City Delays Onion Creek Flood Home Buyouts For Months Hurricane Katrina Survivor Forms Austin Common Ground Relief
Austin Common Ground Relief, a newly formed network of Austin organizers & residents, recently held a meeting of 20 volunteers in the Onion Creek neighborhood devastated by flooding. They began serving meals and supporting residents with volunteer labor in the days immediately after the Halloween floods.
The group met in the heart of the Onion Creek flood zone to coordinate their efforts, at the flood-damaged home of Hurricane Katrina survivor Ruth Kaplan. Common Ground organizer, Lisa Fithian, who spent a year doing relief work after Hurricane Katrina said, “Many organizations responded to the immediate needs of those most affected by the floods; but many of those groups are pulling back relief efforts. With the winter months ahead, residents are literally being left in the cold. Austin Common Ground Relief is seeking to fill that void by providing daily meals and collecting warm clothes, blankets and heaters for residents who are continuing to live and work in the flood ravaged neighborhoods.”
The group was told by a city official that buyouts of 115 homes in the Onion Creek area would be fully funded. However, neither the city official nor anyone from the contractor handling the buyouts could name exactly where the money is coming from, potentially risking a repeat of what happened years ago during the last round of buyouts when money ran out and residents were left at risk.
In 2007, the City of Austin passed a bond for 50 million dollars to help fund the buyouts recommended in an 2006 Army Corp of Engineers report, however the money ran out and the city left residents at risk. Adding to this failure, the city neglected to put adequate drainage systems in the area and failing to make sure a flood plan was in place when flooding inevitably occurred.
“We can’t wait for the city to come to the aid of our communities. People’s homes have been destroyed; many of them don’t have gas and it’s getting cold. Now the city is telling people that they have to wait between four and five months for anything to happen, when they should have bought these homes out years ago? That’s unacceptable.” says Austin Common Ground Relief’s Francisco Cortez.
According to HDR Engineering, the contractor that is handling the city buyouts, homeowners will not get any money for their homes until next spring at the earliest.
Vernon Ellison, neighborhood resident of 28 years, will meet with the City of Austin this Thursday and is unsure of where he will go if the buy out of his home takes months. “I can stay with my family for a week or so,” Vernon says, “but four to five months is too long of a time to be without a home.” Vernon says he may even consider moving back into his home, which is already gutted of sheet rock and carpet to prevent mold infestation, if the buyouts take that long.
Across the street from Vernon lived Gus Castro and his family. A car thrown around by the flood sits diagonally across his lawn and his trailer is still mired in the floodplain across from his home, tilted on its side, damaged, and abandoned. “We have found places to stay since the flood happened, but I have a family, I have children in school, we need to get this behind us. I have no idea what we will do if the buyouts take that long” Gus says. As with most residents of the area, neither Gus nor Vernon has insurance, making the situation that much more dire.
Austin Common Ground Relief is a grass-roots network of Austin residents providing aid to the victims of the Halloween 2013 floods. ACGR shares food, labor, donations and support of all kinds to residents in need.