Scott Ball / Rivard Report
A new beginning is taking shape on the Eastside with the East Meadows Apartments. The first phase of the mixed-income complex officially opened Friday morning.
Located on what was once the site of Wheatley Courts, one of the oldest public housing developments in San Antonio, East Meadows will provide new, mixed-income homes as part of the Choice Neighborhoods Initiative, a federal grant program meant to bring an array of improvements to the area and spark revitalization.
The program, which started in December 2012, aims to link housing improvements with a wider variety of public services, including schools, public transit, and employment opportunities. This, in turn, will provide overall community investment in the area.
Friday marked the first phase of the East Meadows redevelopment project, a $41.7 million endeavor which includes 215 multi-family apartment homes. A ribbon-cutting took place outside the new apartments on 1019 N. Mittman Rd., where hundreds of Eastside residents, former Wheatley Courts tenants, and other area stakeholders came to hear remarks by several City leaders and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and former San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro.
"There needs to be a greater investment in affordable housing opportunities," Castro said, before taking a tour of one of the housing units. "East Meadows is a great example of what happens when folks come together ... HUD, (San Antonio Housing Authority), the local government – to create a great community that's going to lift up the quality of life.
The residents who lived in Wheatley Courts before have the opportunity to return if they want to, Castro said, and it will be well maintained by the San Antonio Housing Authority (SAHA).
"All of these units are well done and well constructed," Castro said while taking a tour of the housing units alongside County Commissioner Tommy Calvert (Pct. 4) and SAHA representatives. "I believe that families, no matter what their means, should be able to live safe and comfortably, and this is a great example of that."
Community amenities of the housing units in phase one include a business center, community room, gazebo, picnic areas, playground, swimming pool, fitness center, central park, social services for adults and children, and more.
"It's not just building houses, it's rebuilding people," said SAHA Board Chairman Dr. Morris A. Stribling as he recounted how one woman who lived in Wheatley couldn't hang pictures in her home because the walls were made out of cinderblocks. She also couldn't cook inside in the summer because it got too hot, Stribling added, and she didn't have an A/C unit.
"The vision for the Eastside ... it's bright, there's hope," SAHA Interim President and CEO David Nisivoccia told the audience outside.
Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff and City Manager Sheryl Sculley mentioned several other developments taking shape on the Eastside, such as the Menger Creek project, the new Eastside Education and Training Center that will provide workforce education to residents, and the 4,200 sq. ft. BiblioTech, a digital library operated by Bexar County slated to open in the summer of 2017.
Wolff called Friday a day of rebirth and hope, highlighting the attendees who were born in the area and lived in the housing project. Wolff and Calvert commended Castro for his tireless work in implementing a "housing first" policy at City Hall when he was mayor and Calvert thanked him for continuing to fulfill his promise to uplift the Eastside.
During Castro's campaign for mayor, Calvert recalled, there was a whisper campaign that had people saying that a Hispanic would never do anything for the black community. But Castro has proved them wrong, Calvert said.
"The Eastside has historically seen a lack of investment," Calvert said, "with Eastside tax dollars going to other parts of town. There was only one mayor who stood with us and that was Secretary Castro ... it's the American dream of homeownership that makes the difference."
Many who came up to speak, such as HUD Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Public and Indian Housing Lourdes Castro Ramirez and Congressman Lloyd Doggett (D-35), stressed to the audience that it's about more than building beautiful homes, but also focusing on investing in people and making sure that businesses and schools thrive in the area.
Councilman Alan Warrick (D2) called the day "historic" as he honored Gertha Murphy, a 103-year-old Eastside resident who was one of the first Wheatley Courts residents.
"This is America's promise," Warrick said, "what the next generation has to look forward to."
Pre-leasing is underway for the first 12 residential buildings, which include affordable and market rate units.
Phase two of the East Meadows construction project will feature 80 senior units and construction is set to begin this month. Phase three of the project is slated for 2018, which also will mark the project's completion. Once completed, East Meadows will provide a total of 415 multi-family and senior units for the neighborhood.
For a complete timeline, click here.