Hidalgo Co. Family Living in Home Destroyed by Fire Look for Housing

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NEAR MISSION – A Hidalgo County man and his sons are living outside of their burned house. They say it's uncomfortable, but they have nowhere to go.

In Nov. 2016, George Lopez's uninsured home in rural Hidalgo County near Mission became a total loss as result of a fire. The cause of the fire was ruled as undetermined.

Since then, Lopez and his two sons have been living in a carport near the home. He has nothing to keep the area heated. It's a difficult existence that becomes more difficult in winter months.

"It's very cold at night, yes sir," says Lopez.

Lopez lives on a small monthly disability check. The home has no electricity or running water and most of his personal documents, including his birth certificate, were destroyed by the fire.

Now he says he spends his days fighting to find his family a warm meal.

"We walk to the corner store here on Shary to eat. Sometimes we go to the adult day care center that they have over here down in Alton," explains Lopez.

Lopez is also worried about the many safety hazards of living and sleeping outside. He says his main fear is wildlife.

"Mostly the snakes. There's a lot of animals out here. A lot of rats. You can see all my backpacks got holes in them," he notes.

Lopez says he applied for housing with the McAllen Housing Authority a year ago, but remains on a waiting list.

CHANNEL FIVE NEWS reached out to the Edinburg Housing Authority to see how Lopez can speed up the process of finding housing.

The director of operations at the Edinburg Housing Authority says he should go beyond simply applying in McAllen.

"Apply to several housing authorities because you can have multiple applications and then see who calls him first. There's a waiting period per each agency depending on their inventory," says Elizabeth Hernandez, director of operations at Edinburg Housing Authority.

Hernandez says, even though many of Lopez's personal documents were destroyed by the fire, there are other documents available for the application.

"If this gentleman and any of the Rio Grande Valley residents have any type of property, have any type of assistance, they've given a lot of their documentation to other entities that probably have a copy. They can obtain that," she explains.

Hernandez notes because Lopez has a fixed income, he will probably be eligible for low-income housing., but she needs to review his completed application.

She says every housing authority office in Hidalgo County has a list of numbers someone such as Lopez can call for emergency housing in the cold.

According to county officials, Lopez is allowed to stay in his home after the fire because it's on county property.

T.J. Arredondo, Hidalgo County director of planning, says nearly every city in the nation has building codes for every structure within its limits.

This grants them the authority to rule a home like Lopez's uninhabitable and decide he cannot stay there. Since Lopez's home is on county property, he is allowed to stay.

"The county does not have a building code for single-family residential structures. We do have a fire code that covers multi-family structures and commercial structures. As far as regulatory authority for a single-family home, we don't have the capacity or the authority to regulate," Arredondo says.

Arredondo adds the majority of counties in the state do not have regulatory authority over all structures within their borders.

For a list of all the housing authorities in the Valley, look below.

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