Rosemont at Oak Valley residents aren’t alone in facing evictions because of winter storm repairs

Investigations

AUSTIN (KXAN) – Dozens of people who live at the Rosemont at Oak Valley were crowded into the leasing office on a Wednesday night. The room was hot and gutted from construction, but tenants were eager to hear from the head of the Housing Authority about notices they received earlier that month.

The notices posted to 87 tenants’ doors in early July ordered them to vacate their units by the end of the month, so management could make repairs to apartments that were damaged during February’s winter storms.

Kecia Prince was floored when she got the notice because her apartment, which flooded after the winter storm, had already been repaired and she moved back in. Housing Authority CEO Patrick Howard said repairs done initially did not fix moisture discovered in the walls of several units that could lead to mold. Other tenants told Howard the issues in their homes were there before the storm and ignored by property management.

“I read it like four times before it sunk in and saw that it was really printed,” Prince said. “Because they actually say – if you’re not out by the 31st they are going to remove our things.”

Inside the leasing office, tenants at Rosemont at Oak Valley crowd around the head of the Housing Authority of Travis County, Patrick Howard, for updates on their notices to move. (KXAN Photo/Kelly Wiley)

The initial notice said tenants could be reimbursed July rent if they already paid but had no mention of financial assistance to tenants who could not afford to move or to find a new place to live.

A KXAN analysis of evictions, notices to vacate provided by landlords and correspondence with owners found at least 200 families across Austin have received similar notices to vacate from property managers facing mounting fines for delayed repairs. But from the state to city level, there is no government agency tracking how many families are being displaced.

City data shows the Austin Code Department tracked more than 700 code violation cases related to damages sustained during the winter storm in February. This spring, code officers brought several of those cases to the city’s building and standards commission, recommending daily fines for properties they said failed to fix violations in a timely manner.

Kecia Prince reads the letter from Rosemont at Oak Valley asking more than 80 tenants to move out by the end of the month. (KXAN Photo/Richard Bowes)

In the meetings over the past three months, privately owned apartments Mueller Flats, 9500 apartments, and Mount Carmel Village Apartments were ordered by the commission to pay fines for each day the violations went unaddressed by property management. The penalties ranged from $1,000-$2,000 per week.

“It has been almost 90 days since the storm, but we still have tenants at 1970 Clayton Ln. living in substandard conditions,” said a code enforcement officer on May 13.

Records show a day before the commission’s hearing on the violations at Mueller Flats in mid-May – some tenants were handed notices to move out. The notices gave tenants five days.

Legal documents filed by the apartment’s parent company said some tenants “unlawfully ignored those notices” to vacate. So, the company filed to evict them. The owner of Mueller Flats, FBCC Citypoint LP, has not returned emails asking if they provided alternative housing or relocation services for ousted tenants.

As of publication, a spokesperson for the code department says Mueller Flats has completed four out of 58 cases from the commission hearing.

In a lawsuit against the commission filed in mid-June, FBCC Citypoint LP claimed the city failed to issue the permits necessary for repairs because of a backlog of permit requests. The city has not yet returned our emails requesting comments on the lawsuit.

The owners of Mount Carmel Village Apartments in east Austin, Eureka Multifamily Group, said it gave out 100 notices to its tenants on March 22 — a little more than a month after the winter storm. The letter ordered tenants to vacate their apartments so work to replace an underground gas line could begin.

A spokesperson for Eureka said residents were relocated to hotels and still required to pay rent.  As of publication, there is still one family that has not returned. Code enforcement says almost all the apartments are occupied now and have hot water.

KXAN Investigates has not heard back from the owners of Mueller Flats or 9500 apartments for this story.

The Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs monitors properties that receive money from the federal government, which includes Rosemont at Oak Valley. The agency requires those properties to report any disaster damage and requires the repairs to be made within just over two years. But the agency says it does not track the number of tenants forced out of those properties to make those repairs happen.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency says it does not track disaster survivors after they’ve received assistance from the agency. A spokesperson for FEMA said some disaster survivors in Texas did receive funding for housing and rental assistance. The deadline for people impacted by the Texas winter storm to have applied for the assistance was May 20.

FEMA can provide up 18 months of assistance, including a security deposit. But questions asking about the process by which FEMA identifies those in need of help during a disaster and in the months after were not answered.

The Austin code department does not track evictions or notices to vacate that result from efforts to come in compliance. A spokesperson for the department says code enforcement does make recommendations to properties that are relayed to the Building and Standards Commission – and continues to direct tenants facing evictions to Austin Tenant’s Council and Tx Rio Grande Legal Aid.

After more than a week of complaints from people living at Rosemont at Oak Valley to county leaders and media outlets, the County Commissioners Court met to discuss the more than 80 notices to vacate handed to tenants just before the July 4th weekend.  

In their July 13 meeting commissioners pressured the CEO of the Strategic Housing Finance Corporation of Travis County to rescind the notice to vacate, provide financial resources for moving costs and provide alternate housing during the renovation process. The Executive Director and CEO of the Housing Authority of Travis County agreed to the changes. Commissioners Court Judge Andy Brown also asked that tenants not be required to reapply for housing at Rosemont when repairs are complete.

Unlike the private housing properties where tenants have also been ordered to leave for repairs, the commissioner’s court appoints the board members to the housing authority and the Strategic Housing Finance Corporation of Travis County. The Strategic Housing Authority owns Rosemont at Oak Valley.

“What would have happened if me and Commissioner Gomez had not come to look at this?” asked Commissioner Judge Andy Brown. “Just the prospect that families, some who have lived here for 11 years would just be, out of a place to live.”

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