Travis County calls for changes to Rosemont bylaws for tenant protection
A vote in Travis County Commissioners’ Court this week could bring much-needed relief to residents of Rosemont at Oak Valley Apartments two months after being ordered to leave their homes.
Although Travis County has earmarked up to $ 1 million from its emergency rent assistance program funds to help Rosemont residents, they say the move is only a short-term solution. .
County leaders are expected to approve internal policy changes on Tuesday that will provide long-term protections to residents of Rosemont as well as residents of the other 13 properties owned by Strategic Housing Finance Corp.
Erica Cervantes, who has lived in the complex for four years, said tenants have received many verbal agreements – some fulfilled, others broken – but it’s time to get those pledges in writing.
” We have the impression [the owners] are playing with us and we need our requests to be approved and in writing, ”Cervantes said. “They told us that they are considering changing the bylaws and for us this is really important because it is not only helping Rosemont, but all the tenants. Part of our strategy was to get (county) attention because we don’t want this to happen to other people. ”
In July, more than 80 families at the resort received a lease termination notice. Managers at the complex blamed damage from the record-breaking February frost, including mold, which left the homes unliveable. These notices were rescinded after being compelled to do so by the Court of Commissioners.
Residents, however, still had to relocate, so repairs to the walls, windows, counters and moldy carpets were made. This process is still ongoing, according to the owners of the resort.
As of August 31, about 34 families had been moved to temporary accommodation in southeast Austin. Thirteen other families have chosen to move away from the site. At least 41 families have been able to stay in their homes while repairs are complete, but four families still need to be relocated, said Patrick Howard, executive vice president of Strategic Housing Finance Corp.
The work could take up to 90 days. After that, residents will be able to return to the complex, the owners said.
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The challenges of moving
But the residents, who formed a tenant council called Neighbors at Rosemont, said the moving process had been stressful and unorganized. Many said they had issues getting enough packing materials, scheduling the moving company, and being confused with offsite accommodation.
Cervantes, who has been denied temporary accommodation three times, said she and her family of five slept upstairs in their old apartment while waiting for their rooms to be ready.
Last month, a professional relocation services company, CVR Associates, was hired with county funds to help residents navigate their move, including finding a temporary home with suitable pet accommodation and close to schools, Howard said.
Neighbors said they saw improvements in the past two weeks, after hiring the relocation specialist, but said several challenges remained.
Cervantes and his family now sleep in two rooms joined by a door. But the family of five should only use two king beds between the two bedrooms and a sofa bed. So she said that they had to buy small mattresses so that her mother and daughter could sleep.
She said the air conditioning unit in the bedrooms was also out of service for 20 days and was finally fixed last week. Other residents staying in the accommodation also complained of broken kitchen appliances and other items in the rooms.
Residents also said they were paying high prices for food and snacks at the hotel and for laundry, which was an unexpected and unfair expense for residents.
County Judge Andy Brown said the $ 1million would be used to pay for the relocation specialist, storage units, the moving company and all other related expenses, including money for groceries , post office mailboxes and laundry.
Struggle for change
But locals said it was not enough. Many spoke at Travis County Commissioners’ Court meetings to express their gratitude for the temporary accommodation, but said their issues went beyond providing a hotel room and unit storage for their belongings.
What residents continue to fight for is a contract with the owners of the complex that could be accomplished with court-approved changes to its regulations, including allowing tenants the right to organize and giving them a seat on the board of directors.
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Last month, the Voisins de Rosemont group presented a list of more than 50 requests to ease the transition, but the board of directors of Strategic Housing Finance Corp. refused to sign it.
The claims included:
• Resolve damage in all units and ensure residents have the right to return to their unit and the ability to relocate
• Provide adequate housing for displaced families
• Hired a professional relocation service and updated in English and Spanish on repairs and relocations
• Compensate individuals for all related costs including prorated or waived rent
• And better relationships with staff and management.
Although the board refused to sign a deal, Howard said many demands have already been met.
The relocation specialist has been hired, and rent and other charges are also waived for residents who have been relocated or are living in their homes while repairs are being made, Howard said.
Gabby Garcia, project coordinator at the tenant advocacy group Building and Strengthening Tenant Action, said that while some of the demands have been met, a written agreement should be a priority.
“Residents need to have a central location where everything they’ve asked for is addressed and they can point it out,” Garcia said. “There has been a lack of communication and we understand that things are changing, but a structure for this needs to be in place, as many issues dealt with in agreement are beyond the remit of the relocation specialist. ”
Previous coverage:“30 days is not enough”: appeals from residents of Rosemont lead to the end of evictions from the county
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Brown said a review of Strategic Housing Finance Corp. which will incorporate a tenant’s bill of rights will accomplish just that.
“I’m glad we have the opportunity to use federal funds for this and help in this case,” Brown said. “But now we are proposing an amendment to the statutes and making institutional changes, because the money will not always be there in the future to fix something like this.”
A tenant bill of rights would add protections for residents and include procedures on how to deal with repairs that require tenants to leave, as well as cover tenants’ right to organize.
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Combined with the million dollars spent on residents of Rosemont to cover moving costs, Brown said he hopes this will solve the problems not only for residents of Rosemont, but for all residents of the complexes owned by Strategic Housing Finance. Corp.
“The rule changes and the little things we won were because the neighbors in Rosemont insisted on it,” Cervantes said. “It brings us happiness what we have earned and it will affect tenants in the future. And we hope they will know when they think back to it that the Rosemont Neighbors have organized themselves to get these things.”