units as part of an energy efficiency initiative, but not at a large scale. Some residents have provided their own window units, but not all can afford to do so.

“It’s just that it’s a long haul to make sure that [air conditioning] gets in every unit,” Nisivoccia said.

The 22 facilities include SAHA’s Alazan, Lincoln Heights, Villa Tranchese and Victoria Plaza projects.

Local businessman and philanthropist Gordon Hartman committed to leading a fundraising effort to raise $300,000 in matching funds for the  public-private sector effort.

While funding requests are pending approval next month by City Council, the San Antonio Housing Trust, and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), SAHA’s $500,000 contribution is a matter of shifting funding from one account to another and repaying itself later, Nisivoccia said. 

SAHA has between $350 million and $500 million worth of maintenance backlogs, he said, and safety issues take priority. “We receive only $11 million [from the federal government] to address that backlog,” he said.

In March, City Council will vote to reallocate $500,000 in federal Community Development Block Grant money to purchasing air conditioners, a move that ultimately must be approved by HUD. A request for $200,000 will go to the San Antonio Housing Trust, said Deputy City Manager Peter Zanoni.

City Council’s Comprehensive Plan Committee unanimously approved its funding recommendation for the HUD funds on Wednesday.

The City is also working with CPS Energy to connect residents who receive new air conditioning units with voucher and discount programs to help pay their electricity bills, Zanoni said.

Bernal said some Council members approached him about possibly using more energy-efficient ways to cool the apartments, but he was against the idea.

“If you want to experiment, don’t do it with these folks,” he said, suggesting that City Hall would be a better place to try out more efficient climate-control methods. “You know what’s also inefficient? The emergency room.”

Bernal and Nisivoccia said they expect all the units can be installed by summer.

“It haunted me for weeks and months – especially when the days were super hot,” Bernal said. “My air conditioning went out one day, and I thought of the folks with kids just as young as mine and people with health challenges. … They have to endure it all summer.”

“The issue gave me an idea for a local solution and got me thinking about a statewide solution,” Bernal said. As a result, he is filing legislation to require air conditioning in all public housing units.

6 thoughts on “22 San Antonio Public Housing Facilities to Receive Air Conditioning Units

  1. The San Antonio Housing Authority manages 6,200 units with a maintenance backlog of up to $500M. That’s as much as $80,000/unit.

    Ridiculous, but not at all surprising.

  2. When SAHA opened its current administration building it was built air conditioned.
    For those who pay the rent, our needs are not a priority.
    Thank you Mr. Bernal.

  3. Kudos to Bernal for pushing to get a/c for the apartments. A/C in our supper hot summers in San Antonio is as important as heat in winter in the Midwest. Also, Kudos to those who are donating and supporting this project. This is real caring for people whose health is affected by lack of the a/c.

  4. What does “more energy efficient methods” mean in this case, and why would energy efficient equipment be an “experiment”? Hoping the author can shed more light on this. I commend Diego’s effort, but he came across in a similarly defensive way when I mentioned the possibility of ENERGY STAR units for this project, and I don’t understand why. Higher upfront cost can be, but is not always, an issue with higher efficiency equipment, though it costs less to operate over its useful life. Cost is a fair consideration, but I’m starting to feel like Bernal simply isn’t receptive to energy efficiency or that he misunderstands it.

    • Good question. I actually like your idea a lot.

      The other alternatives I was referencing to the reporter involved ways of attempting to cool the buildings without air conditioning at all. Nothing electric.

      Although the idea is novel, and even intriguing, I don’t think these are the people or places where we experiment.

      Experiment with City Hall.

      That was my point. But I’m all for the most efficient and effective units we can get our hands on. Hope that clears it up.

  5. 1. Why City Hall in particular? It’s not a residential building, so it doesn’t provide a fair comparison.
    2. Passive cooling techniques have been proven to lower temperatures over and over again, so it’s not a “novel” or new concept. One method, for example, involves planting/re-planting large shade trees near buildings which reduces exposure to solar radiation inside and outside. An AC unit has an average life of 10 years, but passive cooling presents an opportunity to do something that has a bigger, more long-term impact.
    3. Some of your comments are dismissive and skeptical of proven science. They are reminiscent of what America is seeing from some of their politicians at the Federal level. Agreed – we cannot stand on the sideline on this. However, installing a multitude of AC units without even considering other cooling methods or the long term impact on energy consumption and the climate is irresponsible. Plus, are the residents going to be footing the additional cost of the ACs via their energy bill? Many residents are on fixed-incomes, so more funds may be needed for utility assistance.

    Everyone’s heart is in the right place on this issue, and maybe there isn’t one right way to do it, but there is a wrong way. I hope to see you, residents, other leaders, and professionals work out the kinks on this together.

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