‘It’s hell’: Elderly residents forced to navigate stairs amid weekslong housing complex elevator outage

Opportunity Home San Antonio says repair in “early January” was extended because another part was needed

SAN ANTONIO – The elderly and disabled residents of a public housing apartment near Olmos Park say their elevator has been out of commission for weeks, causing fear and frustration as they try to navigate the stairs instead.

A video shared with KSAT even shows one man with a partially amputated leg making his way downstairs with his wheelchair. The woman who recorded it, Sylvia Nellis, was visiting her mother when they came across the man in the stairwell.

“That broke my heart,” said Nellis, who says she asked the man’s permission to record. “And everybody that I’ve shown that video to breaks their heart, too, because that shouldn’t happen. I mean, this gentleman has to do this every day until this elevator gets fixed.”

Kenwood North is a three-story apartment on Avenue M, close to the intersection of McCullough Avenue and Olmos Drive. It’s managed by Opportunity Home San Antonio, formerly known as the San Antonio Housing Authority (SAHA).

Opportunity Home spokesman Brance Arnold said an elevator repair that began in “early January” was extended after another part ended up being needed, which still hasn’t arrived. In an emailed statement, he promised, “We will expedite repairs to restore normal operation of the elevator once the part is received.”

He did not say when the part was expected to arrive.

“They keep being told that the part’s going to arrive tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow. And here we are going on four weeks,” Nellis said

KSAT visited Kenwood North on Friday and confirmed the elevator was still out of operation. A handwritten sign taped to the elevator doors on the ground floor warned, “It’s not working/No Trabaja.”

There were also plenty of residents eager to talk about their frustrations.

One man climbing the stairs said he hasn’t been able to go for groceries because he needs to be able to grab the rails when he goes up or down.

Ruben Gonzales, who walks with a cane, said, “It’s hell,” getting to and from his apartment on the second floor.

“It’s very hard. I’m afraid I might lose my cane; I’m gonna fall. This could be worse for me,” he said. “And I got two black lungs. I can’t breathe too good. It’s hard for me to walk. And I already talked to them. They don’t know what the hell’s going on.”

In his emailed statement, Arnold said, “Affected families were relocated to a local hotel, but wished to return to their apartments.”

According to the statement, hotel accommodations are still being offered, and “our staff is available to residents daily.”

But Nellis says her mother, who went to a hotel, was told they would no longer pay for the stay.

“She was there, I believe, three to four days. And then they called her and told her that she needed to come back because the apartment — the part was coming in, and the elevator should have been fixed that day. Well, it wasn’t fixed,” Nellis said, adding that her mother had opted to return to a hotel.

Residents confirmed Opportunity Home was still offering hotels, but not all wanted to go.

Despite his concerns about the stairs, Gonzales and his wife didn’t take the offer.

“We have a hard time going up and down, and we have a dog. And we didn’t know if they would allow us to take her or not,” said Evelyn Gonzales.

Diana Prado has two knee replacements but refused to go to a hotel.

“I have my own needs, my own medication, everything at my home, my apartment. I’m not going to go somewhere where I’m not going to feel comfortable,” she said.

A spokeswoman for San Antonio’s Code Enforcement Services said they had received a call about the elevator on Jan. 8, but they weren’t able to get inside to confirm it because the apartment had a gate, and no one let them in. The code enforcement officer was able to get inside when they returned Thursday, though, and issued a notice of violation.

Gabe Lopez, chairman of the Opportunity Home San Antonio Board, issued the following statement:

“This video is concerning. It is unequivocally unacceptable. None of our elderly or disabled residents should have to rely on a stairwell to leave or access their unit. We will work with staff to ensure our vendors are being held accountable for providing elevator repairs with a sense of urgency and without further delay to meet the needs of our residents.”

Find more local news on KSAT.com here

About the Authors

Garrett Brnger is a reporter with KSAT 12.

Before starting at KSAT in August 2011, Ken was a news photographer at KENS. Before that he was a news photographer at KVDA TV in San Antonio. Ken graduated from San Antonio College with an associate's degree in Radio, TV and Film. Ken has won a Sun Coast Emmy and four Lone Star Emmys. Ken has been in the TV industry since 1994.

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