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Scheduled showers, porta potties and hotel stays: Hundreds of Austin apartment complexes still don't have water
The last night Stephanie Landgraf, 25, spent in her apartment, off of Rundberg Lane, was on Valentine's Day. First, her power went off, only to return shortly after the complex lost water. Since then, she's been staying with friends. "There's no end in sight," she told Austonia. "At this point, I'm just angry."
Although Austin Water announced it had restored service system-wide on Tuesday and reporting on the crisis has faded, some residents remain impacted due to burst and broken pipes that still need repairing. Landgraf's apartment complex provided an update earlier this week, attributing the outage to a shortage of specific plumbing parts and saying that service would be restored within 24 hours. That was three days ago.
Landgraf spent Friday, her day off, trying to get a hold of Austin Water. If her service isn't restored by Sunday, she'll get a hotel room—an expense that isn't covered by her renters' insurance. Still, she counts herself lucky to have an alternative place to stay. If she was still in her apartment, she would need to find a way to get water up to her unit. "My area of town is not okay," she said, adding that her neighbors were already spread thin by the pandemic. "We're still struggling."
After nearly a week of widespread outages and a boil water notice, Austin Water announced it had restored service and lifted its notice citywide on Tuesday. But hundreds of apartment complexes and other properties still lack water because of unresolved pipe breaks. Although these complexes may be able to restore water service, they cannot do so without risking flooding or other damage.
"I would anticipate right now there's at least two to four hundred apartment complexes, condos, areas served by interior piping systems … that are out of water in one form or another," Austin Water Director Greg Meszaros told City Council Thursday. "That's changing rapidly, but that's a very large number. And that doesn't count single-family homes or others that are struggling with those kinds of things."
The utility, along with the city of Austin, is working to deliver water to impacted residents, conduct wellness checks and facilitate repairs on private properties now that the public system is stable. But some residents are still without a basic necessity.
I haven't had running water in my apartment in over a week. This is an absolute disaster, @AustinWater . Pick up your phone. I have some things to say. #SnowStorm2021 #TexasPowerOutage #TexasBlackout pic.twitter.com/W8ZU0n573N
— masky gal (@SistasgonResist) February 26, 2021
"In many, many instances, families including children are living in unsanitary conditions with water shut off," Miguel Barbosa said during the public portion of Thursday's council meeting. "People need toilets. Families need showers. This is risky, and quite frankly it is life-threatening."
Property owners and management companies, on the other hand, are competing for repair services and other amenities.
Pinnacle, which manages the Arboretum Oaks property in Great Hills, sent an update to residents on Wednesday saying that 10 additional plumbers are expected to arrive this weekend to help with ongoing plumbing repairs. The property has been without water for days now. The company was also in the process of securing portable showers and toilets from vendors that are pulling inventory from other states due to high demand. Until they arrive, residents can schedule a time to use a shower in one of five vacant units at the Argosy at Crestview, a sister property 15 minutes away by car.
What residents can do
Residents without water should call 311 to report the outage. This will help with coordinating water deliveries and other support services, Juan Ortiz, the city's director of homeland security and emergency management, said Thursday.
Water distribution sites operated by the city and Travis County are being consolidated due to declining demand. One such site, at the Onion Creek Soccer Complex at 5600 E. William Cannon Drive, is open on Friday. The latest information on such sites can be found here.
Austin Water has not forgotten those who are still dealing with pipe damage and waiting for their water service to be restored. "We're going to stay on this and help these apartment complexes and others get water back to their systems," Meszaros said. But, he added, it will likely be "many days" before their crisis is over.
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After Austin voters passed Proposition B, reinstating a ban on public camping, City Council directed staff to look into possible sanctioned campsites where homeless residents could live legally. Now two members are asking to shelve discussion on the controversial topic.
Staff presented dozens of possible sanctioned campsites across each fo the 10 council districts in late May, following the election. But members mostly pushed back on the proposed locations, citing cost, wildfire risk and lack of transparency as concerns.
With updated criteria, staff recommended two sites—one in District 1 and the other in District 8—for further review last week. After being briefed on the options during Tuesday's work session, Mayor Pro Tem Natasha Harper-Madison, who represents District 1, and Council Member Paige Ellis, who represents District 8, issued a joint statement proposing "a pause" on further discussion of temporary sanctioned encampments.
"We are not convinced that these sites would be a cost-effective solution, but rather a band-aid tactic when we need to be supporting the long-term strategy to get folks off the street permanent," they said. "It is our responsibility to look at the situation holistically and objectively, and to spend out city's limited resources on solutions we know can work."
