By Joan Hoch and Michael Nolan
Tenants at the Rosemont at Oak Valley apartment complex have been struggling against their landlord after 87 eviction notices were distributed to residents on July 2, blaming damage from the Texas winter storm in February for the conditions. After hours of testimony from tenants that the poor conditions were long-standing and not due to the winter storm, a judge halted evictions and the property owners have stated they will meet some demands in the face of tenant organizing.
On July 12, Rosemont tenants and activists with United Neighborhood Defense Movement (UNDM), an organization fighting for working class tenants across a variety of housing struggles, confronted management at the complex with a list of demands. The list included an immediate end to evictions, relocation of tenants who received eviction notices at no cost, full compensation for moving costs of those forced to relocate, a refund of all rent since February, and a one-week repair deadline for units that are still habitable.
One tenant with a megaphone called out to other tenants in their apartments to come down and join the protest, denouncing both management and the owners. Management initially opened the door when an activist knocked but quickly retreated inside and locked the door when they saw the protesters. According to one tenant, the police arrived within a few minutes in riot gear at the request of management, dispersing the protest and blocking off the street.
“People have been living with mold, mildew, termites, bedbugs, rodents, roaches—it’s absolutely ridiculous what people were living with before the storm,” said Rosemont tenant Keyionda Goff, who has been living at the complex for seven years.
Gutted-out walls forced residents to hang blankets up between apartments for privacy—at one point, faulty plumbing led to a water heater explosion, saddling residents with water bills reaching up to $1,000.
“The media is not helping. They are supporting the narrative of the storm,” says Goff whose story was twisted by local media outlet KXAN. “They literally edited it to make it seem like I was talking about the storm, when I was talking about the scam that’s going on here.”
Organizers with UNDM explained that framing these conditions as a result of the winter storm allows management to hide their negligence, justify evictions, and access relief funds such as those provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The practice of property owners using renovations as an excuse to force tenant evictions has occurred across Austin, with similar situations taking place earlier this year at the Mueller Flats and Tempo apartment complexes.
Management had originally scheduled a meeting with evicted tenants for July 3, but canceled four times, finally holding the meeting on July 14 after a judge halted the evictions the previous day. During the meeting, Patrick Howard, the Senior Vice President of Strategic Housing Finance Corp (the company that owns Rosemont), as well as management acknowledged that the condition of the units was not due to the winter storm.
When confronted by tenants, Howard said that tenants would receive refunds for their rent from July as well as assistance with relocation. Tenants who spoke with Tribune said they felt like this was only to appease them, and that continued pressure from tenants was necessary to force the owner’s follow through.
“Management is the one who neglected these homes for literal decades and made this infrastructure susceptible to the storm in the first place,” said an organizer with UNDM. “Now they see an opportunity to kick people out and renovate and raise rent even more. That’s not something particular to this complex or Austin, it’s a fundamental part of housing under capitalism.”
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