UTSA report: Affordable housing solution back then, still possible now

Effort underway to preserve West Side shotgun houses

SAN ANTONIO – Long before tiny houses were in vogue like they are now, at least 500 so-called shotgun houses that remain on the city’s West Side, were the only homes that people could afford.

They were “the affordable housing solution of the 1920s and 30s,” said Roger Enriquez, Ph.D., executive director of UTSA’s Westside Community Partnerships Initiative.

They could be again, said Enriquez, given the continued lack of affordable housing on the West Side, even as demographers predict in 20 years, three million people will be living in San Antonio.

“We’re staring down the barrel of an affordability crisis in the not-too-distant future,” Enriquez said.

Back then, shotgun houses were the result of redlining by banks that made it impossible to get a mortgage on the West Side, Enriquez said.

He said the only alternative was to buy a kit for a shotgun house from a local hardware store. They were typically 20 by 40 feet, Enriquez said, with 500 to 700 square feet of living space.

“Someone had a piece of real estate that they could call their own,” Enriquez said.

A spokesman for Shirley Gonzalez, who represents District 5 on City Council, said she was instrumental in the effort now underway, to document and preserve the shotgun houses.

“We’re very interested in keeping residents in their community,” Enriquez said.

He said the goal is to preserve “what we already have.”

Enriquez said several plans that are in the works including one that would help families rehab their shotgun houses.

The initiative is underway even as the San Antonio Housing Authority is planning to demolish the 501 units that make up Alazan Courts, the city’s oldest public housing project.

Although SAHA has said it will find places where the residents can live with comparable rents, the plans have raised concerns about the further loss of affordable housing units.

In a statement, a SAHA spokeswoman said the board will submit its application seeking approval for the demolition from the U.S. Department of Housing Urban Development late next year. But she said, “the board could choose not to proceed at any time” before the application is submitted.

She said SAHA will be working with Alazan residents and the West Side community to come up with a redevelopment plan, rebuilding new units on the same land.

Alazan Courts' two-year timeline. (Credit: SAHA) (SAHA)

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About the Authors:

Jessie Degollado has been with KSAT since 1984. She is a general assignments reporter who covers a wide variety of stories. Raised in Laredo and as an anchor/reporter at KRGV in the Rio Grande Valley, Jessie is especially familiar with border and immigration issues. In 2007, Jessie also was inducted into the San Antonio Women's Hall of Fame.

Bill Caldera has been at KSAT since 2003. He covers a wide range of stories including breaking news, weather, general assignments and sports.