Balch Springs families struggle to find a home — more than a month after floods hit North Texas

More than a month after record-breaking rain flooded out many North Texans, time and money are running out for Balch Springs families who still have no place to go.

By Caroline Love, KERAOctober 11, 2022 10:00 am, ,

From KERA:

About 15 families from the Spring Oaks apartment complex called a Comfort Inn and Suites home more than a month after the flood. But the money for hotel rooms is running out.

Lisa Gager spent the past month in a small hotel room on the fourth floor of the hotel. The city of Balch Springs paid for the first week at the hotel. Sharing Life paid for the second. Then Catholic Charities paid for 30 days.

“After that, nobody has any more funding,” Gager said.

Gager’s Spring Oaks apartment flooded in August. She remembers waking up in the dark early that morning to hysterical screaming. She thought there was a domestic dispute. Turns out, it was because of the ankle-deep flood waters seeping into people’s first-floor apartments.

Gager said she and her family spent 12 hours sweeping water out of her apartment with brooms.

“Our backs were hurting,” she said. “We had blisters on our hands from holding the brooms for so long.”

Gager and her family moved out of their apartment about a week after the flood so it could be repaired. Gager’s last day at the hotel was Friday. She said her apartment won’t be repaired until March or April, so Gager and her family are living with her mother for now.

The hotel room they moved into at the Comfort Inn and Suites was small — the two queen beds covered in fluffy white duvets took up most of the space. And there was a constant hum from the air conditioner.

Gager had shared that room with her disabled 41-year-old nephew and his dad, who has survived two heart attacks and four strokes. Her 21-year-old son, who’s autistic and has intellectual disabilities, stayed with a friend from church because he didn’t want to share a bed with his mother. It’s the first time they’ve ever lived apart.

Gager doesn’t know when her apartment at Springs Oaks will be habitable again. She could break her lease without penalty and move somewhere else, but her family can’t afford to do that.

“Everything that I’ve already checked into is over like $2,000 or more a month, and we’re all on fixed income,” she said.

Gager relies on disability payments because of a back injury. She’s not the only former Spring Oaks resident on a fixed income. Noemi Flores also relies on disability payments. She has fibromyalgia and heart failure. Doctors recently put a stent in her leg. She’s also supposed to have surgery on her spine. The doctors say Flores could be paralyzed if she waits much longer.

Jacob Wells / KERA News

Lisa Gager and Noemi Flores sit in the lobby at the Comfort Inn and Springs in Balch Springs. They spent a more than a month living in the hotel after their apartments flooded in August.

But Flores needs to be somewhere she can recover for months after the surgery. Doctors say that’s not the hotel room where Flores has been the past month after her apartment flooded. She shares a room with her teenage daughter at the Comfort Inn and Suites.

Flores said she and her daughter are tired of sharing a room.

“Not because I don’t want to be around her, but it’s just that we have no privacy,” she said.

Monday is their last day at the hotel. Flores found an apartment at another complex that won’t be ready until the end of the month. She doesn’t know where she and her daughter will go in the meantime.

Getting assistance has been challenging. Flores said she spent three days calling everyone she could think of for help. Gager tried to help her nephew get food stamps, but the documents he needs to qualify got destroyed in the flood.

There isn’t any aid available from FEMA. President Biden would have to declare a federal disaster for that to happen. Rocky Vaz, the director of the Dallas office of emergency management, said at a city council meeting that Dallas didn’t meet the requirements for that.

“Dallas County has to meet a threshold of $10.7 million of uninsured damages to households before we can see that presidential declaration,” he said.

The Small Business Administration is offering low-interest federal loans to homeowners and renters whose property was destroyed during the flood. A minimum of 25 homes have to be damaged to meet the threshold for an SBA loan, according to the Dallas office of emergency management. Dallas County and the state of Texas had 75 homes that were majorly damaged or destroyed. The governor requested a disaster declaration from the SBA Sep. 13.

Renters can apply for loans up to $40,000 with interest as low as 2.2% with terms up to 30 years. The deadline to apply for property damage is Nov. 14.

The water ruined a lot of Gager’s belongings. She had just bought new furniture a few months prior to the flood. Her son’s wooden bedroom set was destroyed. So was a juke box her four children bought her for Mother’s Day. But Gager doesn’t want to apply for a loan. She said it’s not fair to expect people to pay a loan with interest for help.

“Why should we have to pay a loan back?” Gager said.

The rest of Gager’s belongings are in a storage pod. Flores also has stuff in storage. She said she’s glad she packed more than she thought she would need for the time she didn’t have a place to call home.

“I did a little bit of everything just in case, you know, but never did I think it was going to be this long,” Flores said.

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