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Central Texas experienced historic winter weather the week of Feb. 14, with a stretch of days below freezing. Sleet followed snow followed freezing rain, leading to a breakdown of the electric grid and widespread power outages. Water reservoirs were depleted and frozen pipes burst, leaving some without service for days.

Residents of county-owned affordable housing complex say repairs that displaced them weren't done

Michael Minasi
Britt Garza, a resident of the Rosemont at Oak Valley, discusses ongoing issues at the affordable housing complex, at a press conference Wednesday.

After months of back and forth, families living at a county-owned affordable housing complex say winter storm-related repairs that nearly caused them to be evicted still haven't been completed.

Capstone Real Estate, which manages the Rosemont at Oak Valley, gave the residents eviction notices back in July, saying they needed to move out so extensive repairs could be done. After a backlash, the county intervened, halting the evictions and assuring residents they would be given temporary housing while the work was underway.

Now, residents who are moving back in say repairs haven't mitigated mold damage that was exacerbated by February's historic freeze.

Neighbors gathered Wednesday at the complex in South Austin to call out Travis County, which released a statement last week saying residents could "safely return" and "concerns have been remedied." The Strategic Housing Finance Corp., which oversees Travis County's affordable housing properties, said the homes were mold-free after inspections.

BASTA, a nonprofit that helps Austin tenants with housing-related issues, paid to help hire two independent inspectors to survey two units in separate buildings. One of the reports suggested mold and moisture were still present in one of the apartments. BASTA said a second survey would be out sometime this week.

Lisa Rheams, a single mother of five, lives in one of the apartments surveyed. She said the monthslong ordeal has been exhausting. The relocation disrupted her sons' school schedule and forced her to miss work. She said it has even caused her 16-year-old son to lose his hair.

Michael Minasi
Rosemont resident Lisa Rheams, a single mother of five, says the monthslong ordeal has been exhausting.

Rheams said she and her neighbors aren't demanding anything from the county; she's just asking it to meet their needs.

"This is a necessity. Will you take your kid home to a place that you know is going to make them sick? Would you sit them down on a floor that you know has mold on the other side of it? Would you turn on the A/C if you know feces is gonna drop through the vent? No. You don’t have to think twice about that answer. No," she said. "So why would you treat people like that? We’re people. We have feelings. We matter.”

Rheams said she had sounded the alarm on the mold long before February's freeze and that her kids have gotten rashes.

Madelina Brown, a 13-year resident of Rosemont, said the back and forth has been draining on her health, too. She has a raft of conditions that prevent her from working, including COPD, heart failure, lupus and lung issues. She said when she told her doctor she was moving back into Rosemont, he told her not to.

“I’m just afraid if I move back in, this stuff is going to cause my health to go bad. I just can’t live in fear like that," she said.

KUT reached out to Patrick Howard, CEO and executive director of the Strategic Housing Finance Corp., for comment, but did not hear back.

In an emailed statement, Travis County Judge Andy Brown said he understands it's been a "ridiculously difficult year" for folks at Rosemont and that he hopes residents can safely return home.

"I expect SHFC to do all it can to ensure families can return home safely by the holidays and ensure no family is displaced when we are all focused on gathering with those we love," Brown said. "The Travis County Commissioners Court has taken every concern raised by the tenants seriously and we continue to do so.“

Rheams said she has considered moving out, but thinks she wouldn't be able to afford to rent anywhere else; she even struggles at Rosemont.

"I need to know what is affordable to these folks. What do you think affordable is? Because, $2,300 worth of rent [a month] is not affordable, I’m sorry," she said. "Now we’re kind of lost, because it seems like we’re not going nowhere, and we’re still out here begging for help. Maybe we’re asking the wrong people.”

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Andrew Weber is a general assignment reporter for KUT, focusing on criminal justice, policing, courts and homelessness in Austin and Travis County. Got a tip? You can email him at Follow him on Twitter @England_Weber.
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