Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
"All of this goodness, all of these blessings – it kind of scares me," Miguel Calzada said on the porch of his Beacon Hill home on Saturday.
Calzada cracked a few smiles as more than one dozen volunteers, mostly ambassadors from Haven for Hope, spent hours under a blazing sun to prime his 100-year-old Victorian-style house for a much-needed paint job.
Saturday marked the latest round of improvements at Calzada's home of more than 50 years. The plight to save his house on West French Place from condemnation and demolition has become a symbol of the struggle with gentrification, and toward neighborhood preservation, in the urban core.
As the Rivard Report first reported in late 2014, Calzada got word that someone was interested in buying his property.
Deterred by a housesitter who said the property was not for sale, the prospective buyer threatened to have the City condemn and raze the house. The City later classified the house as a “dangerous building” and scheduled it for demolition.
The Calzadas were already living modestly and struggling with health problems (Miguel's wife Guadalupe died in September 2015). They also had no means of hiring an attorney to address the demolition notice.
Thanks to Calzada's reputation as a selfless neighbor and through word of mouth, neighbors helped him through fundraising and recruiting. Bob Comeaux, a retired union organizer, was joined by architect David Bogle and retired pastor Tom Heger in the efforts to save Calzada's home.
More people got involved. More money was raised. Cleanups and repairs at the house were organized, involving volunteers from Haven for Hope, neighbors, and local trade unions and churches. In addition, Bogle successfully spearheaded an initiative to have the home designated as historic.
Past District 1 Council members Diego Bernal and Maria Berriozábal took up Calzada's cause. So did former state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, who lost to Mayor Ivy Taylor in the 2015 mayoral runoff election.
Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) was so inspired that he filed a Council Consideration Request (CCR) to change how the City and its Building Standards Board (BSB) handle demolitions. The Council later approved those changes in October 2015.
Comeaux praised everyone who has had helped Calzada on Saturday. He credited Treviño and his staff for addressing the way the City does demolitions, specifically where disadvantaged homeowners are concerned.
"They've changed the ordinance to give additional time, especially for senior citizens and others who are down on their luck," Comeaux said.
Comeaux also is happy the BSB membership has changed to more widely reflect the community's makeup and "to look at the human aspect of structural safety and demolitions."
Merced Housing Texas is one of Calzada's biggest boosters, having raised $80,000 for the cause. They widened the scope of work, including shoring up the home's foundation.
Susan Sheeran, Merced's president, recalled hearing about Calzada from Comeaux and neighborhood advocates. Sheeran, Comeaux, and Heger agreed that saving the Calzada home – and the changes with the BSB – are small steps toward stemming the tide of gentrification in the inner city.
"It seemed like something that Merced should be doing as part of its mission," Sheeran said. "We looked at it as not just saving one house. It was saving a neighborhood."
It's not just individual change that's needed, Heger added, "it's systemic."
Calzada and organizers have seen the likes of Treviño, Berriozábal, and other civic leaders show up to previous work days at his house. The show of volunteer force continues to impress the homeowner.
"To see these people come – lawyers, politicians – they all rescued me," Calzada said. "I'm overwhelmed and out of words."
Saturday was the fourth time that Haven for Hope's ambassadors worked on the property. Volunteers such as Jeffrey Ryan were thankful for the opportunity to assist Calzada.
"Helping out Miguel is wonderful. I like him, he's a wonderful guy," Ryan said. "It feels good to come back and help out the community, help him with stuff that needs to be done. It's a work in progress, but it's coming along pretty good."
Calzada is staying with family in a nearby house while repairs take place. More monetary and in-kind donations are sought to support future improvements at the house, including a new roof. Interior improvements will follow the exterior upgrades.
"I'm grateful for the work. This started a movement," Calzada said.