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Newsmonger: Got hope? Bexar health statistics still unequal, Innocence case gaining traction

Photo: Michael barajas, License: N/A

Michael barajas

Anna Vasquez


On August 15 a fire tore through the Amistad Residential Facility, a two-story home on Norwood Court providing room and board to 13 men, many of whom were mentally disabled. The blaze, which claimed four lives, has shocked the city into cracking down on so-called boarding homes, typically run off disability checks from their physically and mentally ill residents. Count this one as another responsibility the State of Texas has kicked down to cities. The Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services once kept tabs on such boarding homes, sending out inspectors and issuing citations for violating basic health and safety standards. But in 2010 the state stopped regulating boarding homes because so few, only 23 across Texas, actually applied for state licensing.

San Antonio has had the authority to regulate the homes since 2009, but has yet failed to do so.

Officially, only about a dozen homes exist in the city. But according to officials as many as 300 may operate under the radar, without the required certificates of occupancy that trigger fire and safety precautions and inspections. One key component to making sure any new regulations work, city officials said last week, would be an aggressive campaign to root out homes quietly operating in the city without proper reporting.

Amistad, owned by Nancy Murrah, for years was cited by the state for violating safety standards, including fire precautions. In wake of the fire, an E-N investigation found Murrah had not obtained the required certificate of occupancy that would have led to electrical, plumbing and fire inspections. As of last week, it appears Murrah's back at it, having opened up a new boarding home at French Place near San Antonio College — again without a certificate of occupancy filed with the city.

The city's proposed ordinance introduced at Council's B session last week would require extensive and costly safety measures for boarding homes, along with an annual $1,000 permit fee. Roderick Sanchez, director of city development services, said that under terms of his proposal operators who register their homes with the city before March 1, 2013, would get a one-year grace period to install the most costly upgrades — like commercial wiring and sprinkler systems, which can cost upwards of $30,000.

But assistant City Manager David Ellison warned Council members to take a measured approach. "This is a complex issue, no one's found a perfect solution." Homes could simply shut down in light of costly upgrades and regulation, he insisted. "We could literally end up with more people on the streets." Ellison said the City Manager's office has earmarked $140,000 to help relocate whose homes might shut down. Expect some version of the ordinance to resurface for a Council vote in the coming months.

Kelly RAB closure

The sparsely-attended meeting last week for the Restoration Advisory Board, the body tasked with monitoring cleanup efforts at the former Kelly Air Force Base, may have been its last. Along with a presentation on ongoing measures to clean up toxic plumes left by years of dumping on base, a rep with the Air Force Real Property Agency outlined why officials feel it's time to shutter the board, the main vehicle for public oversight of the cleanup since 1994. Residents, and some RAB members, overwhelmingly voiced their opposition to the RAB's closure at the meeting, citing lingering concerns over the contamination's health impacts. Residents and concerned citizens can still weigh in. A 30-day public comment period on closing the RAB began October 1. Contact the Air Force Public Affairs Office at 925-0956 or
afrpa.pa@us.af.mil.

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