Scott Ball / Rivard Report
In six years she has lived in public housing, Angelita Vasquez usually slept in her living room during the summer because her upstairs floor would get unbearably hot. On Tuesday, she watched with relief as workers installed an air conditioning unit in her home. This summer, she will be able to sleep in her own room upstairs.
“It’s just so hot. The sun’s hitting brick and it gets really hot,” Vasquez said. “We [the neighbors] were excited when we found out that they’re doing everybody’s units.”
The San Antonio Housing Authority (SAHA) is working to complete installation of window air conditioning units in 2,400 public housing apartments that lacked cooling systems. As crews worked this week, housing authority officials said about 1,400 units have been installed thus far, and installations are expected to be completed in mid-July.
Six apartment complexes for the elderly and 15 family complexes were prioritized for installation first. Some apartment communities are still awaiting air conditioning units, including Cassiano Homes, Kenwood North, and Lincoln Heights, among the largest properties SAHA operates. SAHA was installing units in Alazán-Apache Courts on Tuesday.
Codie Sanchez has lived in Alazán-Apache, which was built in 1939 and lacks modern insulating materials, with her two young children for three years. She said she used to have her own window AC unit, but it barely cooled one room. She threw that one away to make space for the new AC unit.
“It’s a very big improvement,” Sanchez said of the new unit. “The heat is very strong this time of year. We are here all day with my babies. We used to just have to put a lot of fans and open windows, but now we have AC.”
Residents will have to pay for electrical costs associated with the AC units’ operation, but Sanchez said she is more than willing to pay to keep cool this summer.
“I am not too sure how much it’ll cost,” Sanchez said. “I guess we’ll find out when the next bill comes in, but I think it’s going to be worth it.”
SAHA’s efforts to install AC units in public housing began several years ago, but a lack of funding stalled progress. State Rep. Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio) spearheaded the current initiative, and the plan got a boost from funding pledges from the City, SAHA, and the Gordon Hartman Family Foundation earlier this year.
“SAHA was determined for all layers of funding to come into fruition, and we are pleased it now has,” said Michael Reyes, SAHA’s director of communications. “The agency is wholeheartedly grateful that the City, Gordon Hartman, and the San Antonio Housing Trust Foundation were able to help make this initiative a reality.”
Local officials had hoped to tap into funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for the project, but HUD rejected the City’s request to use money from a Community Development Block Grant, because those funds are allocated for permanent upgrades, and window AC units were deemed temporary upgrades. City Council decided to reprogram $500,000 from a funding source that is not restricted by HUD. The total cost of the project is $1.5 million.
“The City of San Antonio really came through and found funding to ensure that our initiative was completed,” said Marivel Resendiz, a SAHA communications manager. “We are moving fast and that was the intention. We are hoping to have them all installed before summer ends.”
HUD does not require that units be air-conditioned, and no state law or city ordinance requires that public housing have air conditioning.
“This initiative was spearheaded to provide some relief in hot summers,” Resendiz said. “Residents have been very grateful to have air conditioning within their homes.”