Wednesday, August 21, 2019 by Jessi Devenyns

North Lamar Mobile Home Park residents protest landlord negligence

The city of Austin has been working to tackle gentrification head-on through stabilizing mobile home parks throughout the city. This is one avenue to ensure that residents are able to stay, but there are other ways besides incongruent zonings and that make it difficult for residents to remain in their homes.

When Frank Rolfe and Dave Reynolds purchased the North Lamar Mobile Home Park at 8105 Research Blvd. in 2015, one of their first orders of business was to raise rents. In some cases, rents were raised mid-lease, provoking Texas RioGrande Legal Aid to file a lawsuit on behalf of the residents. The case was settled out of court in August of that year.

Now, the residents of the mobile home park are protesting new construction projects on the property that have left them without access to gas and with intermittent water.

“The only way to invite attention is to do this (protest),” said Gabby Garcia with BASTA Austin, who told the Austin Monitor that it was “ridiculous” that the residents were forced to file a petition at all.

In the petition, which was taped to the front door of the management trailer, residents asked for property management to clean up the trash, reinstate gas and water utilities, officially extend the residents’ contracts, and properly maintain the property.

Dozens of individual residents put their own complaints in the mail slot of the management office for the property manager to read at their leisure.

As the majority of the mobile home community residents marched around the street Tuesday evening, neighbors described the deteriorating situation on the property.

Garcia told the Austin Monitor that the cause for the loss of utilities was due to improvements to the property that she said “don’t really make sense.” Some of these improvements include installing fences in front of lots that are already fenced in and putting a barrier in front of the property’s dumpsters.

Fidencia Jimenez told the Monitor that her home, which is next to the dumpsters, is invaded by flies and rats because the trash hasn’t been collected for weeks. Jimenez has lived in the community for five years and says that in the last year the situation has really deteriorated. Eight months ago, management removed two out of the four dumpsters and now there is always a trash overflow. “The odor is terrible,” she said.

Additionally, Roberto Sanchez told the crowd that the street lamps are nonfunctional, residents are having to cook outside due to a lack of gas, and rents keep increasing. He told the Monitor that the rent has been raised three times in the past four years and will be raised again in September despite the current lack of properly defined contracts, utilities and basic services.

Council Member Greg Casar added his political support to the protesters saying that “nobody should have to deal with this treatment” and that “we will continue to fight and we won’t surrender.”

Garcia explained that when work crews were drilling holes for the fence posts, they damaged the gas lines. To stem the flow of gas the crews capped the lines with PVC pipe, which BASTA representatives said was a danger to the safety of residents.  It will take a minimum of three weeks to fix the damage. In the meantime, the residents are having to make do without access to a gas line.

Many of the residents were unaware of the loss of utilities until days after the damage was done. In a note sent to residents by the property manager dated August 14, the residents were notified that “there is an emergency gas outage” but were not informed as to when the outage will be fixed. According to Garcia, the gas was shut off on August 12.

This work was done in the name of improvement. According to Travis Central Appraisal District records, the property owners have put $230,833 worth of improvements into the property, including paving the streets. That work, however, said Garcia, is often done by uncertified crews and is done poorly. “They let things deteriorate or they do shoddy jobs,” she said.

Neither the property manager nor the property owners could be reached for comment.

“They want us to fail,” Casar said, addressing the crowd. However, he said, “we have learned how to fight.”

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affordable housing: This general term refers to housing that is affordable to Austinites, with or without subsidy.

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