Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
More than two dozen Alazán-Apache Courts residents and advocates attended the City’s Housing Commission meeting on Wednesday to condemn what they say is harassment by the San Antonio Housing Authority and to ask for an investigation into residents’ complaints.
“The Historic West Side Association believes the San Antonio Housing Authority is working to raise fees and eventually evict residents,” said Leticia Sanchez, co-chair of the Historic Westside Residents Association. The association, founded in 2017, has been working to help Alazán-Apache Courts residents with their complaints about management at the public housing complex.
Three Alazán-Apache Courts residents said Wednesday that they are facing or have faced unjustified fees and fines, as well as targeted eviction campaigns. Mary Suarez, who has been living at Alazán-Apache Courts for about nine years, said she had been falsely accused of a crime happening in her apartment, which SAHA subsequently used as a way to try and evict her. She has been to her justice of the peace court multiple times fighting eviction notices, she said.
“I hope you all can really help us out because we’re crying out for you all’s help because we need you,” Suarez told the housing commission. “That’s why we’re here today. [SAHA is] doing whatever they want with us.”
Kayla Miranda has lived at Alazán-Apache Courts with her four children for about two and a half years. For the first year, she paid her rent on time, she maintained her apartment, and had no issues with management. But last year, she started being cited for violations of her lease a few times a week for things she did not do, she said. She was cited for a stove replacement after it stopped working, for requesting repairs to her heating system, which have not been made, and for a door knob replacement after maintenance workers removed the knob themselves.
“When I continued to fight each and every citation, they stopped giving me violations and they started assessing me fees,” Miranda said. “According to SAHA calculations, I can afford $165 a month [in housing costs]. Yet I have more than $1,200 in fees on my account.”
Amelia Adams, a community equity analyst at research and advocacy organization Texas Housers, brought a hand-drawn chart of how the number of evictions at Alazán-Apache Courts have increased over the years. She analyzed evictions between 2010 and 2018, using data provided by Bexar County.
“We had a threefold increase in eviction filings in Bexar County in that short time, since 2010,” Adams said. “When I heard about what Alazán residents, what they’ve been through, these fines coming out of nowhere, getting applied to their rent and getting served eviction notices, I went into the data again and found this. In 2010, one single eviction from Alazán. In 2018, 41 evictions. What possible justification can SAHA have to evict 41 of its tenants in one year?
“I think what the residents are asking for – oversight of SAHA and someone to look into this for them – is really desperately needed. The data speaks not for itself, it corroborates what the residents are asking and demanding.”
Francisco Perez was recently evicted from Alazán-Apache Courts. He told the housing commission board in Spanish that he had lived at the housing complex for 13 years without incident, and only recently started getting reprimanded for anything and everything. The 75-year-old has until Monday to move out.
“To me, there’s someone with a lot of money and a lot of power behind all these people [in management],” Perez said through a translator. “I have seen so many families evicted.”
SAHA President and CEO David Nisivoccia, who serves as a board member of the housing commission, did not attend Wednesday’s meeting. The housing authority emailed a statement after residents and advocates spoke at the meeting, denying their claims of a targeted campaign to evict Alazán-Apache tenants.
“Despite the vocal sentiments of a few vocal advocates in the community, the data speaks for itself,” the housing authority said in a statement. “In the Alazán community, where approximately 1,200 residents reside, there have been 44 evictions in Fiscal Year 2019, down from 55 in Fiscal Year 2018; mostly due to non-payment of rent and the remaining due to criminal activity or lease non compliance. At Alazán, there were 12 involuntary lease terminations in Fiscal Year 2019, down from 22 in Fiscal Year 2018. The majority of terminations, 125 in Fiscal Year 2019, are voluntary and originate with the residents themselves. Reasons for this include moving to Section 8 and finding housing elsewhere.”
Fiscal years start on July 1.
The leases that Alazán-Apache tenants sign put the responsibility of repairs on residents only if they cause the damage through negligence or intentional actions, said Amy Kastely, a retired law professor who did pro bono work for the Historic Westside Residents Association. The records that she reviewed showed many fees that were issued improperly, she said. She also said she has witnessed inappropriate treatment of residents by SAHA Alazán-Apache officials and their attempts to “intimidate” tenants.
“We know that SAHA has voted, the commission has voted, the board has voted in favor of demolishing the Alazán Courts,” Kastely said. “That maybe provides a motive for this treatment. Maybe it’s just pure negligence. None of that is an excuse for an illegal treatment for the residents. And that’s what’s going on, and the City has to take responsibility.”