AUSTIN (KXAN) — Residents in the Mount Carmel Apartments are being asked to evacuate immediately as living conditions — sent over the edge by the winter storm — have made units inhabitable.
The complex is going on more than a month without gas. On Monday morning, residents lost water temporarily after construction workers hit a water line.
Mount Carmel is a low-income housing complex. Residents there receive federal assistance that goes toward rent. The apartment complex, owned by a company named Eureka, notified residents it could take up to 90 days until gas is fully restored.
On Monday evening, Eureka sent out this letter, notifying all residents living on the property they’ll have to move out temporarily. According to the letter, apartments have been deemed ‘not habitable.’
The letter also gives detailed responses to potential questions residents have. In addition, Eureka details the phases of construction as well.
“I feel like we’re being put off, because of the low-income housing,” resident Amanda Dominguez said.
Another resident, Shakita Plair, has reached her breaking point.
“They say they’re going to accommodate and help us, but will that be the case for people who have multiple family members?” Plair said.
Eureka representatives told KXAN the gas was originally turned off because of a gas leak.
According to Eureka, the building has 50-year-old infrastructure that was worn down more by the winter storm. Representatives said an underground main gas line caused multiple leaks.
But the City of Austin Code Department said back in November the complex was cited for no hot water and no heating facilities. According to the department, these issues stemmed from a lack of gas.
The department said a code inspector was on site Monday to confirm water had been restored. It said it will continue to monitor the property, as there’s an open case there.
When KXAN asked Eureka why it’s taking so long to get gas restored, it told us in an email: “After weeks of work, pulling permits, various pressurized testing, and working with multiple agencies and vendors we have now been advised that the entire underground gas pipeline cannot be repaired and must now be replaced entirely.”
Eureka said it has a vendor to do repairs, saying the contract process is underway — and that its staff is working as quickly as they can.
“I’m really thinking about just moving,” Dominguez said.
The total replacement of all lines is 90 days, but the company said it could take less time.
Austin Mayor Pro-Tem Natasha Harper-Madison, District 1 council member, represents the area where Mount Carmel residents live.
“We really have to figure out a way to use policy just to make sure that property owners are taking care of tenants and their properties,” Harper-Madison said. “If they don’t, we have to hold them accountable.”
Harper-Madison said it’s her mission this week to assure adequate and spacious housing for residents and their families. She told KXAN she’s optimistic there will be intentional efforts to get this done.
Portable showers and food trucks will be removed from the property as neighbors are asked to evacuate.
The League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) in Austin has also spoken out, questioning why replacing the gas line will take up to three months.
“If this were in west Austin, they would have found a way to address this issue,” President of LULAC Gavino Fernandez Jr. said. “This is a health and safety issue.”
Fernandez feels living with no gas for 30 days and counting is inhumane. He also is asking residents be charged no rent while repairs are made.
Eureka is covering the cost of hotel stays for tenants. It said it’ll also help pay for the moves. Neighbors have the option to end leases if they don’t want to stay in a hotel temporarily.
Dominguez now is weighing her options.
“I’ll do everything I can to take care of my kids,” Dominguez said.
Plair is doing the same, disappointed by how this entire situation has been handled.
“I feel like if it was someone in their family that was in this situation, would you be doing the same thing?” Plair asked. “Would you treat them the same way?”