AUSTIN, Texas – An East Austin apartment complex that made headlines without gas for more than 40 days has another dilemma to deal with, and this time it’s not just about gas.
Construction crews are now busy replacing the entire gas pipeline, but the residents of the Mount Carmel Apartments will have to move for up to three months.
What you need to know
- Residents wait in long lines to find a move
- Residents received a notification from the property management that the construction time would take up to three months
- Texas Gas Services’ public intelligence officer told Spectrum News 1 that it was in no way a cause of freezing temperatures
- Local residents say the gas leaks were a problem long before February
Shakita Plair has lived in the low-income residential complex for about nine years. One day Plair was waiting in line with dozens of her neighbors outside the leasing office. They were there to meet with a moving specialist to help them find temporary accommodation.
Plair got her appointment quickly, but some people waited hours to find out their fate.
“They said we should have appointments, but as you can see, another misunderstanding,” she said.
The mother of five is pregnant, so it has proven difficult to find safe, clean, and large enough temporary accommodation for her family.
Evangelina Williams has lived on Mount Carmel for six years. She already has her appointment, but she’s also helped sort, fold, and distribute donated clothing, toys, and shoes to her neighbors while staying up to date with the latest information.
“I hear all kinds of things about the situation so I really don’t know, so I’m up here trying to hear it for myself,” she said.
More than a week later, some residents say they still don’t know where they will end up.
Linda Nicholas also waited for her appointment and provided some weird relief at the same time. She has lived on Mount Carmel for 16 years and says if given a choice, she wouldn’t go.
“It’s just me, I can do it,” she said. “But the people who have children, the old people, I can understand how they feel.”
Residents received a notice on their door from property management that construction would take up to three months but would be phased so that residents could move back in as soon as each building’s gas pipeline was replaced. In an email to Spectrum News 1, a spokesman for the Eureka Multifamily Group wrote:
“According to city and state guidelines, the units are not habitable because there is no hot water. The move is required by law. At the direction and consent of HUD, we have hired a moving specialist who will take care of all the necessary papers and the temporary relocation of our tenants to safe, clean and hygienic accommodation. This team of experts conducts face-to-face interviews with tenants to confirm relocation needs and the special requirements associated with a temporary move. Then they coordinate with hotels or apartment communities and ensure that the residents are accommodated in suitable temporary apartments. Our relocation partner is supported by the Housing Authority of the City of Austin (HACA) and SW Housing Compliance Corp (SHCC), the administration of the HUD subsidy programs in the state of Texas. “
This statement comes after families have been without hot water, food, or heat for more than 40 days, only to learn now that the property is unsafe.
Property management claimed the gas leak was due to the Texas snow storm, but a Texas Gas Services public intelligence officer told Spectrum News 1 that it was in no way a cause of freezing temperatures. Local residents say the gas leaks were a problem long before February.
Williams says she’s smelled gas since she moved in.
“If I smelled it, everyone else smelled it,” she said. “Then you should have done something about it, I say.”
Mount Carmel is 50 years old and about 10 acres according to the county’s ownership records. The Eureka Multifamily Group took over the property in 2008. Since then, there has only been a single report of a gas leak in 2017.
The Railroad Commission of Texas oversees properties like Eureka that operate and distribute their own gas.
Public information officials told Spectrum News 1 that they have no record of gas leaks, but when asked about the most recent inspection, a spokesman said only that an inspector had “recently” been on the property.
However, the Eureka spokesman says the Railroad Commission never inspected the property. These properties are necessary in order to carry out a leak test every two years.
Here are the responses the Eureka Spectrum News 1 spokesperson gave via email:
“Eureka has submitted our engineer’s inspection reports to the Railroad Commission for the past five years, with the last inspection being in the fourth quarter of 2020. No gas leak is reported in any of these reports. The Railroad Commission never inspected the property. Eureka is about to submit a P5 application. “
Mount Carmel is a property owned by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, so they are responsible for ensuring that the property meets certain standards. According to a spokesman, the last time HUD visited the property was in 2016. We asked about previous inspection logs and are still waiting for a response.
Quincy Dunlap, president of the Austin Area Urban League, says these agencies have let this community down. In a Zoom interview, he told Spectrum News 1 that Mount Carmel was not an isolated incident. He says these infrastructure problems were due to a lack of investment in black and brown neighborhoods, which were neglected long before the storm.
“The private institutions are not transparent and the bureaucracies cannot hold them accountable,” said Dunlap.
A 2021 study by the National Low Income Housing Coalition found Texas to be one of the worst states in the country for affordable housing. Due to asset gaps, discriminatory credit practices and Redlining, Minorities are less likely to be homeowners than their white counterparts.
Figures from the Eviction Solidarity Network Travis County Report Show renters make up 55% of Austin’s population. This number was disproportionately higher for minority groups. Tenants account for 71% of Austin’s black residents, 65% of Hispanics, and 56% of Asians, compared to 48% of whites.
Dunlap says that because of these asset gaps that keep minorities from being homeowners, colored renters often live in government apartments like Mount Carmel, which often have infrastructure failing.
“Owners and partners like HUD need to get involved and do the right thing from the community,” said Dunlap.
With the help of BASTA, another nonprofit organization, the residents of Mount Carmel officially formed a tenants’ council and put together a petition to hand over to the property management company. As nonprofits and community leaders step in to help Mount Carmel residents, the spotlight should be on tenants who have never stopped fighting for their rights or for one another.