SAN ANTONIO – San Antonio is more aggressive than all of the major Texas cities combined when it comes to displacing families and demolishing their homes due to code violations, according to a new report from the University of Texas Austin School of Law.
The report, published Nov. 23 and written by professor Heather Way, said the city has issued nearly 1,000 orders to vacate and demolish single-family homes for code violations in a span of five years (2015-2020).
In that same time frame, the cities of Houston, Dallas, Austin and Fort Worth, issued no more than 16 orders combined, the report states.
San Antonio’s orders include at least 626 orders for homes that housed some of the city’s most vulnerable residents in communities of color and near areas of redevelopment on the West Side and East Side.
According to census data in the report, the ethnic makeup of residents on the city’s West Side are 94.6% Hispanic or Latino. This area is also undergoing redevelopment, including the UTSA campus expansion project.
On the city’s East Side, the vacate and demolition orders are in neighborhoods that have been primarily home to the African American community, and are seeing “rapid gentrification and economic development pressures,” the report states.
When these families are forced out of their homes, the report said the city rarely provided any relocation assistance and “routinely failed” at providing them with a due process hearing, which could be a violation of state law.
“With the loss of their homes and lack of access to relocation assistance, these residents face a perilous future, including a high risk of homelessness,” the report said.
Per state law, the city is required to provide relocation advisory services and pay relocation assistance if residents are displaced due to a code violation.
However, only eight of 209 residents that were ordered to leave their homes by the city from 2018-2020 received financial assistance from the city’s Risk Mitigation Fund, according to the report.
Aside from several other key findings, the report also included some recommendations for the city to revise for its code enforcement policy.
Some of the recommendations include changing the city’s code to only allow for the vacate and demolition orders as a last resort “when the residents are in imminent danger of serious bodily injury,” and developing a code enforcement program that “advances racial justice and eliminates discriminatory code enforcement sweeps in neighborhoods with high concentrations of Latino and Black residents.”
The City of San Antonio’s Development Services director, Michael Shannon, said his department disagrees with some of the opinions and conclusions found in the report, and that they’re still comparing the numbers.
“They made a comment that we don’t follow the state and local laws and that we don’t help people in these situations, where we run up on dangerous situations. So, you know, a lot of things we disagree with, but we’re still looking at the report. Some of the numbers, I think, are a little bit different than we have in our system, so we want to try to compare those, but we do issue notice to vacate when we run into very dangerous situations. It’s unfortunate, but you know, our goal is to help the people get out of unsafe conditions,” said Shannon in an interview with KSAT.
District 5 City Councilwoman Teri Castillo also commented on the report and said it highlights why her office requested $1.5 million to develop the Demolition Mitigation Pilot Program, and that there is some amending that needs to be done with the city’s code enforcement policy.
“The data is quite stark, and when we look at the past redlining maps and how they overlap, I think it tells us the history of policy that we need to continue to work towards addressing and amending,” Castillo told KSAT. “...I look forward to working with the Development Services Department to develop the Demolition Mitigation Program Pilot Program to ensure that we continue to mitigate the number of demolitions that we are seeing within District 5 and throughout the city as a whole.”
You can read the report in its entirety here.