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City leaders dismiss UT Law study claiming code enforcement displaces hundreds of San Antonio families

San Antonio city leaders claim a study from UT Law examining orders to vacate and demolish homes has "inaccurate" numbers, but researchers disagree.

SAN ANTONIO — San Antonio city leaders are disputing claims they displace more people out of their homes than other Texas cities.

A report from University of Texas-Austin School of Law states the city has ordered over 600 buildings to be vacated and demolished in the past five years, compared to just 16 orders across other major cities including Austin, Houston, Dallas and Fort Worth.

This week, the city fired back saying the report is inaccurate and "fundamentally flawed," but the researchers stand by their numbers.

Graphs in the report show a large concentration of the homes affected are on the west side and east side of downtown.

On the west side are homes and businesses that have stood for generations.

"The building's been in our family for nearly 100 years," Fernando Velazquez's family has owned Joe's Aluminum Shop on Guadalupe Street near the corner of Sabinas, which was in business for 47 years before it was demolished last year.

"It's an older building and need repairs and we understood that, but the problem was [the city's] push to demolish was stronger than the push to rebuild it," Velazquez said.

Homes have met similar fates according to the UT Law report titled "Ousted," which states the city of San Antonio issued 626 orders to vacate and orders to demolish occupied homes from 2015 to 2020.

Another claim in the report is the vacate and demolition orders are heavily concentrated in San Antonio's lower-income communities.

Rod Sanchez, assistant city manager denies those claims.

"Some of the things they implied were just way off base and their numbers were wrong, quite frankly," Sanchez said.

In a planning and development committee meeting on Monday, the city presented its response to the report, stating only 404 orders to vacate and orders to demolish were issued in that time frame. 73 orders to demolish were counted.

Heather Way, clinical professor and lead researcher disagrees with the city's response, saying all their data came from open records requests submitted to the city and to the Building Standards board.

“I think it’s a lot of smoke and mirrors and I looked more closely at the data they're presenting [on Monday] and they’re just not presenting all the data they’ve provided to us,” Way said.

One of the researchers' recommendations is for the city to pause demolition orders and review its code enforcement procedures.

Velazquez says the current code enforcement process caused stress to his family.

"We can't be the only family or the only business in [City Council] District 5 going through this," Velazquez said.

Sanchez tells KENS 5 the city will be conducting a study with UTSA to review and find improvements in its code enforcement process.

City councilmember Teri Castillo, District 5 said in a statement in response to the new study that she is "disappointed that the City of San Antonio has committed to moving forward with spending additional public dollars on yet another study rather than implementing and investing in material solutions for our families."

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