After listening to a dozen angry residents complain about problems they're having buying homes in the taxpayer-funded Villas de Fortuna subdivision, the City Council's Urban Affairs Committee called Tuesday for an independent investigation of the San Antonio Housing Authority, which had the homes built.
The proposal must go before the entire City Council for approval.
As proposed by District 6 Councilwoman Delicia Herrera, the investigation would be funded by SAHA but controlled by the city, which would find independent investigators to look at the lease-to-purchase program, evaluate the agency's handling of residents' concerns and provide solutions to problems that have endured through three SAHA CEOs, three chief operating officers, and a slew of other officials.
"We are here to find solutions," Herrera said.
District 5 Councilwoman Patti Radle joined Herrera in calling for the probe, saying the city seems stuck on the same SAHA problems year after year.
"We need to get to a point where these issues are looked at fairly and independently," Radle said.
Villas de Fortuna is one subdivision of the $48 million Mirasol Homes public housing project that has drawn criticism for shoddy construction and inept management for seven years.
SAHA CEO Henry Alvarez, who gave a presentation after the residents spoke, welcomed the proposal, saying: "We've been investigated before."
One question raised by a family who bought their home dealt with SAHA's failure to disclose past problems with the house.
Alvarez said the buyers got full disclosure from their own inspectors or their lenders.
Herrera attacked that statement, saying taxpayers expect their government agencies to be open and honest and provide full disclosure of problems before the sale.
"You're not a private real estate company," Herrera angrily told Alvarez, "you're the San Antonio Housing Authority."
Herrera said she wanted Alvarez to guarantee that residents who spoke up would not be retaliated against.
"We have a different idea of 'retaliation,'" Alvarez responded, saying that some residents were thousands of dollars in arrears and that money had to be collected or the person evicted.
Herrera said she had been in the homes of SAHA residents who were victims of retaliation. "I've sat there with them and I've seen them cry. I never want to have to do that again."
Residents complained of cracks growing in the walls and foundations, doors out of plumb, siding pulling apart, and poor treatment by SAHA personnel.
Others raised new issues, such as fears for their children's health because of mold or mildew in the houses or asphalt and concrete that appear in the yards after a hard rain.
Saying he would look at the new issues, Alvarez provided a structural engineering report released Monday that looked at 25 houses and found that the reported problems were cosmetic, not structural.
The report did find one house where the foundation tilted, he said, "And we're going to get with KB (Home, the builder) to get it fixed."
That report is available on SAHA's Web site at www.saha.org under the Public Notices/News link.
Concerning the issue about disclosing past problems, Alvarez said after the meeting that he was unaware of any problems with the houses that have been sold recently, emphasizing that the buyer should have gotten full disclosure from her inspector or lender.
"But now that we know of the problems, we'll look into it," he said.
The resident who complained about the lack of disclosure bought a house that was featured in a San Antonio Express-News story on May 8, 2005, almost a year after Alvarez arrived in San Antonio. That story told of residents' complaints that water bubbled up through the kitchen linoleum every time it rained.
Alvarez said what San Antonians should know about SAHA is "we may not have effectively managed the Mirasol project in the past, but what you'll see now is we're going to solve these problems."