YWCA plan to house and job-train women passes city council vote and moves forward
The YWCA San Antonio’s plan to build its first housing units for women in poverty, with the aim of training them for a more prosperous future, survived threats from neighborhood opposition and city concerns on Thursday when the City Council approved its zoning request.
The 10-0 vote approving the rezoning of the 9-acre site of the former St. Andrews Convent from multi-family housing to a human services campus enables YWCA to turn the site into 24 apartments for the women who will live there during their onsite job training.
The program aims to connect them with higher paying jobs and the ability to buy their own homes at some point in the community.
The initial units were just the first of an ambitious plan to redevelop the remaining seven acres of the property at 2318 Castroville Road into additional housing and training resources for women in the program. Plans call for two additional structures measuring 5,000 square feet and as many as nine additional campus housing units. In initial conversations, YWCA described the units as small houses.
Corina Castillo Johnson, a board member of the YWCA, said on Thursday that the religious order that previously owned the convent supported the new plans for the building.
"They wanted to sell this property to us," she explained, "although they had many offers from many multi family housing developers, because we were continuing their mission of supporting the community and young women who are in deep need of role models and support to open businesses."
But some residents in the area, including members of the Westwood Square Neighborhood Association, opposed the plan, and they asked the council for more time before its vote to gather more information.
Francesca Rattray, CEO of YWCA San Antonio, was familiar with the criticism. In February, she spoke with some critics about the plan.
“They said ... that they liked that it's been a nice peaceful corner of Castroville Road with nothing happening on it," she explained to TPR at the time. “I think their concern is that it is going to evolve more into a homeless shelter."
Rattray also said they were upset that they weren’t consulted on the project. She said the neighborhood associations were generally supportive of YWCA, but they wanted more detail about the plans for this property.
District 5 Councilwoman Teri Castillo said on Thursday that the majority of residents she talked to supported the project.
"Safe housing is pivotal in exiting an abusive situation or exiting the foster care system and into a more stable situation for one to empower themselves," she said.
She also supported the contentious issue in January. "In our community, more than half of households in poverty are led by single mothers. YWCA San Antonio's purchase of the St. Andrews Convent will provide a pathway out of poverty for women, especially single women of color," said Castillo in a Jan. 13 press release from YWCA.
YWCA San Antonio took a risk getting into housing. It relied on cash on hand and financing to secure the $1.6 million property, rather than fundraising and a lengthy capital campaign — all with hopes it could connect women to opportunity.
“This is a dream to transform the lives of women who don't have any choices,” Rattray said in February.