Courtesy / White-Conlee Development
Construction of the Mission Escondida Luxury Apartments, to be located on the former site of the blighted Mission Trails Mobile Home Park, will break ground this summer south of downtown along the San Antonio River's Mission Reach.
The long-neglected trailer park was purchased by San Antonio-based White-Conlee Development in July 2014 with plans to build a 600-unit mixed-use development. Before White-Conlee purchased the property, the previous Colorado-based landlord and indifferent City officials permitted squalor to exist unchallenged.
Jody Marquez, president of Implicity Management – the company hired to help relocate the former Mission Trails residents – described deplorable living conditions at the park to the Rivard Report, such as unsupervised children playing in abandoned or collapsed trailers, standing water after storms, and leaking sewage. "It was a hazard," Marquez said.
“We think we’re creating a much healthier environment down there for the neighborhood," White-Conlee Development partner Scott Weems told the Rivard Report. “By July or August of 2018 people will be able to start moving in. We'll have 600 units [starting] out at about $1,000 a month, and our average will be $1,300.”
Amenities include a two-story clubhouse with exercise and community rooms, a dining room, party deck, and demonstration kitchen. A dog day care, a bike operation, and a kayak shack for renting out kayaks to cruise along the San Antonio River's Mission Reach also are planned, and Weems said that those features of the development would be open to the public.
For owners John White and Tom Conlee, the purchase of the property has brought almost a constant series of protests ever since City Council voted to rezone the area in 2014. Activists and residents claimed they were pushed out of their neighborhood and that developers didn't give sufficient funds for relocating residents.
“This was one of the worst neighborhoods in the city" Weems said. "When [White-Conlee] bought it, it was already subject to a number of code compliance complaints.”
On May 2, Vecinos de Mission Trails, a nonprofit organized to support the former residents of Mission Trails, released a report asserting that the sale of the property disrupted a largely settled community of mobile homeowners, leading to high rates of housing insecurity, significant rates of homelessness, negative financial impacts, decline in health, increased anxiety levels, and more. The study included 51 interviews conducted with former Mission Trails residents, according to Marisol Cortez, principal author of the report and co-founder of Vecinos de Mission Trails. Approximately 300 residents lived in Mission Trails and 106 mobile homes were displaced, according to the report.
Weems said the study does not tell the whole story of Mission Trails.
"The study includes half of the people that moved from that park," Weems said, who disputes the total number of residents. "She didn’t speak to anybody in the neighborhood – those are the real stakeholders down there. The people that were there were mostly month-to-month tenants, and they had no property rights. She alleges that we’ve mistreated them. … We’ve got records of everybody that took our money, took the incentives, and moved. We didn’t evict anybody."
White-Conlee spent around $942,000 in incentives, payments to other mobile home parks, payments for security, and payments for management to close Mission Trails in a "humane way," Weems added, which was not required.
"We could have evicted them, but the goal was to treat them as fairly as possible in the circumstances," he said. "The activists groups scared the heck out of them, and it took many months with the city helping these people.”
But those aren't the only speed bumps White-Conlee have had to overcome. Construction of MELA was delayed in order to perform archaeological digs on the property. Due to the sensitivity of the area and its location on an old river bed, an archaeological survey of the property was required, City Archaeologist Kay Hindes told the Rivard Report.
"They found some material in three of those trenches but there weren't any features or anything," Hindes said, so it just required overall monitoring.
“Nothing significant has been found on our property," Weems said. "It slowed us down a little and it’s pretty expensive. We've spent the last three years going through all the processes with the city, and we spent a year and a half going through HDRC."
White-Conlee also is working on fixing a drainage issue that affects the neighbouring Blessed Sacrament Academy. Constant flooding has produced standing water and problems with mosquitos.
“We’ve designed about a million-dollar drainage project that will capture this water, get it out of these buildings, and drain it across our property to the river," Weems said. "Instead of having standing water back there and mosquitoes, it will never hold water more than 24 hours.”
In addition to helping with the drainage issue, White-Conlee is working on two linear parks – at the developer's cost – so the surrounding neighborhood and MELA residents can have more access to the Mission Reach.
“We’re going to put in a linear park that goes down Mission Road and we’re going to give that to the city," Weems said. "We’re going to build it and maintain it, and then we’ll put a linear park around the river that we’re going to give to the San Antonio River Authority. What we’re going to build is a very active community that gets people into the parks and into the Mission Reach.”
As a result of what unfolded at Mission Trails and other instances of poor living conditions at other mobile home parks, City staff is currently looking into a system that would require mobile home park owners in San Antonio to submit the properties to routine health and safety inspections.
The City also is looking at its current relocation policy, and the Housing Commission for Preserving Dynamic and Diverse Neighborhoods held a meeting Tuesday to talk about refining or expanding relocation assistance.
Some residents, including members of Vecinos de Mission Trails, were concerned that a vote on a new policy was going to be fast-tracked through the commission with a vote on Tuesday.
"Vecinos de Mission Trails is working on developing policy proposals to introduce to the city's Housing Commission for Protecting and Preserving Diverse and Dynamic Neighborhoods, in light of evidence presented in the major study released by Vecinos two weeks ago," read an email sent out by Vecinos de Mission Trails. "We are concerned that any fast-tracking of policies prevents the Commission from seriously considering the implications of the Vecinos' report. Any serious consideration would require halting the voting process until the Housing Commission has adequately reviewed the evidence compiled in the study."
However, Mayor Ivy Taylor's policy chief, Leilah Powell, told the Rivard Report on Tuesday that the measure simply calls for an examination of the existing policy and investigation into possible changes.
"Staff has done additional research and will present the current relocation policy," Powell said. Part of these meetings are in light of what happened at Mission Trails, Powell explained, but other reasons include looking at the city's availability to fund incentives for housing.
"We just want them to have a discussion about [the study] before they take a vote of any kind and let them know that we are available to have a substantive conversation," Cortez said. "This is the first housing commission meeting that has happened since the study came out. Since then, we haven't gotten anything from the commission inviting us for a presentation to the commission."
Slowing down the process would allow for more time to develop an adequate and comprehensive policy that pertains not just to relocation assistance but to long-term prevention of displacement, Cortez said.
"They [Vecinos of Mission Trails] provided that study a long time ago and provided that information to the commission so all the members have received that study and have already seen it," said Jennifer Gonzalez, the housing commission chair. "They've had an opportunity in the citizens to be heard to speak to the full commission about what they have found. They have done that already."
Additional concerns about redevelopment in older neighborhoods and topics covering displacement and relocation will be addressed in the coming Mayor's Housing Summit, Powell added.
The housing summit will take place May 23-24 from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the Henry B. González Convention Center. For more information and to register, click here.