Families could lose water, homes at Tymber Skan

Article Courtesy of The Orlando Sentinel

By Stephen Hudak and Steven Lemongello

Published April 11, 2017


More than 50 families living at Tymber Skan on the Lake could soon be scrambling for new housing because residents of the crumbling complex will be notified Monday that water-provider OUC plans to turn off the spigot next month for non-payment.

The water woes are the latest trouble for residents of the struggling neighborhood in south Orange County.

The condominium community, plagued by crime, foreclosures and a suspicious fire that destroyed eight units in February, owes an estimated $21,000 in unpaid bills and late fees to the Orlando Utilities Commission.

Emiley Hayes, 22, mother of a 5-month-old girl and a son who turns 2 in June, said she will be forced to leave her mother’s unit if the water is shut off.

“I can’t bathe my kids,” she said. “I can’t warm my babies’ bottles. We’d have to go someplace else.”

But OUC has run out of patience with the condo-owners association, which it says has not kept up with a repayment plan.

“It’s an unfortunate situation,” said Tim Trudell, spokesman for the utility that provides the complex with water and power. “It’s been a problem for a long, long time.”

OUC will give the association until May 8 to pay up or lose water, a timeline designed to give families a chance to line up another place to live.

Although the condos are individually owned, water bills are paid by the condominium association.

Built in 1972 in Holden Heights, the complex was once home to working-class families, but now half of the original 49 buildings have been torn down or condemned as “unfit for human occupancy” by the Orange County division of code enforcement.

Remaining residents are a mix of renters and owners who say they can’t afford to move from the neighborhood off South Texas Avenue, about two miles from The Mall at Millenia.

Most have children, many of whom dodge potholes and scattered shards of glass while riding bikes on the blighted complex’s parking areas.

Orange County Commissioner Victoria Siplin, whose district includes Tymber Skan, wants the board to discuss at its meeting Tuesday the next steps for the community, its residents and neighbors.

“There are residents and property owners on both sides,” Siplin said. “OK, once the lights are off, once the water’s shut off, how are we going to make sure the property doesn’t become a nuisance to the community.”

The county’s Family Services division, alerted earlier this week about OUC’s plan to turn off the water, is prepared to help residents find replacement housing by offering referrals and financial aid for those who qualify, spokeswoman Doreen Overstreet said.

Finding new homes won’t be easy.

“We’re doing everything we can to pay all of our bills,” said Cynthia Claytor, 63, who has lived at Tymber Skan for five years with an autistic adult son.

Though hopeful an agreement can be worked out with the utility, she said she worries about her neighbors.

“For some, there’s no other place for them to go,” Claytor said. “They’re poor people. They can’t afford a whole heck of a lot.’’

In February, fire tore through an eight-unit vacant building, reducing it to charred rumble which has not yet been cleaned up. No one was injured in the blaze.

County officials say firefighters have been called to the complex 42 times since 2012 for reported fires. Many were investigated as arson.

Some residents suspect squatters who trespassed in condemned units by removing plywood sheets boards that shuttered doorways and windows set fires to cook or stay warm on cold nights. The county spent $1 million last year to tear down rotting units.

Mounds of garbage are heaped on empty lots throughout the community. Some piles include broken appliances, soggy couches and other discarded furnishings. Neatly maintained units are side-by-side with shuttered ones.

But the homeowner group now facing possible loss of water hopes to stave off disconnection, slated for May 8, said Malinda McIntosh, the association’s president.

“We’re in the process of getting a payment together,” McIntosh said. “But obviously we need help.”