On Monday, Nate Miliner, with the help of family, was hurriedly packing up the fouled Carrick townhouse he rented for several months, hauling furniture and plastic bags full of clothing into a small moving van.
But he had no idea where he was headed.
Mr. Miliner, 27, was one of about 14 residents left in limbo when the Allegheny County Health Department issued an order Friday to vacate a complex of townhouses on a narrow roadway called Berg Place after water and sewage problems continued unabated for months, leading to water being shut off and putrid pools of sewage springing up in yards and the parking lot.
Housing woes affect Bhutanese refugees in Carrick
On Friday, the county issued an order to vacate at a long-troubled townhouse complex in Carrick. Many who lived there are refugees from Bhutan. Kul Poudel shares his family's story. (Video by Julia Rendleman; 4/29/2014)
And like many residents, he lamented the deteriorating conditions at the townhouses -- which included a puddle of raw sewage just feet outside his front door -- but said vacating the building had led to new challenges.
Some residents were moving in with relatives in already-crowded apartments. Others were bound for hotels with the help of vouchers from social service agencies, but that was only a short-term solution. And others, like Mr. Miliner, still had not worked out where they would go.
"You don't know if you should stay. You don't know if you should leave. You don't know if they'll lock up your stuff," he said.
As Mr. Miliner loaded the truck, landlord Davin Gartley arrived at the property. Mr. Gartley -- who was cited numerous times for the conditions and even was threatened with arrest -- continued to lay the problems at the feet of tenants, who he said did not pay rent. And he denied that tenants were ever without water, even though he was cited for that by health inspectors in January.
Officials with Pennsylvania American Water and the health department said a water line on Mr. Gartley's property sprang a leak sometime last year, dumping up to a million gallons of water a month into an adjacent property. Pennsylvania American said Mr. Gartley refused to fix the leak, so they changed how his water was metered to force him to pay for the leak. He responded by shutting the water off to the townhouse units and attaching garden hoses run from adjacent units into their plumbing. But the hoses froze and tenants were left with virtually no water for days in the winter.
Allegheny County Department of Human Services sent private social service agencies to the building to help people with the transition, including Community Human Services Inc. The Red Cross was also assisting tenants with hotel room vouchers, as was St. Vincent De Paul.
Kul Poudel, 31, was moving his family of four — his wife, 4-year-old daughter and elderly mother — in with his brother, who lives in another building just a flight of broken concrete steps up from the row of townhomes. Like Mr. Miliner, he was worried about the deep ditch in front of his house, especially since he had a young daughter, and dealt with days without water service.
He has lived on Berg Place since he arrived in the United States from a refugee camp in Nepal, where he shared a three-room hut with the same brother and extended family. Now, he will be sharing a cramped two-bedroom apartment with seven people -- three generations of his family. He planned to pull out a mattress so his wife and child could sleep on the floor of the living room, leaving the bedroom to his mother, Bishnu.
He said he was offered the chance to move into a hotel by Jewish Family & Children's Service, which assists refugees. But the prospect of moving away from his family was too difficult. "It's kind of hard of us because culturally, when we were in Nepal, my brother and I and our family used to be in one [hut]," he said.
Correction (Published April 29, 2014): Kul Poudel is a former tenant of a Berg Place townhome in Carrick. An earlier version of the story misspelled his name.
Moriah Balingit: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-2533 or on Twitter @MoriahBee.