Mary Vasquez and her family are living in an apartment that looks like an unfinished basement. After the flood waters overtook her first-story home at Villa Serena* apartments in Greenspoint, she and her husband and their two daughters ripped the carpet up from the floors. Management came and removed all the sheet rock, tearing down the bottom half of all the walls in the process. And most of their furniture they kicked to the curb. In Vasquez's bedroom, she and her husband keep all of their remaining belongings in dresser drawers that are stacked on the concrete floor.
May was supposed to be the last month on her lease, and given that her husband, Jose, was out of construction work for two weeks following the flood, they weren’t going to make rent; they had tried to explain the situation to the apartment manager. Paying full rent to live in that apartment didn't seem to be fair anyway. And besides, at a community meeting last month at a nearby church, Mayor Sylvester Turner had assured residents that, if they don't feel safe in their apartments, or don't feel that they're livable, they can talk to their apartment managers about a break on rent this month, which Vasquez did. So she hoped all would be well.
Until Jose came home from work one day, and taped to their door was an eviction notice.
On Friday, the Texas Organizing Project and several residents joined Vasquez to confront the landlord, Steve Moore, about their eviction notices and living conditions as TV crews looked on. Moore tried to explain to the media that his crews and the city were both doing everything they could to help residents and repair their apartments. He said that they gave residents a 25 percent discount on May rent if their apartments were not livable. He said, “There’s nobody who does a better job taking care of residents than we do. There’s always gonna be some that fall through the cracks. We’re not perfect.”
And that's when Vasquez made her way through the small crowd, teary-eyed and holding up her bright orange eviction notice.
“You’re stating you gave 25 percent discount, but I’m getting charged the full amount, plus late fees,” Vaszuez said. “And then after I spoke with you, then I come home and get a letter on my door saying I have to be out in three days? Are you serious? I have nowhere to go.”
A news reporter wondered if this was simply one of those “slip through the cracks” situations, and Moore, appearing caught off guard, said he would have to check into it.
The Greenspoint residents, hit heaviest by the April 18 flooding, were starting to run out of patience. Many, like Vasquez, have applied for FEMA assistance but have not yet heard back. And like Vasquez, many are living on concrete floors with few remaining belongings, some with several months left on their leases. A father told about how his two young children keep asking, When are we gonna have floors? When are we gonna have walls? and how he no longer knows what to tell them. A 24-year-old woman said she had just bought a car three days before the flood, then lost it, lost most of her clothing, all of her furniture — and now she, too, is being evicted.
“I feel disrespected,” Megan Nelom said. “I feel like they have no respect, no sympathy, and like they do not care, at all.”
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Back inside Vasquez’s apartment, she gives a small tour, practicing for the TV cameras that are about to come inside to see what it is that she’s paying for. She points to the hole in the plywood that’s serving as a wall in her living room. She points to the mold growing on the ceiling in her bathroom. The stove that shorted, that she is afraid to let her teenage daughters use for cooking. “And he wants us to pay rent for this?” she says.
She sat down in her bedroom and turned her attention to the TV. Channel 13 was interviewing Greenspoint residents whose apartments were in no way salvageable, who were left to live in shelters and ultimately hotel rooms that the city paid for. But on Friday, the city stopped paying. Some were still waiting on FEMA assistance. Some were denied. The woman the news anchor was interviewing, standing outside a hotel on TV, said she was left to live in a homeless shelter because she can't find an apartment. She had nowhere else to go.
Vasquez looked up, nodding in agreement. “There’s a lot of us.”
Correction 5/17/16: A previous version of this article misidentified the apartment complex and misspelled Mary Vasquez's last name. We regret the error.