Many public housing residents are struggling for a foothold as flood damage has prompted the San Marcos Housing Authority (SMHA) to evacuate at least 96 homes for repairs and safety concerns.
SMHA 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, age 85, said he has lived in the CM Allen Homes facility for 33 years. He remembers when the 30-foot tree in his front yard was a tiny sprout. He shares his home with a 15-year-old Chihuahua, Thomas.
Weeks after the historic, deadly Memorial Day weekend flood, Samaro sits on his porch, feeding birds and waving friendly hellos as the last of his neighbors pack up and abandon their damaged homes.
The level of damage in the neighborhood was severe.
For weeks, Samaro disputed with SMHA officials over whether he should be required to leave his house. Because floodwaters barely touched his property, Samaro sees no reason to leave. The longtime CM Allen Homes resident said moving is even more difficult as his children do not have the space to house him.
Albert Sierra, executive director for the SMHA, said he will have to evict Samaro if the man refuses to leave his home.
Attorneys have advised if a tenant is sickened by mold in the houses, the SMHA could be held liable in civil court, 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.
Mold-infested houses can pose a significant health risk to anyone living inside—especially those who are elderly or sick, Sierra said.
Sierra and the SMHA website have advised CM Allen Homes residents to seek monetary assistance from Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA). 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, displaced CM Allen Homes resident, said although he was grateful for FEMA assistance, finding a new house for his family of six was nevertheless a daunting task.
Magnum said he and many other CM Allen Homes families were forced to relocate to local motels, like the Rodeway Inn on the Interstate Highway 35 (IH-35) northbound access road in San Marcos.
Magnum sought assistance through the SMHA after a 2013 injury left him disabled and unable to work. SMHA has told the ex-tenant he will most likely not be able to move back into public housing for at least six months, Magnum said.
The Memorial Day weekend flood damage reduced the SMHA’s housing capability 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, San Marcos resident and community activist, said he is angered with the SMHA’s handling and removal of the CM Allen Homes residents.
Roark said SMHA has done a poor job working with 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 completely sure of where he would go, Samaro could only say, “God will send me an angel.”