Resident entrepreneurs welcomed at SAHA community

Gardens at San Juan Square offers 12 live-work units


SAN ANTONIO – San Antonio Housing Authority's newest community now complete, the third and final phase of the Gardens at San Juan Square, includes a dozen units unlike the more than 500 others that have been built since 2008 along the 2000 block of South Zarzamora.

The $63 million project replaced San Juan Homes, a longtime public housing project on the city's Westside.   

"One of the most exciting aspects is the live-work units," said Lourdes Castro Ramirez, SAHA president and CEO.

She said resident entrepreneurs can live upstairs and operate their small businesses downstairs.

Melanie Villalobos, SAHA spokeswoman, said the residents had to meet income guidelines and their business proposals were screened.

"We wanted them to be more than bright ideas. They needed to be sustainable," Villalobos said.

To help them grow, Villalobos said those business owners can call on community partners for guidance and advice, including the Westside Development Corp., UTSA, ACCION and the West Side Chamber.

"I thought it was unbelievable," said Michelle Blaney, who moved in Wednesday.

Blaney said she had just left the shelter where she'd lived for two years as a homeless veteran, so she only had two dresses on display for her soon-to-open boutique which also will offer organic beauty products.

Blaney said she will "re-invent" new and vintage clothing for her clients, "making them feel fabulous."  

"This is huge. I think it's really going to empower this community. I'm very excited to be here," Blaney said.

Blaney said she also wants to inspire others.

"This will show the young ladies and young men that opportunity is not limited to where you live," Blaney said.   

Nina Doneley, another entrepreneur, said she feels much the same way.

"My drive in my life is to help other people and give back," Doneley said.

A multimedia artist, Doneley said the gallery she's created not only will showcase her work and that of other artists, it can serve as a resource offering helpful information for the community.

"I grew up in a children's home. I was adopted. I was abandoned. I went through so many things," Doneley said. "To be successful right here is the highest point in my life."