Photo: Lisa Krantz /San Antonio Express-News
Three years after residents of the Mission Trails mobile home park were forced to move to make way for a new, mixed-use development, many of them continue to suffer from the relocation’s negative effects, according to a report released Tuesday.
A news conference about the findings, held on the other side of the chain-link fence that now surrounds the South Side Mission Trails property, drew two mayoral candidates: Ron Nirenberg, the sitting District 8 councilman, and Bexar County Democratic Party Chairman Manuel Medina.
Mayor Ivy Taylor, who is seeking re-election, did not attend. Report author Marisol Cortez said that an email was sent to Taylor’s campaign account. The mayor’s team was not aware of the news conference, according to campaign spokesman Greg Jefferson.
Also absent was District 3 Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran, who represents the Mission Trails area and who voted in support of the zoning change that resulted in the residents’ relocation in 2014.
The goal of the report was to ensure that the experiences of the people who were forced to leave the park — mostly low income, mostly female and often Spanish-speakers — weren’t forgotten, said Cortez, co-founder of Vecinos de Mission Trails, an advocacy organization that formed after the City Council vote rezoning the property.
About half of the park’s 106 households were interviewed.
“We wanted there to be a historical document that could not be destroyed and could not be denied, could not be erased,” Cortez said.
Generally, the report’s findings point to how the displacement disrupted people’s lives, dismantled their social networks, caused extreme economic instability and exacerbated health problems. Two in 5 households have had to move more than once since leaving Mission Trails, Cortez said. One out of 5 households experienced homelessness.
Many families went into debt or drained their savings to move. The financial relocation assistance offered by developer White-Conlee was not enough for many families, Cortez said.
The 21-acre Mission Trails property remains vacant; no development has been built yet.
City Council voted 6-4 in favor of rezoning the mobile home park in May 2014, with supporters saying the project would reinvigorate the economically-depressed South Side.
Taylor, who was the District 2 councilwoman at the time, was absent for that vote but sent a letter to council expressing her support for the change. The mayor has pushed for passage of the city’s first affordable housing bond, called Neighborhood Improvements, on the May 6 ballot.
Nirenberg also supported the zoning change in 2014.
On Tuesday, Nirenberg said he would have voted differently had he known how ill-equipped the city was to handle this kind of situation, where so many people are displaced at one time. Last year, Nirenberg dealt with a similar issue in his district, after a dozen families had to vacate a mobile home park because of broken septic tanks. The city has since filed a lawsuit against the park owner.
Nirenberg emphasized the need for the city to develop a comprehensive housing policy that addresses how to improve blighted neighborhoods and ensures people don’t have to move as redevelopment takes place. He would want to see a vulnerability needs assessment of neighborhoods that could be at risk for gentrification, he said.
The Vecinos’ report “pointed out gaps in the policy to take care of residents who are being displaced as a result of a decision the city has made. There’s a responsibility for us in that,” Nirenberg said.
Medina said he would never have supported a vote that resulted in the displacement of residents.
“Certainly, this is one more example of powerful, economic interests and out-of-town developers (that) run City Hall today,” Medina said. “It’s an injustice that happens far too often” and will continue under the leadership of Taylor and City Manager Sheryl Sculley, he said.
Vecinos de Mission Trails released a preliminary report on the residents in March last year.
Cortez emphasized that if the city is serious about making sure displacement doesn’t happen again, it needs to include Mission Trails residents in those discussions ahead of time.
“The people that went through displacement are experts on displacement,” Cortez said.