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30 citations issued at Woodridge apartments

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TWC News: With dozens evacuated, solutions still unclear at Woodridge
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The city has issued 30 citations to the Woodridge Apartments in Southeast Austin, two for each of the 15 buildings on site, after a balcony collapsed last week, leaving many with nowhere to go.

The faulty construction has prompted 48 families in all to evacuate their homes, perhaps for good.

City officials worry more walkways could collapse. Inspectors say the soundness of the entire complex is in question.

Nekesha Phoenix with the Austin Tenants Council said she has heard horror stories of conditions inside the apartments--holes in walls, leaks from air conditioning units on the roof and some having to use a hammer to close their front door.

"It is a big problem that we are seeing, especially with the shortage of housing and a shortage of affordable housing in the Austin area," she said. "The laws have to do more to protect tenants who are following the rules and who have done everything that they are supposed to do."

Carl Smart is the director of Austin’s Code Compliance Department, and he says many problems within apartments go unreported to the city.

Last year, Council Member Bill Spelman and code compliance leaders tried to create a multi-family inspection program, but the Austin Apartment Association says it disagreed with a fee each complex would have to pay annually to cover the cost of the program.

"Right now, we are not proactive. We are reactive. We are responding completely to complaints," Smart said. "We would identify the worst of the worst and start proactively inspecting those properties, but also accept complaints that would come in from tenants, from residents, from neighbors."

This time, Smart's focusing solely on inspections, but said he needs more inspectors on the streets. Currently, each city inspector is handling three times the case loads, equaling to almost 800 a year.

"We want folks to be safe in a safe, good living environment,” Smart said. “In order to do that, we've got to help identify those problems for them."

Smart also wants to educate tenants on their rights. He and Phoenix say that too often, families don't take their concerns beyond apartment managers.

"A lot of times people will not report the problem because they are afraid of being retaliated against, and they are living where they can afford to live," Pheonix said.

City officials plan to have a meeting June 4 or 5 to address the Wood Ridge Apartments.

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