Thousands of buildings identified as vacant or dangerous throughout San Antonio

Per city code, “vacant structure means that all lawful activity has ceased, or reasonably appears to have ceased for thirty days.”

SAN ANTONIO – KSAT Investigates recently showed you just how big a problem vacant structure fires are becoming throughout San Antonio.

The city fire department is responding to more and more every year.

Now, our team is digging into just how many vacant and dangerous structures there are throughout our city and where they are located.

Thousands of vacant, overgrown, or dangerous buildings

This map shows just a small sampling — only 2,000 of the more than 11,000 vacant, overgrown, or dangerous buildings across San Antonio.

“We have a lot of cases that are related to vacant structures,” Michael Shannon said.

Shannon is the director of the Development Services Department.

KSAT Investigates received data on the vacant and dangerous structures through an open records request to Shannon’s department.

The data shows a total of 9,980 vacant or overgrown structures and an additional 1,178 that have been marked as dangerous.

“Vacant structures have a tendency to come out of compliance, become a structural hazard, or if they’re accessible, meaning not secure, and they can become a hazard for people in and around them,” Shannon said.

The list is not comprehensive — it only includes what has been identified so far.

Data by districts

When looking at these numbers, we wanted to identify which districts had the largest amount of vacant or dangerous structures.

By far, Districts 5 and 2 came out on top.

In District 2, DSD has identified 2,092 vacant structures, including homes and commercial buildings.

Some of those fall on the same street, like several of those on Clark Avenue.

District 5 is home to another 2,052 vacant structures.

Both city council leaders know it’s a problem their constituents are worried about.

“We have these horrible inequities where we have the most failing streets; we have the most vacant and unoccupied structures,” Jalen McKee-Rodriguez, the District 2 councilman, said.

“When we look at the vacant structures within our district, many of them are held up within the title clearance process,” Teri Castillo, councilwoman for District 5, said.

McKee-Rodriguez believes the reasoning behind the vacant structures stems from property owners sitting on real estate, allowing it to fall into disarray.

“That’s leading to a host of other problems, including encampments that get set up inside of homes,” McKee-Rodriguez said.

Looking for solutions

Castillo said she’s looking to Houston and a land banking process they’ve implemented to solve this kind of issue.

“Any properties that have sat vacant for too long, the city acquires that property essentially through the first of right refusal,” Castillo said.

According to the Houston Land Bank website, “We’ve reactivated more than $76 million worth of property, helping to eliminate illegal dumping and abandoned structures while generating millions of dollars in revenue to help improve for our schools and local government services.”

The site explains that over the past 15 years, vacant, abandoned, or damaged properties have been taken in, refurbished, and reused for affordable housing across the city.

Both council members and Shannon believe it’s an issue that will need more hands on deck to solve.

“I think it’s going to take a city, county, state collaborative,” McKee-Rodriguez said.

“It’s probably a combination of not only keeping it secure, which our department does, assuring the safety around it, but encouraging some investment, maybe some land trust, those type of things,” Shannon said.

About the Authors:

Leigh Waldman is a news reporter at KSAT 12. She joined the station in 2021. Leigh comes to San Antonio from the Midwest after spending time at a station in Omaha, NE. After two winters there, she knew it was time to come home to Texas. When Leigh is not at work, she enjoys eating, playing with her dogs and spending time with family.

Before starting at KSAT in August 2011, Ken was a news photographer at KENS. Before that he was a news photographer at KVDA TV in San Antonio. Ken graduated from San Antonio College with an associate's degree in Radio, TV and Film. Ken has won a Sun Coast Emmy and four Lone Star Emmys. Ken has been in the TV industry since 1994.