East Austin apartment complex residents complain of 'inhumane' living conditions amid renovations
AUSTIN, Texas - Residents of an affordable housing complex in East Austin are frustrated with their living conditions, calling them "livable, but not healthy."
A partnership between Integral Care and Elizabeth Property Group acquired the Kensington Apartments in summer 2022, with the goal of rebooting the property and focusing on serving the homeless or low-income population.
However, residents FOX 7 spoke to said it was after the sale that the cost of rent has gone up while the quality of living has gone down.
"This place is a mess," said former resident Sandra Masse who finally felt she had to leave. "It’s inhumane, an animal shelter would be cleaner than this."
She said she went months with little or no hot water and found feces left in the laundry room. Another concern among residents was trouble knowing who the new management was or how to reach them.
"I have my hot water not being at 110 degrees and the temperature reads 85 degrees and now no gas in the entire complex," said another resident, Jeremy Crowell, when FOX 7 spoke to him in March. "Also my breaker tripped, and I don’t have access to the breaker box and I only have partial electricity right now."
Sharia Ricks has been a resident since 2016, but also noticed the issues in recent months.
"Mold, asbestos, bedbugs, roaches, gas leaks, pilot logs not being laid, tile falling when you take a shower…drains not draining properly, closet ceilings leaking," she said. "I came home one day and my back closet, it was pouring water all over my stuff, and I couldn't get a hold of anyone."
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Tisha Vaidya with Elizabeth Property Group said that infrastructure issues were inherited, and repairs and renovations have been a work in progress.
According to the Travis Central Appraisal District, the complex was built in 1968 and no other construction or major improvements are listed online.
Vaidya said they are currently renovating the entire property – investing millions of dollars in construction and pursuing tax credits.
So far, 40% of the units have been renovated.
Vaidya pointed out that some of the newer issues residents have noticed stem from older problems that were overdue for a fix.
"Any buildings that are older, like 70s and older, were made with asbestos-containing materials, and so as part of the renovation, when you remove the materials like flooring or cabinets and things like that, they have to be removed in a way that is sanctioned by the state and done properly and safely so that we can get rid of those materials," she said. "That's what we are following."
Another issue that was echoed by multiple residents was receiving no mail for months.
"We went to the door one day, and it said that the office was locked, pick up your mail at the post office," said Hicks. "That wasn't true because it's listed as a business with hotel room numbers, so the post office was sending it back - return to sender, so everybody who's waiting on Social Security or Medicare or any government things, they had to start all over."
Vaidya said that previously, mail was being sent to the main office where it had to be hand-sorted. New management decided that mailboxes were necessary.
"You have to then register everything with the USPS, and then you have to order the mailboxes, then you have to get them installed and then the USPS comes and inspects them, and then they have to come back in and then install the locks, said Vaidya. "Each of these steps takes anywhere from 2 to 8 weeks...you can see how all that adds up to like six or seven months of time."
Mailboxes were installed and receiving mail as of March, as management continues to juggle new construction - like renovating the main office while temporarily working out of one of the units - along with addressing ongoing maintenance concerns.
"We've done a lot of transformation of the property with a lot more to come in the future months and the future years," said Vaidya.
More than 30 complaints have been made to the Austin Code Department over the past year with the majority of them occurring in the past six months.
According to the Austin Code Department, the complex had six active cases as of March 24, 2023: four for no hot water, one for an overflowing dumpster and one for HVAC issues in a unit.
On March 19, gas was shut down due to a leak. Property management provided meals and a hot water trailer to residents until repairs were made on March 23.
"The ongoing violations continue to be addressed by ACD inspectors and the property management was previously issued two administrative citations for the ‘no hot water’ violations," said a spokesperson for Austin Code in a statement to FOX 7.
Vaidya said there are certain issues they wanted to tackle first before they move ahead to the ‘full-blown renovation’ that is expected to start by the summer.
"These problems were not created overnight; they're not going to be solved overnight," said Vaidya. "I think that every single person deserves to live in a safe, clean, happy home...and that's the type of environment that we're trying to create, and we're working so hard every single day to do so."