Homeless Strategy Officer Dianna Grey noted that the two locations were imperfect and would require a lot of time and money to outfit as sanctioned campsites during the briefing.
City staff and homeless experts have previously raised concerns about sanctioned encampments, saying they are expensive to maintain, challenging to manage and hard to close, even when intended to to be temporary.
In 2019, staff declined to make recommendations for such sites despite being directed by council to do so, citing 2018 guidance from the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness. "Neither authorized encampments nor parking areas provide housing for people experiencing homelessness," staff wrote in a memo. "Rather, each option detracts from the staff resources assigned to addressing this moral imperative."
But with Prop B being enforced and too few shelter beds and affordable units for the estimate unsheltered homeless population in Austin, the city is facing the same predicament that prompted District 9 Council Member Kathie Tovo to pursue possible sanctioned campsites in the first place: "When individuals in encampments ask where they should go, we need to have places to suggest," she said at a May 6 council meeting.
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Don't lose your mask just yet—the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced it is now recommending masks in areas that are surging as cases rise nationwide and the Delta variant looms.
The CDC announced Tuesday that even fully vaccinated individuals should mask up indoors if their community is experiencing substantial transmission—defined as areas with more than 50 cases per 100,000 people. Travis County is sitting at an average of 94.59 cases per 100,000 over the past seven days, falling into the highest risk category, according to the CDC.
#DeltaVariant surging in U.S. New data show Delta much more contagious than previous versions of #COVID19. Unvaccinated people: get vaccinated & mask until you do. Everyone in areas of substantial/high transmission should wear a mask, even if vaccinated. https://t.co/tt49zOEC8N
— CDC (@CDCgov) July 27, 2021
After two COVID-19 recommendation stage jumps in the last two weeks, from Stage 2 to Stage 4, Austin-area cases are the highest they have been since February. The seven-day average for cases is on an upward trend, reaching 226 on Tuesday.
The CDC is also recommending that all students K-12 wear masks indoors, regardless of vaccination status. A May executive order by Gov. Greg Abbott prohibits schools from requiring masks, regardless of vaccination status. Austin ISD is "strongly" encouraging students to wear masks.
Although vaccinated individuals are still protected against the most severe symptoms of the variant, infections are spreading rapidly and now make up 83% of confirmed cases in the U.S. At least a dozen cases of the delta variant have been confirmed in the Austin area, though there are likely more since testing for it is limited.
CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said that hospital admissions are "almost exclusively" coming from people who are unvaccinated but those who are vaccinated can still catch and spread the virus.
"Unlike the alpha variant that we had back in May, where we didn't believe that if you were vaccinated you could transmit further, this is different now with the Delta variant," Walensky said. "That leads us to believe that the breakthrough infections, rare that they are, have the potential to pool and transmit at the same with the same capacity as an unvaccinated person."
Research suggests those who become infected carry 1,000 times more of the virus than other variants and could stay contagious for longer.The announcement comes on the heels of the Biden administration ramping up cautionary measures in the face of the Delta variant. Just last week, the CDC said it had no plans to change its May guidance of vaccinated not having to wear masks unless there was a significant change in the data. Officials met on Sunday night to review new evidence, according to reports.
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The Moody Center, a $338 million, 530,000-square-foot multipurpose arena at the University of Texas at Austin, celebrated its topping out on Tuesday.
With the final beam placed, the arena's steel-frame structural phase—which involved more than 5.3 million pounds of steel—is complete.
"This past year has been full of unprecedented events, not to mention weather challenges, and yet the women and men working on this project continue to deliver," Moody Center General Manager and Senior Vice President Jeff Nickler said in a press release.
To celebrate the topping out Oak View Group, the development and investment firm behind the Moody Center will affix a tree to the final beam in keeping with the time-honored tradition.
The practice dates back to ancient Scandinavian religious rites, which involved placing a tree atop new buildings to appease tree-dwelling spirits displaced during the construction process, according to the International Association of Bridge, Structural and Ornamental Ironworkers in Washington D.C.
After the steel-frame structure phase, the development will move on to enclosing and finishing the interior of the Moody Center.
The arena is set to open next April and already has some major acts scheduled for its inaugural year, including The Weeknd, Justin Bieber, John Mayer and The Killers. It will replace the 43-year-old Frank C. Erwin Jr. Center and serve as the home of UT's men's and women's basketball games, among other sports and community events.
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