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Housing Authority withdraws removal notice for Oak Valley residents

Wednesday, July 14, 2021 by Seth Smalley

On Tuesday, the Travis County Commissioners Court heard from some of the 85 families who were abruptly given notice last week that they would have to leave their homes at the Rosemont at Oak Valley apartment complex by the end of the month, with management citing unlivable conditions from damage caused by February’s winter storm. The displaced residents detailed appalling living conditions and bureaucratic quagmires that left many facing eviction even if they paid their rent on time.

Commissioners centered their discussion on improving the feedback process between tenants, management and the Housing Authority of Travis County, drawing attention to months of email records  and tenant grievances left unanswered, even before Winter Storm Uri.

The vast majority of public callers pointed to existing county resources that could go toward preventing evictions. Commissioners responded by committing to assist the afflicted families. Over a week ago, more than 85 families were  given notice that they would have to leave by the end of the month, with management citing unlivable conditions from housing damage precipitated by the February winter storm

“In Travis County, we prioritize maintaining safe and stable housing for all members of our community. We are meeting with residents from the Rosemont at Oak Valley apartment complex,” Travis County Judge Andy Brown said in a statement before the Commissioners Court. “We have discussed with our Travis County team and continue to explore options to ensure the more than 85 families facing termination notices will receive support and alternative housing options.”

“I’m guessing I’m on common ground, and I think Commissioner (Margaret) Gómez’s motion will confirm, but I don’t think it’s acceptable to any of us to have that notice hanging over their heads at this point,” Brown said.

Despite Brown’s urging, Patrick Howard of the Housing Authority of Travis County, referencing prior board meetings and administrative processes, did not immediately commit to rescind termination notices for the end of the month.

“The rescinding of the notices will take a little bit more effort … but I’m going to say that there is a commitment to working with the county to figure this out,” Howard told commissioners. “We will figure out exactly what mechanism needs to be put in place in order to ensure that we have a safe and secure relocation of residents.”

Howard did make the distinction that the property is owned by the Strategic Housing Finance Corporation (which outsources its property management), and not the Housing Authority. “We don’t have the best mechanism for getting feedback from the tenants because we outsource management,” Howard acknowledged.

Following additional discussion, Brown pressed further and Howard eventually promised that the Housing Authority would not remove anyone at the end of July.

“So on the 31st of this month, you, Capstone and the Housing Authority are not going to kick anyone out of their houses. Is that correct?” Brown said.

“That is a correct statement,” Howard clarified.

“I think the fact that the residents are willing to work on this and meet with you, Patrick, is very promising. I think that we can come to some good conclusions and solutions for everybody,” Gómez said.

Commissioner Brigid Shea drew attention to long-standing problems with the facility and underscored the need for useful channels for tenant feedback. She also called for “an investigation of management practices at all of our housing properties.”

“I suspect this is not an isolated incident,” Shea said to Howard. “The fact that you may not have been aware of how bad the situation was … that’s a public health problem and we have a legal responsibility to address it.”

“Today, because the residents of Rosemont at Oak Valley organized and shared their stories, the nearly 90 families facing termination notices will not be displaced while repairs are made,” Brown said. “We will continue to prioritize safe, affordable housing for all Travis County residents.”

Editor’s Note: Andy Brown is on the board of the Capital of Texas Media Foundation, the parent nonprofit of the Austin Monitor.

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