Thirty-nine homes in the Blueridge Subdivision are finally being demolished.
Blueridge was part of the failed Mirasol Homes affordable housing development on the city’s Westside overseen by the San Antonio Housing Authority (SAHA) more than 15 years ago. The 247 single family homes were designed to attract first-time homeowners and renters, but it wasn’t long after the first residents settled into their new homes that the houses’ shoddy construction became a problem.
Lack of insulation in the walls, cracked foundation, and busted water pipes are just some of the many structural problems Mirasol Homes residents have cited in their homes. While some have been able to make repairs, others have been left with no other option than to simply live with it or sell their homes back to SAHA and leave.
Walking around Blueridge, even on the sunniest of days, is like walking through a ghost town. The homes of residents who have left the neighborhood over the years have remained vacant, their windows and entryways boarded up to keep out vagrants and other unwanted guests – sometimes unsuccessfully.
Since the start of demolition, the streets are mostly quiet except for the sounds of machinery tearing into the uninhabited houses, and there’s an eerie feeling in the air as neighborhood children play amidst the nearby destruction.
SAHA had commissioned Magi Realty, subcontractor KB Home and project manager Heery International to build the Mirasol Homes development after receiving $48.3 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) HOPE VI grant program in 1995 to revitalize one of the city’s most distressed communities.
But the project encountered issues from the start. Tensions between SAHA and the contractors and builders were fueled by a disconnect between SAHA’s and the contractors’ building specifications, eventually leading to the resignation of the project’s original architect, according to the lawsuit filed by SAHA.
Eventually, SAHA and residents of Blueridge and the three other Mirasol neighborhoods – Villas de Fortuna, Palm Lake, and Sunflower – sued Magi Realty, KB Home, and Heery International for the sub-par construction of the neighborhood houses. After a long fought legal battle, a settlement of $20 million was reached, $8 million of which was awarded to Mirasol residents planning to make repairs on their homes.
SAHA received the other $12 million to fund demolition and rebuilding efforts in the neighborhoods, starting with Blueridge.
For many Blueridge residents, the demolition of vacant structures is a step towards healing in what has been a long and taxing legal battle. It wasn’t until Wednesday, more than four years after a settlement was reached, that Blueridge neighbors could see the light at the end of the tunnel.
“I’m just glad it’s coming to an end,” said neighborhood resident Carol Zaragosa at a Blueridge community meeting on Thursday, Feb. 25.
Zaragosa and her husband Randy were some of the first people who moved into Blueridge back in 2001. They were looking forward to starting a life together in their new home.
“It’s hard thinking, you know, this is your dream and for it just to be pulled from underneath you is horrible,” Randy said. “It’s a busted dream, it’s really a nightmare.”
While it’s a relief that the vacant homes are finally being demolished, Randy said, real justice would mean demolishing and rebuilding every house in the neighborhood, including his.
“How can (SAHA) go and choose which houses should be demolished and which can stay?” he said. “They were all made by the same people, they built them all the same way.”
Even after the settlement was reached, and the neighbors paid, everything seemed to remain at a standstill. Of the more than 80 houses total that were supposed to be demolished years ago, almost all still stand today and are sources of concern for neighborhood residents who say that they attract burglaries and other illegal activity.
Jose Luis Nabejar has lived in Blueridge for eight years and said he is constantly laboring around the house fixing faulty lighting and leaking water pipes. He has been building a wooden fence in his backyard to keep thieves out.
After witnessing firsthand the theft of air conditioning units and other appliances in the vacant houses, he only hopes that the houses come down in a timely matter, he said.
SAHA is expecting to finish demolition of 39 Blueridge houses by April, said Timothy Alcott, SAHA development services and neighborhood revitalization officer. After that, they’ll focus on “building to the demand.”
“We’re going to build houses as we sell them,” he said. “We don’t want 40 brand new homes just sitting there for a while.”
SAHA will be carefully reviewing builder applications based on a scoring criteria that assesses their experience and qualifications. They’re hoping to secure a builder by early summer, he said.
“It depends on the quality of responses (of builders) we get, but our priority is picking the right builder.”
Once they successfully sell all of the new Blueridge homes, then they will move on to the other Mirasol Homes, he said.
For now, Blueridge residents are reluctantly taking it one day at a time, and in doing so holding both SAHA and the on-the-ground crews accountable for transforming their neighborhood.
They’ve already encountered several issues with the demolition process. The water tanks for dousing the debris have ran dry, insulation has flown rampant into the air, and no one has fumigated the vacant homes for rodents as promised, Zaragosa said. She said SAHA could have a stronger presence at the monthly community meetings.
SAHA will work harder at ensuring that proper practices are upheld, Alcott said, adding that a priority for them is to keep an open and constant line of communication between them and residents.
Zaragosa is going to hope for the best.
“Me as a homeowner, my dream was shattered, but somebody else’s dream can maybe come true now,” she said. “All we can do is hope and pray.”
*Top Image: A demolition worker sprays a recently destroyed house with water. Photo by Scott Ball.