When the power went out and temperatures dipped below freezing, Dallas resident Ana Lopez sought shelter at a friend’s place.
The Mexico native has lived in the ethnically diverse neighborhood known as Vickery Meadow for more than a decade. Many residents are either refugees or immigrants. Most live in apartments.
“People live here because that’s what they can afford,” she said. “The apartments here are very old. They have many deficiencies.”
The recent winter storm was just another example of how emergency situations hit this neighborhood hard. The aging and sometimes poorly maintained buildings cause issues for residents year-round.
“We have problems with air conditioning units and windows, including mine, that are broken,” Lopez said.
Lopez is back home now and said she has electricity and water. Others, though, haven’t been as fortunate.
Ashley Holm is the director of outcomes and evaluation for Literacy Achieves, a nonprofit that teaches English as a second language to many residents in the neighborhood.
“When the power went out, it really affected this neighborhood,” Holm said. “These apartment buildings are in disrepair. They’re older, not great condition. This is probably the last neighborhood that needed the power and water to go out.”
Holm’s organization distributed food, water, diapers and other supplies for several days after the storm. She said they’re also planning to provide financial assistance.
Ana Lopez said various organizations and individuals often provide assistance to residents in need, especially after an emergency like the winter storm. But she said the apartment complexes in the neighborhood need to be better maintained.
As of Friday, some residents in Vickery Meadow and across the city still did not have running water. Some also had property damaged due to busted water pipes.
Jill Haning, an attorney with the City of Dallas and chief of community prosecution, said as of Monday morning, the city knew of at least eight properties across the city without running water. She stressed the exact number is hard to pin down because of ongoing repairs at various locations.
“The problem is…once they fix an issue and they can turn the water back on, then sometimes they find new leaks or new pipes burst as a result of some other pressure,” Haning said.
Haning’s office oversees cases involving violations of minimum property standards, such as plumbing, electrical and construction. Since the storm, several cases have been referred to her office, including one against Wildflower Apartments in Vickery Meadow, which didn’t have working water in some of its buildings.
“Not only do you need to have licensed plumbers out here…you also need to providing alternative forms of water,” Haning said. “They do have portable showers on site now. They have exterior faucets that people were getting water for cleaning and using the restroom. They’re providing water.”
If the complex doesn’t provide water or if the problems there aren’t repaired soon, she said her office could sue the property owners and issue them a notice of violation.
Wildflower Apartments still had units without water Sunday, but Haning said they were making progress.
KERA reached out to the property manager at Wildflower but has not heard back.
Dallas City Council member Jennifer Staubach Gates represents the area that includes Vickery Meadow. Her district is like a tale of two cities. West of Interstate 75 sit high-end homes, shopping centers and restaurants, while Vickery Meadow is just east of 75.
After the storm, Gates and her staff checked on residents in Vickery Meadow, and reached out to apartment complexes to find out who had water and who didn’t.
She also talked to local nonprofits and pastors, texting and setting up a call to talk about how they could best serve the residents.
“My concern was we’ve got other residents out there that might not know that these resources are available at Literacy Achieves or at the community center because, you know, they probably are not reading my newsletter and they’re probably not on social media because they don’t have electricity,” Gates said.
Fortunately, she said, news that help was available spread through word of mouth, and when the snow and ice cleared, people lined up to get supplies.
Gates said the city needs to do a better job of planning for the neighborhood’s future.
“Where you have to allow for development, you have to at the same time say, ‘Okay, this is a priority of the city to have workforce housing and we’re about to lose it,’” she said.
Lopez said calling Vickery Meadow home is more like surviving than living, but some residents settle for the conditions because they feel like they have no other choice.
“They can’t complain more because they’re limited by their language; they’re limited by their immigration status,” Lopez said. “If I complain, sometimes they ignore me. What can I do? I have to live.”