Journal of Housing & Community Development

Awards of Excellence: East Meadows

August 8, 2019

The San Antonio Housing Authority (SAHA) wins a 2018 Award of Excellence in Project Design for developing East Meadows, a community of 215 mixed-income, multi-family units with an onsite digital library and other important community services and programs. Nominated from among the NAHRO Award of Merit winners each year, the Awards of Excellence winners are chosen by national juries and honored at the annual National Conference and Exhibition in October. They represent the very best in innovative programs in assisted housing and community development.  

Built in 1940, Wheatley Courts was a 248-unit cinderblock style development that had fallen into obsolescence and disrepair. In response, SAHA developed a three-phase Transformation Plan to tear down Wheatley Courts and build the East Meadows community as their first step in creating “long-term affordability in a diverse, mixed-income community.” East Meadows was designed to be a “walkable, sustainable, and intergenerational” community that blended with and enhanced the surrounding single-family homes.

During the year-long planning effort, SAHA ensured residents and community stakeholders participated in the creation of East Meadows. SAHA held over 36 meetings and led a “Dream Big” bus tour of other developments, shopping centers, schools, and community gardens to help residents imagine “what could be.” This bus tour also led to the creation of the SAHA’s Transformation Plan, and a list of goals for the community during this planning phase. Residents wanted:

  • Buildings that looked like houses that would blend into the neighborhood;
  • Units with more living space;
  • Modern amenities and appliances, and; 
  • Safety features that help residents feel safe navigating inside and outside of the community.

East Meadows’ final conceptual plan was created using input from Wheatley Courts residents, representatives from the surrounding community, SAHA staff and consultants, and stakeholders. SAHA co-developed the community with McCormack Baron Salazar (MBS) and was responsible for coordinating resident and community engagement during the development and implementation of the Transformation Plan. As the co-developer, MBS procured the general contractor, the architect, and engineer. They oversaw the general contractor and subcontractors and assisted in coordinating the housing construction and public improvements. 

SAHA also lead pre-lease efforts to ensure that those residents relocated off-site at before demolition had the first right to return to the new development. Resident services organization Urban Strategies worked with SAHA during resident relocation, provided resident case management services, and coordinated resident return. SAHA also kept the residents, community members and stakeholders updated on the project’s progress and was responsible for the managing and reporting of all funding sources involved in the redevelopment. 

MBM Management worked with SAHA to interview and qualify potential residents for all Project-Based Voucher, Public Housing, and Section 8 units. They were also responsible for the management and compliance of this mixed-income and mixed-financed project. SAHA lead the relocation process, oversaw the demolition and site preparation of the new development, monitoring and inspection of construction, including participation in all construction draw meetings, obtaining approvals and payments. SAHA also worked with the City of San Antonio (COSA) to address the surrounding neighborhood and cleaned up vacant lots, demolished vacant structures, and picked up stray animals while educating the neighborhood about vaccinations and spay and neutering services.

East Meadows’ building design consists of four different architectural styles: Spanish, Craftsman, Colonial, and Federal. The development offers one to four-bedroom units in townhome and garden-style buildings as well as on-site supportive services such as continuing education, after-school programs, and more. It also includes a mixed-use building dedicated to a fully digital library known as BiblioTech, “a pioneering concept that provides internet access, devices and training to a low-income community whose broadband usage was below 25 percent.” 

The construction team focused on resident safety, health, convenience and education by including: 

  • Limited access gates between buildings and to the resident parking lots; 
  • Interior corridors for all buildings; 
  • Vinyl plank flooring;
  • In-unit washers and dryers;
  • Energy-efficient appliances and light fixtures;
  • Pedestrian level exterior lighting along the sidewalks, and; 
  • Pedestrian walking paths that will encourage the community to walk and exercise in a safe environment. 

All units are certified as BSAG Level II by Build San Antonio Green (BSAG), a local Green Certification Body designed to meet major points of building sustainability which includes, energy efficiency, water conservation, and more. Along with the BSAG certification, the project was required to have the units tested and verified through an Energy Star rater. This energy efficiency should lead to a 20-25 percent annual energy savings on residents’ utility bills. All the units are individually metered with smart electric meters from CPS Energy, a local utility provider. The community conserves water using low-flow toilets, faucets and showerheads. Water surface runoff is contained on the surface of the property and most of the water runoff is recycled and use on the vegetation. 

East Meadows’ positive impact on the community isn’t just limited to sustainable, energy-efficient affordable housing and community services. The surrounding community has also received new streets, curbs, sidewalks, driveway aprons and lighting as well as landscaping. The development has also led to further financial investment by both the city and by private investors. By collaborating with residents, community members and stakeholder, SAHA was able to design and bring to life a community that “changed the landscape of the community and is attracting new economic growth to the area.” 

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