Residents of Goodall Wooten dormitory told they must leave by May 16

Meara Isenberg and Chase Karacostas

The Goodall Wooten is a plain, high-rise dormitory building located on The Drag. It’s known by residents as “The Woo,” and many who pass by it barely even notice it’s there. 

Some of its residents seek out The Wooten for its low-rent rooms, others for its eccentric community. Last week, they learned the building would be closing its doors, giving them a month’s warning before they must leave.

“One month’s notice at the end of the semester doesn’t seem fair to the majority of us,” said Sebastian Caicedo, the second floor resident assistant. “No written notice. It’s all verbal. A lot of things here feel unofficial.”

The 62-year-old building can house a few hundred residents, but Caicedo, an Austin Community College student, said only about 60 people live there now. The standard lease term given to residents ends May 16, the day they were told they must leave by.

On April 16, residents said they heard of The Wooten’s closing from building manager Kevin Wright, who has worked there for decades. 

“We thought the status quo would continue for at least a couple of years,” said Yusuf Mufti, a resident of The Wooten and biology freshman at UT. “We’re not entirely sure why this is happening. We are all taken aback.”

The Wooten is valued at $5.2 million, and multiple RAs have said they were told by Wright that the building will either be sold, renovated or demolished, but that has been the only information they have been given.

Wright has declined repeated requests for comment, and Allen Green, the real estate manager who controls the building for its owner David McCullough, could not be reached for comment. But residents said Wright has offered short-term extensions to anyone who needs more time to find a new place.

The Daily Texan spoke to nine residents, and none had renewed their lease past May 16. It’s possible some residents may have renewed early, but most typically wait until closer to summer, Caicedo said.  

Nelson Mock, a landlord-tenant attorney for Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, said because the leases end May 16, there is little the tenants can do. Without a lease that extends past May 16, the owners have no legal obligation to provide tenants continued residency after that date.

“There’s (also) no notice requirement for the tenants to leave,” Mock said. “If everyone in the dorms has a lease term for May 16, then their lease just requires that they have to leave by May 16.”

This marks the end of stay for Wooten’s resident handyman, Nate Bell, who also works freelance jobs such as designing websites and making props. His most noticeable project, however, is the aquaponics system that fills his two-room balcony with fish, ferns and fruit, and can be seen from The Drag.

Bell said he plans to move the aquaponics structure to a friend’s tea house garden. He was planning to leave The Wooten soon anyway and has found a place to stay after his lease is up. Still, he said the Wooten closing was a “wake up call.”

“There was a lot of shock and distress early on because people thought this place was a given,” Bell said. “A lot of those people have already come around on it. They’ve got something in the works. (But) there definitely are other people who aren’t in that position.”

Sarnab Battacharya, an electrical engineering graduate student who came to UT from India, had planned to renew his lease in the coming weeks. Instead, Battacharya said he now has to scramble to find a new place. 

“If they had said at the beginning of this semester that, ‘We are going to shut down after this semester,’ that would have been fine,” Battacharya said. “When I came here I only had two suitcases, which was OK, I could move them easy, but now I have a computer, a desktop, all the other stuff that I kept buying here. It’s hard to move with all of it.”

Juliana Gonzalez, executive director for the Austin Tenants Council, a group that advocates for tenants’ rights in the area, said what The Wooten is doing is “clever” because it eliminates most legal obligations the landlord might have to the tenants by letting the leases expire without renewals.

“It doesn’t sound (like) there’s been anything illegal done,” Gonzalez said. “The very smartest way to get people out is to make sure all their lease terms end on the same day or give notice on month-to-month leases for that day. Someone’s kind of brilliant in a really unfortunate way.”

Caicedo said The Wooten has its flaws, but he, like other residents, has become attached to the community there.

“I don’t mind that I have to leave, but it’s the timing, the fact that there’s been no communication,” Caicedo said. “I wish I could’ve left this place on my own terms.”