Texas Border Business
By Roberto Hugo González
October 4, 2023, witnessed a significant milestone at South Texas Affordable Homes, Inc. (AHSTI) – the grand opening of a state-of-the-art Construction Services building, accompanied by a heartfelt tribute to two exceptional individuals. Arturo “Tito” Torres and Randy McLelland, staunch supporters of AHSTI, were honored with the dedication of conference rooms in their names. This remarkable event united community leaders and well-wishers in a celebration of their outstanding contributions and AHSTI’s firm commitment to its mission.
In a heartwarming gathering at the podium, Jason Leal from Texas Regional Bank and other distinguished individuals came together to honor the exceptional contributions of two distinguished figures, Attorney Arturo “Tito” Torres and Randy McLelland, South Texas Senior Credit Officer. The event, hosted by Affordable Homes of South Texas, Inc., was an emotional moment to reflect on their remarkable journey and enduring legacy in the Hidalgo County area.
Jason Leal expressed his gratitude for Tito and Randy’s guidance and support within the organization. He emphasized the profound impact these two individuals had, not only in the banking industry but also in the community. Tito was recognized for his instrumental role in founding Affordable Homes of South Texas and his commitment to providing a “hand up, not a handout” to those in need.
Lorena Castillo, who acted as MC, acknowledged the significant contributions of former McAllen Mayor Jim Darling and Gilbert Enriquez of Econ Construction, who played fundamental roles in the organization’s success. Their dedication and efforts were highlighted as essential to the cause.
Bobby Calvillo, the executive director of Affordable Homes of South Texas, Inc., took the stage to introduce the honorees and shed light on the organization’s history. He reminisced about the dire living conditions that once plagued the McAllen area, prompting a group of concerned citizens, including Tito Torres, to take action 47 years ago. They formed a nonprofit corporation to address the housing crisis.
Calvillo explained that Tito served as the volunteer board president, providing the framework for the organization’s sustainability. Under his leadership, the organization established a revolving loan fund, which now boasts a substantial $64 million loan portfolio. Even at 90, Tito remains involved with the organization, a testament to his enduring commitment.
In a nostalgic recollection, Arturo “Tito” Torres recollects a key moment that ignited a transformative journey nearly half a century ago. “47 years ago,” he begins, “I found myself in the role of Chairman at the McAllen Housing Authority, deeply immersed in civic responsibilities. We were gathering at the housing authority for our routine monthly meeting, and The Monitor lay on the table, its headlines demanding my attention. The shocking revelation it carried stated that within the city limits of McAllen, over 2,200 homes lacked the basic amenity of indoor plumbing. It was a shaking realization that cut through my civic consciousness.”
He continues, “Without hesitation, I reached out to one of my fellow board members, a name that escapes me now, but he, too, was a lawyer. After our meeting, we shared a common resolve—we would take action.”
“City Hall became our next destination, where we engaged in a conversation with Mike Blum, then the city planner and the author of the eye-opening article. In that very moment, the three of us, united by a shared purpose, decided to establish a nonprofit corporation dedicated to addressing the dire living conditions of those residing in substandard homes.”
“Simultaneously, the city was already taking steps to eradicate substandard rental properties, but our focus was squarely on the homeowners themselves—individuals living in their own homes, enduring deplorable conditions. With firm determination, we forged ahead, laying the foundation for our corporation. Our inaugural donor, David Farb, who owned J. Edelstein ‘La Muebleria de Jacobo,’ located just across the street from Business 83, provided the initial donation. We assembled a committee to raise funds and embarked on our mission.”
Arturo’s voice carries the weight of history as he recounts the economic backdrop of the era, “For those who may not remember, it was during the challenging times of the Jimmy Carter presidency. The United States grappled with stagflation, a crippling combination of economic stagnation and inflation—perhaps the worst affliction a nation can endure. Interest rates soared to over 22%, making loans nearly unattainable.”
He reflects on their modest beginnings, “Undeterred, we managed to raise a little over $90,000. The city extended its support by loaning us a small mobile home, strategically placed at the intersection of Jackson and Bicentennial. We hired a manager and a secretary, a dedicated PanAm University student, to assist those seeking loans to renovate their homes.”
Arturo reveals the key to their success, “We enlisted the expertise of a skilled builder, the same craftsman who had constructed my own home, to select reliable subcontractors for the job. With this team in place, we embarked on our mission.”
He shares the accidental turn of events that bolstered their cause, “As fate would have it, the federal government began channeling community development funds to cities. In conversations with Mayor Othal Brand, Sr. it became evident that McAllen’s most pressing issue was substandard housing. Thus, in addition to our initial $90,000, we started receiving funds from the city’s community development initiatives.”
Arturo proudly emphasizes, “This laid the cornerstone for the organization’s growth into what it stands for today—a collective effort of dedicated individuals. I had the honor of serving as the organization’s president during its formative years. We meticulously studied similar organizations across the nation, crafting a blueprint that would govern our actions. Two fundamental principles emerged: we would provide loans, not grants, and we would offer compassion to those elderly residents who could not afford repayment.”
He concludes, “While I may have been at the forefront, I was far from alone in this endeavor. Many individuals poured their hearts and souls into this organization, and I speak on their behalf today. My roots run deep in McAllen; I grew up right here on Fresno and 10th Street, a place that holds a special significance in my heart.” Tito played an important role in founding the organization and securing initial funds; however, he recognizes Mayor Othal Brand, Sr. and Alonzo Cantu as valuable supporters and active members of the organization.
Bobby Calvillo added a lighthearted note by mentioning Tito’s ability as a bullfighter, showcasing Tito’s diverse talents and interests. There is a video link here below, meet Tito as a bullfighter.
The event concluded with heartfelt applause and a renewed commitment to the organization’s mission of providing affordable housing solutions to those in need. Tito Torres’s contribution was celebrated is a reminder of the power of community-driven initiatives in creating lasting change. Their legacy will continue to inspire and uplift the Hidalgo County area for generations to come.