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Over a Year After Floods, Onion Creek Properties Face Delayed Repairs, Liens

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon for KUT
Floods on Halloween in 2013 inundated many homes in the Onion Creek neighborhood. Still, many properties in the area are still uninhabitable.

Some Southeast Austin neighbors fear they're in danger of losing their homes. Some Onion Creek homes have been uninhabitable since the 2013 Halloween floods hit the Onion Creek community.

Now, some contractors have placed liens on the once-inundated properties, claiming they need more money to finish the repairs.

“This is my flooded property that still isn't ready after over a year,” says Onion Creek resident Marilyn Barack on a cold morning.

Barack's bathrooms don't have shower heads, electric cables hang from the ceilings. As three of her grandbabies play inside the empty house, she walks around pointing at the broken windows contractors never replaced, and at the broken garage door. She says she doesn’t think it would pass inspection, and that it’s likely not up to code.

Her contractor, however, Trusted Restore, says it's done with the work. Barack says the hanging cables say otherwise. She refuses to pay the additional $13,000 her contractor says is owed. In turn, Trusted Restore placed a lien on her house. Barack is not the only one with a lien, but it's hard to know how many are. Attorney Abby Anna Batko-Taylor runs a weekly legal aid clinic in Onion Creek. She says the flood was like a “perfect storm” – the extensive damage, combined with winter approaching, made repairs urgent.

But as dozens of contractors flooded Onion Creek, nobody had the chance to thoroughly evaluate them and those in the affected homes didn’t have time to properly vet the incoming contractors.

“Someone who’s lived through a life and death situation, three days later has to decide who's going to be the one repairing [their] house,” Batko-Taylor says.

She says victims in this neighborhood are in no financial position to hire a lawyer and defend their homes in court, and that many clients continue to seek her advice in legal aid clinics.

Texas Standard reporter Joy Diaz has amassed a lengthy and highly recognized body of work in public media reporting. Prior to joining Texas Standard, Joy was a reporter with Austin NPR station KUT on and off since 2005. There, she covered city news and politics, education, healthcare and immigration.
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