Scott Ball / Rivard Report
Rodrigo Rendon is a lifelong Westside resident who lives next door to his childhood home. He and his parents live side-by-side on a shared plot of land a block away from St. Timothy's Catholic Church.
Rendon's 78-year-old house needs a new roof and foundation, repairs he estimates would approach $35,000. But that's out of reach for the former mechanic, who hasn't had stable employment since 2011 when a drunk driver crushed him between two cars, leaving his right leg permanently injured.
"When your house is too far gone, there's just no way to put in that amount of money to where it's still not going to be up to code," said Rendon, who is 50.
Earlier this month, the City increased the budget for its Under 1 Roof program to repair or replace damaged roofs more than tenfold. Overall, with federal Community Development Block Grants, the city has $9 million to spend on rehabilitation of owner-occupied housing.
Like Rendon, many owners of aging, single-family homes in San Antonio's urban core struggle with rising property values, tax bills, and increasing demand for housing. They are squeezed between paying monthly utility bills and finding money for deferred maintenance on their homes.
Dilapidated homes can become targets for redevelopers ready to demolish old homes and build and sell new homes to buyers who haven't previously entered the Westside market. New residents willing to buy higher-priced homes or pay steeper rents than other residents in the neighborhood may begin pushing out longtime residents – some of whom are willing to sell when repair costs become prohibitive.
Rendon wants to stay put and says he may try to obtain funds from the City to help him fix up his home. He's a leader with the COPS/Metro Alliance and has worked alongside the group in its attempts to get the City to allocate more funding for owner-occupied rehabilitation programs in San Antonio. They assist homeowners who are unable to make or pay for critical home repairs themselves.
"If [the City] can help us rehab the house, new roof, new walls, whatever we need, then the house will be semi-new, and then, yeah, you can keep up with maintaining it," Rendon said.
Rendon's is not the only home in his neighborhood that needs major structural repairs. Walking the surrounding streets, Rendon points out houses that have tarps over sections of their roof and other homes that are sinking into the ground beneath them.
"We have a lot of seniors, individuals [who are] disabled, and lower-income families that have their home, but for whatever reason their resources are limited and [they] are not able to maintain those homes in proper condition," said Maria Tijerina, co-chair of COPS/Metro. "With that, we have found that there’s a lot of homes in our neighborhoods that are in a dilapidated condition and require assistance in getting them up to par.”
This year the City has $9 million to spend on owner-occupied rehabilitation programs in San Antonio. Of that, $6.5 million came from the federal Community Development Block Grants and HOME Investment Partnerships Program. Another $250,000 is available through Merced Housing Texas to subsidize minor home repairs. The Under 1 Roof Program, which finances the repair or replacement of damaged and aging roofs, received $2.25 million from the City's general fund and participating districts.
"It's an effort to address the issue that I see happening in my district and districts all over the city where homes are being demolished at an alarming rate," said Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1), who created the program.
He credits COPS/Metro and their Owner Occupied advocacy for the $2.25 million that was allocated to the program this year. Linda Ortega, the organization's housing co-chair, says the funding fulfilled a commitment from the city.
"We've always been working in housing," said Linda Ortega, COPS/Metro's housing co-chair. "City Council committed and we were able to get more than $9 million ... for owner-occupied housing rehab."
In addition to the efforts of COPS/Metro, the Avenida Guadalupe Association, a community development corporation engaged in neighborhood revitalization, sees assisting homeowners as a way to make sure that their assets don't turn into burdens.
"We know that owning the house is a part of your pathway to family economic success," said Gabriel Velasquez, the group's executive director. "But if your house is deteriorating it becomes a burden."
Funding the Under 1 Roof program is one way the City is investing in its current affordable housing stock. Mayor Ron Nirenberg's recently formed housing task force is tasked with simultaneously creating new housing to meet rising demands and mitigating some impacts of development in older neighborhoods. The initiative comes at a time when the future of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) funding for similar programs is uncertain: President Donald Trump's 2018 budget may cut as much as $6 million from the department.
One of COPS/Metro's interests in having more owner-occupied rehabilitation programs is keeping the fabric of neighborhoods intact. During a conversation with the Rivard Report at the COPS/Metro office at St. Timothy's, Tijerina detailed a process she observed in her own neighborhood. Developers find dilapidated homes, purchase and repair them. Then, the houses are put on the market for twice the purchase price, she said.
"They do attract or find the market to buy that home, but now you have homes that are in the $40,000 price range next to a home that's in the [$80,000 to $110,000] price range," Tijerina said. "That brings about a lot of problems. We started losing our neighborhood, we started losing our neighbors."
Tijerina and Ortega identify the process as gentrification and have seen it in other parts of the city, namely the Lavaca Historic District.
Velasquez sees gentrification occur when homes, where families have lived and raised children for generations, turn into houses, and when residences lose their familial meaning and simply turn into cash opportunities.
"When the home begins deteriorating, that's when people really start to question the opportunity to sell their home," Velasquez said. "It's the stressor that turns a home to a house."
Home values have risen across San Antonio in the last two years. In Rendon's zip code, 78207, median home prices have risen from $40,000 in 2014 to $54,000 in 2016, according to figures from the San Antonio Board of Realtors.
"What COPS/Metro is saying is accurate in that there's pressure," Treviño said. "There's folks who are valuing the location of a lot of these homes over the structure itself. They're being given this decision that they feel like they have to make, and it's usually a financial one."
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If homeowners with deteriorating properties could receive assistance in making repairs, it would be easier for them to hold on to their homes. Treviño's Under 1 Roof program helps homeowners avoid one of the worst problems that can afflict an older home: a leaking roof.
"When a roof leaks, and it's not taken care of, it actually creates more damage and more problems than just having to fix the roof," Treviño said. "The whole point of this roof program is to help stop that ... bleeding to death, and make sure that we're able to sort of protect the home."
The new funding could help. So far, the Under 1 Roof program has re-roofed nearly 48 homes in the city. Treviño believes that the program's latest allocation of budget funds could add more than 150 more homes to that list.
The program is also designed to improve the homes' energy efficiency, which in turn will lower residents' utility bills. Roofers lay white shingles over a reflective underlayment that reduces the amount of heat the home absorbs.
Treviño doesn't see this year's funding as a one-off allocation. He believes the program will continue to receive money in future budgets.
"This is something we can do every single year," Treviño said. "This is in the budget, and can be done year after year after year."
Treviño said there are currently 600 people who have applied for new roofs in Districts 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5, the districts in which the program operates. After years of seeing City dollars spent on downtown projects, COPS/Metro is ready to see renewed attention paid to the City's residential neighborhoods.
"That's going to be our cry – the decade of the neighborhood," Ortega said. "I think this City Council is aware of it. They're with us."