KASSON — Back-to-back flooding has Jaxson Phoenix feeling like he’s on the verge of homelessness.
“I have nowhere to go,” he said from a ground-floor Kasson apartment that saw back-to-back flooding when sewer water surged from drains on June 28 and July 6.
The carpets have been removed, but the single father continues living in the apartment with his two young children, Madison and Jaxson Jr. Their presence is delaying work to restore the apartment.
“A lot of people just threw most of their stuff away and kept what they needed because they are a single person,” he said. “I don’t have that option. I have two kids; I can’t just throw all my kids' stuff away and say, ‘We’re just going to live out of a suitcase.’”
The 35-year-old former construction worker has been sidelined by crippling arthritis and gout. He said he hopes to move out temporarily this weekend.
Working with county services and local nonprofit agencies, he expects to have volunteers move his belongings Saturday to a provided Dodge Center storage unit. With luck, he said more answers will fall into place.
Since his ex-wife and other family members in the area lack space or are facing their own flood-related concerns, he said he turned to a friend willing to temporarily house his family.
What happens next is unclear. Phoenix said he’s received directions on how to clean his apartment to ensure he gets his security deposit back, indicating his lease is being terminated. He said he’s been told to watch the mail for a written notice.
Meanwhile, Jim Abbe, property director for Owatonna-based Life Style Inc., which manages the Greenfield Village apartments, has said he plans to keep options open for all tenants. He said first-floor tenants affected by the flooding can look for other housing or return to their apartments once the flood cleanup is complete. He estimates cleanup will take two to three weeks after the apartments are emptied.
Abbe acknowledged the leases at Greenfield Village contain a standard clause that allows eviction if an apartment is deemed uninhabitable, but he said he’s hoping to avoid such action.
“Our goal is to keep people in housing,” he said. “We don’t want to evict people.”
At the same time, he said the cost of cleaning, along with the loss of rent payments during the cleaning process, means Life Style is facing its own financial challenges.
Phoenix said he’d like to return to the three-bedroom apartment that he’s called home for nearly three years, but he also is feeling pressure to look for options.
Since a U.S. Department of Agriculture housing assistance program helps keep his rent payments under $100 a month, options are limited for an unexpected move in a tight housing market.
Chuck Phillips, area director for the USDA, said the agency is helping as it can by providing letters of priority for USDA or U.S. Housing and Urban Development housing options.
It puts the tenants at the top of waiting lists, but limits remain.
“It’s a real tough rental environment right now,” Phillips said.
Abbe said Life Style is also trying to work with tenants, offering the option to temporarily move into other units, but that would likely require relocating to surrounding towns.
“I invited the tenants, when we met with them, to contact our office and let us know how far they are willing to go,” he said. “We would certainly move them into any of the available units we have.”
For Phoenix, who doesn’t have a car and relies on transportation services to make it to weekly medical appointments, relocating would be difficult.
While Phoenix and two other tenants remain in one of the two buildings that make up Greenfield Village, ground-floor residents in the other building have moved out and work has started on removing damaged drywall and insulation in those apartments.
Tenants in that building have differing plans.
Jolene Schulz and her boyfriend, Jaxon Hewitt, left with their 20-month-old son immediately following the flood. They later returned to the apartment to put most of their belongings on the curb for a city-wide pickup of flood-damaged items.
They are staying with Hewitt’s mother until their apartment is restored.
“I tried looking for a different apartment already and a lot of them are full, so we are kind of stuck where we are at,” she said.
Their neighbor, Alaegian Ali, is hoping for better luck.
The single mother has a 1-year-old daughter and is looking for a new apartment. Until she finds something, her condition is unstable.
“I’m pretty much asking friends for a place to stay from night to night,” she said.
Phoenix said he wishes he had that flexibility, but he’s finding options limited. He wants to stay in Kasson to be near his family and in a school district he considers good for his children. However, he said the tight housing market is making it difficult.
“Chances of me finding something like this are slim to none,” he said.