Saturday, June 03, 2017

Non-Payment Of Utility Bills, Mass Evacuation; Water & Electricity Shutoffs Lead To The Boot For Dozens Of Low-Income Central Florida Residents In 150-Unit Condo-Hotel

In Kissimmee, Florida, the Orlando Sentinel reports:
  • At the Heritage Park Inn outside Kissimmee, worldly possessions sat wrapped in plastic bags on balconies as dozens of people wondered Monday [May 15] where they would spend the night.

    “I don’t know, honestly,” said Stacey Modjeski when asked where she would live after the electricity was turned off at the inn, a condominium that used to be a hotel on U.S. Highway 192. “I don’t. I’m really upset. I have to find another place to go.”

    The power was disconnected Monday, a Kissimmee Utility Authority spokesman said, after nearly a month of residents living without water after management fell behind on its bills to the Toho Water Authority. It also stopped paying the KUA, which provides electricity.

    In total, the two providers are owed close to $28,000. The Toho Water Authority said it hadn’t been paid $19,187.39, and the KUA is owed about $8,300, officials said.

    Osceola County spokesman Mark Pino said county staff members have spoken with more than 40 residents to determine whether they’re eligible for assistance through Rapid Rehousing programs, designed to help families transition from homelessness to long-term sustainable housing

    “It typically takes 30-60 days to find housing for these families,” Pino said. “Most of these families are able to find housing in Osceola County.”

    Other agencies, such as the Homeless Services Network of Central Florida, also are working with some residents.

    KUA crews were on scene early Monday. A spokesman told the Orlando Sentinel last week that crews have gone to the inn in previous months, but typically a last-minute payment was made to keep the lights on.

    That didn’t happen this time.

    “I woke up when the air conditioner went off,” resident Darla Wyatt said. “I thought, sh--, it’s really happening. Happy Mother’s Day, the power stayed on for one more day.”

    The inn has about 150 units and is home to mostly low-income residents. Seniors, veterans and families with young children reside at the former hotel near Florida’s Turnpike.

    Residents pay about $700 per month in rent, which they said also covered their utility bills.

    On Monday, garbage was piled up in corridors and scattered among the grounds, which residents said had attracted larger rats as building maintenance deteriorated.

    Lately, nobody had been at the front office to collect their money, residents said. The doors to the locked office were covered with shutdown notices on Monday.

    “We’re just looking for any place to go,” said Matthew Aikens. “It’s been stressful, especially with them draining the pool on us so we can’t flush our toilets anymore.”

    Aikens said he had four children living with him, and neighbor Rachel DeSilva said another resident just came home with a newborn baby last week.

    “It’s heartbreaking, you know,” Modjeski said. “I know other families in here who can’t go anywhere else. They have no money, no transportation. … My kids go to [Mill Creek] elementary school. Twenty-one elementary school kids stay in this hotel alone, just in that school.”

    Resident Richard Jennings shook his head when he thought about the inn’s children, who were still at school in the early afternoon as he and others began packing for an unknown future.

    “They’re at school, and they have to come home to this, to no life,” Jennings said.

    Jennings was frustrated at what he believed was an attempt to force residents out in order to do something else with the property. Already, as he spoke, a man was performing work in the empty room next to him.

    “They want to take everybody out so they could remodel,” Jennings said.

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