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Residents uneasy about Housing Authority’s plans to renovate public housing

Monday, August 15, 2016 by Syeda Hasan

The Housing Authority of the City of Austin is moving forward with a plan to renovate its public housing complexes, but some residents are concerned about where they will live during construction.

Julie Ahmadi has lived in the Housing Authority’s Lakeside Apartments for about six years. A couple of months ago, she got a letter from the city that left her feeling uneasy.

“They said that they had received a large amount of money, and that they were going to move us all out of here, supposedly to improve the apartment,” Ahmadi said.

The letter said that the Housing Authority would be renovating the property and that residents could be relocated while construction was underway. The Lakeside Apartments are almost 50 years old, and the building could use the improvements, Ahmadi said, but she worries about where she will be moved.

“We should be told more, kept up to date,” she said. “A lot of us are scared, you know? A lot of us are scared of what’s going to happen.”

Housing Authority Executive Vice President Sylvia Blanco said she understands those concerns and that residents will be protected.

“They are absolutely entitled to return to their property, to their original property,” Blanco said. “It may not be the exact same unit that they resided in, but it will definitely be the same property.”

Blanco says the Housing Authority has reserved spaces in its other properties to temporarily house residents like Ahmadi. The improvements are part of a new initiative called RAD, or the Rental Assistance Demonstration program. It provides federal funding that will allow the Housing Authority to catch up on much-needed repairs.

“We’re talking about significant improvements that would have normally – under our current declining budget scenario from the federal government – would have taken multiple decades to complete,” she said. “We’re able to do it in a fraction of that time.”

The Housing Authority will be implementing improvements at all of its 18 public housing properties around Austin. The first phase of the program involves newer buildings. Blanco said the goal is to have residents of those buildings back in their homes within about 60 days, but she said the time frame for Lakeside has not been determined.

“What we have in mind for Lakeside is simply to remodel the interiors of the units, improve the amenities that are offered at the property and also put in some new elevators, which are sorely needed,” Blanco said.

Like with any remodel, there will be inconveniences, said Blanco, but the ultimate goal is to improve living conditions for the more than 4,000 people who live in Austin’s public housing. The Housing Authority plans to begin the first of the improvements in October.

Correction: This story has been corrected to reflect that the Housing Authority, not the city of Austin, is planning to renovate the housing complexes.

Photo courtesy of Lakeside Apartments. This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT.

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