COVER: Aniceto G. Samaro, an 85-year-old longtime resident of CM Allen Homes, sits on his front porch on June 13. Flooding in the Blanco Gardens neighborhood displaced 96 households when the San Marcos Housing Authority said its facilities were not safe for habitation. PHOTO by PRESLIE COX/THE UNIVERSITY STAR
by JON WILCOX
Many public housing residents are struggling to find their footing after flood damage prompted the San Marcos Housing Authority to vacate at least 96 homes for repairs.
Housing authority officials have ordered all residents of the 96 units at the CM Allen Homes public housing facility to vacate. Many former residents say they are facing difficulties in finding and paying for new homes despite government assistance.
Aniceto “Cowboy” Samaro, 85, said he has lived in the CM Allen Homes facility for 33 years, 15 of those with his Chihuahua named Thomas. Samaro remembers when the 30-foot tree in his front yard was a tiny sprout.
Weeks after the historic, deadly Memorial Day weekend flood, Samaro sat on his porch, feeding birds and waving friendly hellos as the last of his neighbors pack up and left their damaged homes. The level of damage in the Blanco Gardens neighborhood was severe.
For weeks, Samaro disputed with housing authority officials over whether he should be required to leave his house. Because floodwaters barely touched his property, Samaro saw no reason to leave. Moving is even more difficult as his children do not have the space to house him, he said.
Albert Sierra, the housing authority’s executive director, said attorneys have advised that if a tenant becomes sick because of mold in the houses, the housing authority could be held liable in civil court. Mold-infested houses can pose a significant health risk to anyone living inside, especially those who are elderly or sick, Sierra said.
Sierra said although he does not want to order anyone to leave, if any residents remain in the flood-damaged neighborhood, he will be forced to evict.
Sierra and the housing authority website advise CM Allen Homes residents to seek financial assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Association. Most residents have received initial subsidies between $1,000 and $2,000, Sierra said. Residents can reapply for more FEMA aid after two months.
Dwayne Magnum, another displaced CM Allen Homes resident, said he is grateful for FEMA assistance but finding a new house for his family of six was nevertheless a daunting task. Magnum and many other CM Allen Homes families were forced to relocate to local motels, like the Rodeway Inn on the Interstate 35 access road, he said
Magnum sought assistance through the housing authority after a 2013 injury left him disabled and unable to work. Housing authority officials have told Magnum he will most likely not be able to move back into public housing for at least six months, he said.
The Memorial Day weekend flood damage reduced the housing authority’s capacity by almost 50 percent, Sierra said.
“We have 289 units in San Marcos,” Sierra said. “A hundred were in CM Allen Homes.”
Magnum said he does not know how he will be able to find a lease for his wife and four children with the amount of FEMA assistance he received in addition to the increased demand for housing in the city. The houses and apartments he and his wife have viewed were either too expensive or too small, he said.
Rob Roark, a San Marcos resident and community activist, said he is angered by the housing authority’s handling of the removal of the CM Allen Homes residents. Residents in public housing are often more vulnerable to disasters, he said.
“These are the poorest of the poor,” Roark said. “If you have to put a deposit down, and you have got kids, you’re trying to work a job, you’ve just been flooded out—put yourself in the shoes of the people.”
Roark said he is worried many of the displaced public housing residents — especially families — will not be able to afford rent in the private real estate market.
“Three bedrooms in San Marcos — if you can find them for a six-month lease—is going to run you a minimum of $800 to $900,” Roark said. “We are dumping them into the community without any plan to bring them back.”
As of June 13, Samaro had changed his mind and decided to vacate his house at CM Allen Homes, he said. Although he was not sure of where he would go, Samaro could only say, “God will send me an angel.”
JON WILCOX reports for The University Star, the student newspaper of Texas State University, where this story was originally published. It is made available here through a news partnership between the University Star and the San Marcos Mercury.Email | Print