Unhealthy New Haven apartments have HUD taking heed

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NEW HAVEN – Following two weeks of public complaints by tenants in the troubled Church Street South apartment complex, the feds have served notice to the owners of this 47-year-old Section 8 housing complex.

The city’s Building Department and Livable Cities Initiative--New Haven’s anti-blight agency--was ordered by a Superior Court judge to inspect the complex on August 5. This week, Northland Investment Corporation, the owner of the housing development since 2008, was served with notices that water-related problems in at least 40 apartments must be fixed within 10 days, or the company would face serious penalties.

The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, which provides Northland with $3 million in annual rent subsidies for the 301-unit complex, tells Fox CT officials from the department will be back at the complex Monday to reinspect apartments they gave passing grades last fall. HUD says, if the units are not up to code, they will redirect the Section 8 subsidy from Northland to another management company.

Attorneys for the New Haven Legal Assistance Association have filed six lawsuits on behalf of tenants as of Friday.

“The problems in the premises seem to fall into a number of categories: roofs, windows and plumbing, with all three of these things caused by water entering the premises,” says Amy Marx, an attorney for NHLAA.

After regular complaints from tenants through the years, HUD inspected the complex in February of 2013. The complex received 26 out of a possible 100 points. Sixty is a passing score.

Curiously, Marx says, over the next 20 months, HUD's scores of the complex rose steadily by 55 points.

“What’s particularly troubling about this rising scores is the fact that the tenant complaints remained consistent and persistent,” said Marx.

She says Northland has clearly not made any obvious or substantive capital improvements.

Meanwhile, tenants are dealing with the ramifications of living in the apartments.

“Tenants report, and we have seen, literally, thick black mold on their walls and ceilings,” said Marx. “In common parlance, this is referred to as toxic mold.”

In apartment after apartment, tenants are getting sick.

“They're sick with asthma, with respiratory problems, and with allergies,” said Marx.

For a complex the size of Church Street South, which is 301 units, HUD is required to inspect 25 random units.

“One of our primary clients lives in one of these units (inspected last fall) and we know that the conditions in which she lives are radically different than reported by HUD,” noted Marx.

Marx says seven of the 25 units HUD inspected in the fall of 2014 had water leakage present. The complex still got a high scores because the problems were deemed minor.

“So, we've asked, now that we have more information, now that the building inspector has been in, now that code enforcement has come in, we said to them relook at these units,” said Marx, who was later informed by Fox CT that HUD would in fact be back Monday.

Rather than 25 random units being inspected, Marx is asking that HUD take a hard look into the problem as they know it to exist.

“We want a HUD inspector on the roof looking at the roofs. We want hot inspectors getting inside the walls. To see the mold on the walls and opening up ceilings and checking piping.”

While it’s been reported that Northland and city officials have met this week to discuss city and tenant concerns, Marx says that her legal team and clients have been left out of recent discussions.

“The tenants, who live there, have a right to meet with them, to have community forums and have them hear the complaints out of their own mouths regarding their problems,” said Marx.

”Since acquiring the property in 2008, Northland has invested nearly $5 million in capital expenditures to improve the residences at Church Street South, and we continue to pursue an ongoing program of maintenance and repair throughout the 47 year-old complex,” wrote Northland Senior VP Peter M. Standish, in a prepared statement.

“Northland’s priority is the safety and well-being of our residents. We are working with the City of New Haven on a plan for certain repairs to the existing complex and on the long-term future of the property.”

Northland told the New Haven Independent Friday they hope to be approved to construct a new complex on this site as part of the city’s Hill-to-Downtown planning initiative.

On August 5, after the judge’s order, several city agencies inspected the roofs on all of the complex’s buildings.

“The roof was incomplete disrepair,” said Marx of at least eight of the buildings in the complex. “So much so, my understanding is, that the only thing that will fix it is a complete replacement of the roof.”

Following the court-ordered inspection, the city's building department issued mandated repairs to Northland and wrote a letter to the court, which read, in part, “The window sills are soft to the touch and rioting, with signs of water damage throughout the units. The length of time this building has been apparently leaking is a real concern.”