AUSTIN, Texas - 87 families are being displaced from affordable housing units in Southeast Austin.
Residents of the Rosemont at Oak Valley were notified Friday that their leases will be terminated on July 31 due to "natural disaster" or "catastrophe," referencing February's deadly winter storms.
The leasing office was closed for the holiday weekend and on Tuesday morning dozens of residents gathered outside of the office searching for answers. No one showed up to speak with them.
The complex was purchased by the Strategic Housing Finance Corporation in 2019. Patrick Howard, head of SHFC and the Housing Authority of Travis County, said "communication" is his priority. When asked why notices were sent out over the holiday weekend, Howard admitted communication could be "improved" and that his "words were not matching [his] actions."
Howard told FOX 7 Austin insurance claims were made after the storms. The subsequent research revealed existing longterm structural issues and mold. "We had serious concerns about the health and safety of the residents." he said.
Howard said a construction company brought in to complete repairs after the storms botched the job, worsening conditions. "We were thinking, ‘oh, my goodness, this is pretty bad.’ And as you continue to peel away the onion, you realize there's even more and more of that." he said.
Lisa Rheams told FOX 7 Austin she started notifying property management about mold and rodents in her unit in November, explaining feces dropped "from the [air] vent. So as you sit underneath the desk or eating food or whatever, plink plink right on the table. Plink plink, right on you."
Rheams lives in the apartment with her five teenage sons. She says one boy has a rash, and three are losing hair. She does not know why. "I've done everything I've been asked. I'm a good tenant. I do my best, but my kids don't have a safe home." she said.
Rheams’ neighbor Linda Hernandez-Padilla lives on the property with her four grandchildren. She told FOX 7 Austin she aims to be a source of stability in their lives, and "promised" to care for and give them a home.
"For me to have my grandson tell me, ‘where are we going to live...are going to be in the street?’ and I’m like ‘no, we’ll figure something out.’ But to tell you honestly I’m scared to tell them, how am I going to figure it out? "
Rheams and Hernandez-Padilla do not know where their families will be when the school year starts.
"There is absolutely no intention to put someone out on the street." said Howard, insisting the SHFC will work with families who have not secured alternative housing by the July 31 deadline. "No one's wanting anybody to make a decision between being homeless and addressing mold." he said.
Arthur Jiminez told FOX 7 Austin that is exactly what Howard asked his family to do this March. They have been homeless since their unit at the Rosemont was deemed uninhabitable because of mold.
Jiminez says he and his wife have been unable to hold down a job due to their living situation. They have a 19-year-old daughter and a 3-year-old son. The couple is uninsured but needs to take medication for depression and anxiety triggered by the hardship. Still, Jiminez says they are unable to sleep.
"We’re in low-income housing for a reason. We can’t afford to live anywhere else. We should be getting help instead of being made to feel more like trash," he said.
Howard told FOX 7 Austin he felt "badly" about those displaced immediately following the storm.
Thursday, Travis County Judge Andy Brown and Commissioner Margaret Gomez released the following statements regarding the termination notice issued to residents of Rosemont at Oak Valley apartment complex:
"In Travis County, we prioritize maintaining safe and stable housing for all members of our community. We are meeting with residents from the Rosemont at Oak Valley apartment complex," said Judge Andy Brown. "We have discussed with our Travis County team and continue to explore options to ensure the more than 85 families facing termination notices will receive support and alternative housing options."
"Safe, quality housing is a basic human right. We will continue to work with the Strategic Housing Finance Corporation, residents, and the community to find safe, accessible options for these families," Commissioner Margaret Gómez said.
FOX 7 Austin contacted the City of Austin Monday night requesting an interview and making city officials aware of the gathering Tuesday morning. City officials did not attend the gathering or accommodate FOX 7 Austin’s request for an interview. Instead, city spokesperson Lashaundra Shaw responded with this statement:
"The Austin Economic Development Department encourages residents to visit our one-stop resource website – www.ATXrecovers.com. This website has information and resources for individuals impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic – including a list of services to help Austinities return to work. Thank you for reaching out."