AUSTIN, Texas — Since February, city leaders and nonprofit groups have seen poor rental properties hit hardest by Texas’ deadly winter storm. For the first time, we get a closer look at some of these low-income properties are dealing with damage.
Sitting in his new home in Austin, Jaarrod Barnett looks through pictures of his last apartment.
“There was mold everywhere,” Barnett said.
Those photos showed his air conditioning unit covered in mold to the point where he had to use garbage bags to block air coming from the vents.
“It just smelled like wet clothes, like wet, just wet all the time,” he said.
Barnett, his wife NaTina Miller and their kids were forced to leave their apartment because of unsafe conditions from storm damage, which they say was a blessing in disguise.
“It was to the point where I was like, I can’t breathe,” Barnett said.
Barnett and Miller lived in one of the at least 432 tax credit properties across the state reporting casualty loss from February’s freeze.
There are more than 2,500 in Texas. They are apartment complexes that received federal funding through state agencies to provide affordable housing. Property owners are required to lease a set number of apartments at certain income and rent limits in order to qualify for the program.
Data we requested from the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs shows Travis County had 44 reports of property damage, the second highest in our viewing area. San Antonio came in first with 52 properties reporting. 42 properties reported damages in Fort Wort and 38 in Dallas.
We spoke to TDHCA staff on background, but no one would commit to an on-camera interview.
In a written statement, a TDHCA spokesperson said:
…more properties have reported damage from the winter storm than from any other natural disaster in memory. To date, approximately 450 properties have reported damage to TDHCA. For comparison, about 110 properties reported damage after Hurricane Harvey.
"My children were getting headaches from the mold,” Miller said.
Code violations and complaints revealed the properties with the worst damage and longest delays in repairs were in poor neighborhoods and communities of color, which already suffered from infrastructure issues.
Barnett and Miller said they had problems when they moved into their apartment in August, and property management has never been in a hurry to make repairs.
“At this point it’s like, it’s a state thing to me, because the property just keeps getting away with it over and over again. They’re not learning anything, they’re not making any changes,” Miller said.
The TDHCA compliance division has dedicated more staff to deal with the number of casualty losses, but physical inspections have been on hold since the pandemic. The properties that reported causality loss from the storm have 25 months to complete repairs. In the meantime, the owners will continue to collect federal dollars.
Barnett and Miller said that’s not fair to renters who are living in terrible conditions while landlords are getting paid.
“There’s a lot of money going out to these places and it’s not getting distributed in the right direction,” Barnett said.
Despite their apartment suffering from the storm, they said what they really suffered was a lack of accountability.
TDHCA has received 44 complaints since February 15, the start of the storm. A spokesperson said while the agency has a compliance division, its main purpose is to ensure property owners are adhering to rent and income limits set by federal law.