Retired civil servant Mary Cubillo Flores sits on a dark green couch in a living room decorated nearly top-to-bottom in framed photos of her two children and four grandchildren. She reflects fondly on the memories created within the four walls of her trailer home in the South Side’s Mission Trails Mobile Home Park, where she and her husband Homer have resided for the past 38 years. Happily living in self-admitted modest surroundings, the Floreses have built up decades of strong relationships with neighbors, part of the community they call family. But the couple—and the more than 200 other residents at 1515 Mission Road—may be forced to make an exit, as the park’s landowners hope to sell off the property and replace it with a $75 million luxury riverfront apartment development.
“My husband and I wholeheartedly support development in San Antonio, but not at the expense of the people that live here. When do projects become more important than the lives of people?,” Mary says, with tears welling in her eyes. “They are not moving us, they are displacing us.”
Homer chimes in, “It puts a burden on all of us,” he says. “We don’t have the money they have, so we’re handcuffed in a way. We’re just praying for the best.”
The property sits near a golf course, Concepción Sports Park and the newly redeveloped Mission Reach River project, adding to its allure for developers. White-Conlee, a local firm, got the nod from the Colorado-based Mission Trails owners American Family Communities to seek rezoning for the 21-acre tract of land from “manufactured housing” to commercial and multi-family use so the deal can be officially brokered.
Residents claim they were left out of the rezoning process and contend the plan is riddled with lack of communication and transparency from the developer and the owner. However, under Texas law, the City is only obligated to alert the landowner of rezoning changes and not the residents, who pay rent on a month-to-month basis. While the Trails community is cognizant of the law, they still argue that, at the least, they should have been alerted to the prospective sale as a sign of respect.
However, according to residents, it wasn’t until three days before the issue appeared on the February 18 City Zoning Commission meeting that the mobile home renters became (inadvertently) aware of the proposed rezoning and sale. San Antonio College student Christian Amador, the de facto leader and principle voice of the community, was the first to spot the rezoning notices around the park. He and his parents called the City to inquire, spurring him to inform his neighbors, take action and mobilize. “The first thing the owner should have done is have the common courtesy to tell us about the sale to our face,” says Amador.
Attorney Bill Kaufman, representing the developer, tells the Current the landowners advised his client not to approach tenants about the purchase. The owner, he says, didn’t want to “stir anyone up” before the sale—far from a done deal and contingent upon the zoning reclassification—went through.
“The [owner] was concerned that: ‘If you talk to my tenants, I might lose them if I don’t get rezoning, or if I get rezoning and your client doesn’t buy my property, I might lose them. So I want to make sure you don’t make all my tenants leave before your client buys my property,’” says Kaufman, of the owner’s advice.
American Family Communities did not return calls for comment.
Since learning of the sale, the community and local organizations like the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center, have stormed zoning and City Council meetings, pleading with public officials in both English and Spanish to halt the proposed change. The Zoning Commission granted their wish, denying the motion for rezoning by a 5-2 vote on March 18. The agenda item then found its way before City Council on April 17, where dozens of residents showed up to testify. Convinced that the heated proposal didn’t get enough dialogue between the developers, owners and residents, District 1 council member Diego Bernal moved to delay a final vote until May 15.
While residents say the developer and owners still have made little effort to communicate with them in person, even following the noise made at Council, Kaufman, a former City of San Antonio attorney says an informal meeting is in the works. He expresses sympathy for the plight of the residents but claims the deal White-Conlee offered to the Mission Trails Park community is generous—the developer has agreed to subsidize moving expenses and hookup fees when transitioning residents to other trailer parks and will provide $2,000 to park dwellers with dilapidated trailers, unable to move. But for those like the Flores family and Amador, the deal does little to quell concerns—the tight-knit community would still be uprooted and forced to fragment.
“They said, ‘We’re going to delay the vote so residents can learn more about the deal.’ But I don’t feel like the delay is anything more than saying to us, ‘You’re ignorant and don’t understand it, so let us help you.’ We are not ignorant, we understand it, we just don’t want to leave,” says Amador. He and others suggest American Family Communities sell the park trailers to individuals, so they retain full ownership. Alternatively, they suggest the owners could rent out vacant space (and remove deteriorated trailers—a problem that plagues the park and reflects poorly on the landlord) and rent out parts of the park to travel RVs.
“I hope they give us a chance to buy the property, I think that’s everyone’s goal here [in the community],” Amador says. “But I don’t think that’s their point, they just want to kick us out.”
Amador and Flores mention several elderly, disabled and veteran residents living in the park, some living on fixed incomes and less capable—financially, physically or otherwise—of making the move. Take 71-year-old Carol Thompson, who emerges from her trailer on a walker. Thompson, a resident of the park for the past 10 years, is the caretaker of two rescue dogs and two cats. She says other area trailer parks won’t accept her adopted animals. “It makes me really sad, I feel like I’m being kicked out of my home. Where are my pets going to go? I’m not parting with them,” says Thompson.
The residents plan to continue protesting before the next council meeting, where they are expected to testify in full force. For now, they embrace what little time they may have left in their community.
The Floreses walk down the steel steps, emblazoned with Texas stars that Homer, a retired sheet metal worker, hand built. Mary points to the house across the street and down the road, occupied by her sister-in-law and her brother. Admitting the park may not be much to an outside observer, Mary gazes at the row of mobile houses that line her street and says softly, “We are family here. This is our home. We don’t want to leave.”