Council members want more ‘equity’ in senior assistance program to prevent code violations

Pilot program provided $10K for each district, but some are tapped out while others have barely touched their amounts

SAN ANTONIO – A pilot program to help seniors and disabled residents avoid code violations for overgrown weeds, downed trees, and debris has proved more popular in some parts of town than others.

In a Monday presentation to the Planning and Community Development Committee on Development Services Director Mike Shannon showed the southern districts were using more of the $100,000 Senior Assistance Pilot Program than other districts.

Districts 2, 3, 4, and 5 - which comprise most of the city’s East, South, and West Side - were already through the $10,000 set aside for each of their residents. The city even went over budget in several of the districts rather than turn residents away.

Councilwoman Phyllis Viagran (D3) had even used an additional $5,000 of her district’s discretionary funds, which was down to just $365 remaining, according to the chart.

Meanwhile, other districts, like District 10 on the Northeast Side, had seen just a few hundred dollars used.

“I think that says that there’s not as much as a need in the, the northern, sector of San Antonio. And we need to make sure that we distribute that as needed,” Viagran said after the meeting.

Districts in the southern part of the city are already done with their allotments in the Senior Assistance Pilot Program, while others have hardly had any claims. (City of San Antonio)

To tap into the funding, a senior or disabled person needs to be facing both a code violation and some kind of financial hardship. The city will send a contractor out, at no cost to the homeowner or renter, to tackle the violation and avoid accruing any fines.

The pilot program was requested as a budget request last fall by Councilwoman Marina Alderete Gavito (D7) and Councilman Jalen McKee-Rodriguez (D2). According to a news release from Alderete Gavito’s office, a similar city program offered assistance, but it was only for $15,000 citywide.

“The intent of this program is to ensure we are preventing our most vulnerable populations from being punished for minor code issues,” she told the committee Monday.

Approximately $35,000 was left in the program as of May 9.

Councilman John Courage (D9) suggested that any unused funds at the end of the current funding cycle be pooled together and redivided. According to the DSD presentation, only three people had needed help - $3,082 so far.

“Just because we didn’t need it that much in our district if you need it more in yours or in yours, we ought to be able to allocate that,” Courage said.

Castillo agreed with his plan.

“We saw an equal approach, but I see an opportunity for us to recalibrate for an equitable approach. Right? We know where the high concentration of code compliance citations is. And we’re seeing that evident with the data with the districts that have maxed out their funds,” Castillo said.

The city has also found the program is more expensive than anticipated. Shannon said they had started, thinking that the average jobs would cost the city $500 to $600. Instead, the 48 completed or pending jobs have cost an average of a little less than $1,450.

“Really, what we’re finding is those tree removal ones - we knew we’d have several of those - but those get into the thousands of dollars very quickly,” he told committee members.

Though the program appeared to be popular, it’s unclear what will happen to it exactly. City staff expect a budget deficit over the next two years of at least $10.6 million.

Shannon said the city would continue the program for the rest of the fiscal year, which ends in September, but he was “sure” it would be part of the budget conversation for next year.

About the Authors

Garrett Brnger is a reporter with KSAT 12.

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