A big problem for low-income homeowners: septic tanks

Life in rural Travis County is largely cheaper than life in the city of Austin. Property values, property taxes and rents are significantly lower. However, wastewater often costs significantly more.

The problems and costs associated with septic tank aging are such a common problem that in recent years Travis County has started spending a significant portion of the money it receives from the federal Community Development Block Grant program for Use the assistance of low-income homeowners in repairing or replacing their systems.

As of 2013, the county has used a portion of its annual CDBG funding of approximately $ 1.2 million to repair low-income residents in unincorporated parts of Travis County. The support is only available to homeowners with an income of no more than 80 percent of the median area. That’s $ 48,200 for a single person, $ 55,050 for a two-person household, or $ 68,800 for a family of four.

From 2012-18, the county spent $ 2.56 million on home repairs, which is 38 percent of total CDBG funding. This funding has helped repair 97 homes or sewage treatment plants.

“We found that many people who needed home repairs had many problems with their sewer systems,” said Christy Moffett, CDBG program manager for Travis County. “We only spent money on septic tanks. It took up most of the budget for people who needed a home repair. “

The county CDBG funds cannot be used to pay for services in the city of Austin or any other community that has its own grant funding. The Travis County grant focuses on unincorporated parts of the county and the small villages of Webberville and San Leanna that do not receive their own grants.

This is less of a problem for Austin residents who source their water and sanitation services from Austin Water, the municipal utility company. However, people in areas without their own legal personality often have to look after themselves through septic tanks.

The cost of a new sewer system is typically anywhere from $ 18,000 to $ 22,000, Moffett said, when you factor in the cost of design, engineering, approval, and land surveys that are often required.

Stuart Hersh, a longtime housing advocate, encouraged commissioners to keep house repairing and septic tank repairs a top priority for CDBG funds.

“It’s really noteworthy that in some unincorporated parts of Travis County as well as the city limits, there are still some extremely low-income homeowners trying to balance affordability needs by staying in their home and theirs Get security by getting their homes repaired, ”he said.

Fidel Acevedo, a 40-year-old resident of North Ridge Acres, a subdivision south of State Highway 45 in northern Travis County, said he would welcome septic improvements, but the subdivision could preferably be hooked up to a full-fledged sewer system. The area is developing rapidly, he noted.

District Judge Sarah Eckhardt said at a session of the Travis County Commissioners Court on Tuesday she would like the Commissioners Court to consider how the county could get involved in expanding the water and sanitation service to unincorporated areas. Traditionally, the county has not played a role in providing these services.

Setting up a water and sanitation service requires far more money than CDBG can provide, Moffett said. Most likely, the county will need to find other “partners,” such as the city of Austin.

Photo by Soil Science licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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