Rosemont Residents Forced to Temporarily Relocate for Winter Storm Repairs
More woes for 85 families living in Southeast apartment complex after eviction notice withdrawn
By Lina Fisher, Fri., July 30, 2021
On Monday, July 26, residents at the troubled Rosemont at Oak Valley apartment complex in Southeast Austin received notice that they will be moved into one of two Residence Inns "no later than Saturday, July 31st." Their belongings will not be relocated so quickly: The note continued that "all household items to be placed in storage are required to be packed prior to departure"; items will be moved into storage "within 14 days of the tenant vacating the unit"; and packing materials will only be available in the leasing office starting July 29, two days before the move. Resident Kecia Prince told the Chronicle on Tuesday, "Everyone is so upset. We just found this out yesterday afternoon."
This saga began July 2, right before the holiday weekend, when more than 85 families at the publicly owned low-income housing complex received a letter telling them their leases would be terminated by July 31, their apartments deemed uninhabitable. Rosemont had sustained considerable damage from Winter Storm Uri, but many residents say its issues began long before that. "They subsequently ruined our Fourth of July weekend for sure," said Prince.
Confusion was further fueled as the residents' meeting with management was delayed for nearly two weeks, by which point the mess at Rosemont had attracted attention from the Travis County Commissioners Court. Rosemont is owned by the public Strategic Housing Finance Corporation in an interlocal agreement with the Housing Authority of Travis County, but has been managed by many different companies over the years – as of March, Capstone Real Estate Services.
Lisa Rheams, a resident for three years, says Rosemont's management has often changed its plans to address ongoing maintenance issues. She and her children have dealt with mold, nonfunctional heating in the winter, and raccoon feces dropping through vents as far back as November. "I had asked them if they could change the vent," said Rheams. "But they said that wasn't an emergency." After Uri, management made repairs to patch broken pipes, but about a month ago, moisture mapping detected such high levels of mold that those same units were deemed unlivable, leading to the eviction notice. "They always put Band-Aids on stuff, and it doesn't last long," said Rheams.
On July 20, Patrick Howard, who is both HATC executive director and SHFC executive vice president, addressed commissioners after County Judge Andy Brown and Commissioner Margaret Gómez visited residents at Rosemont. Howard said that while the eviction notice was rescinded, they were moving forward with temporary relocations by the end of the month. Brown told Howard, "I would like to know that you or Capstone is having a real conversation with these individual families to make sure they like this plan." The reaction to this weekend's sudden relocation notice would suggest otherwise.
Repairs will take around three months, and those who return to Rosemont will be offered their own units back, or one of the 40 vacant units where repairs have already started. Leases won't be terminated, July rent will be refunded, and storage and moving costs will be reimbursed. Howard told the Chronicle that Project HELP, an AISD program designed to help students experiencing homelessness, will assist with adjusted transportation routes to school. Under state requirements, residents will have to reapply and have their income and background checks recertified if they return to Rosemont after more than 90 days. But Howard said, "We're not speculating about post-three months, because we have every intention of having [repairs] done prior to that period."
The county has several options to provide financial assistance. The relocation costs could be reimbursed with American Rescue Plan Act funds, even if advanced now from the county's more flexible general revenue. Commissioner Gómez says, "There wouldn't be any strings. ... Let's say that later something [is] reimbursable by federal funds, then we can apply for that, but in the meantime this is a quicker way."
Residents wonder where to find affordable housing in Austin if they don't come back to Rosemont. If they do, Rheams asks, "Can we expect these apartments to be healthy?" They have a deep distrust of management; in the past, police have been called to tenants' association meetings, while maintenance requests were ignored. In a list of demands presented to Capstone and SHFC on Monday, they asked for "a change in onsite management and maintenance staff to put an end to threats, harassment and retaliation." But in light of Monday's announcement of their imminent relocation, residents are more upset than ever: "We are so confused and stressed," Prince told the Chronicle. "Management never seems to think before they do things that affect us."
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