SAN ANTONIO—Conversations about the development of Sutton Oaks inevitably include stories about a 2008 bus trip.

Approximately 40 public housing residents piled into a rented bus one morning and traveled 80 miles from San Antonio to Austin to attend a Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs (TDHCA) meeting.

Competition is fierce for low-income housing tax credits (LIHTCs), and developers had been trying to secure different financing for Sutton Oaks for years. The residents wanted to show TDHCA offi- cials how much they supported the proposed development.

“The neighborhood was ready for a change,” says Lorraine Robles, assistant director of real estate services at the San Antonio Housing Authority (SAHA).

Sutton Oaks eventually received the tax credits and other financing it needed in 2009. The $24 million project also uses two new funding sources—the Neighborhood Stabilization Program and the Tax Credit Assistance Program.

A new community emerges

Residents and others celebrated the opening of the new 194-unit development in April, about three years after the bus ride.

Sutton Oaks replaces the nearly 60-year-old Sutton Homes, one of SAHA's oldest public housing projects, which was demolished in 2009 to make way for the new development.

“We tried to make it more of a community," Robles says.

Modern garden-style apartments surround a one-acre park that's the centerpiece of the development. Sutton Oaks also means a more diverse community, with 49 public housing, 137 LIHTC, and eight market-rate apartments.

Even more, the change has revitalized the entire neighborhood, according to Robles.

Sutton Homes, a barracks-style housing project built in 1952, was known for drugs and other crime, but much of the illegal activities disappeared along with the old buildings, according to Robles, who has been with SAHA for seven years.

The new development is a catalytic project for the city's east side, she says.

SAHA partnered with private developer Franklin Development. The two have joined forces on a handful of projects.

Even though the aging Sutton Homes was torn down, pieces of it remain in the new development. In an effort to recycle as much of the materials as possible, Franklin crushed the old building pads and used them as infill in the new foundations and roads, says Ryan Wilson, vice president at San Antonio-based Franklin.

In another move, Franklin hired several public housing residents to help during construction, according to Wilson.

Families that lived in the original public housing development were given the opportunity to move into Sutton Oaks. About 25 families returned.

“Everybody in this community was a stakeholder,” says Wilson, describing what he likes most about the development. “It all started with the residents."

And a bus ride to Austin.