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New London — Members of the Reardon Law Firm are holding an informational session at the Thames River Apartments Thursday to bring tenants up to date on a class action lawsuit that is scheduled to go to trial next month.
The firm has distributed fliers inviting tenants to a meeting at 6:30 p.m. Thursday in the community room of the high-rise apartments at 48 Crystal Ave. to learn about the upcoming trial and class-action lawsuit “to improve your living conditions and provide you with safe and habitable housing.”
The eight-year-old lawsuit brought against the New London Housing Authority claims that living conditions are deplorable at the federal housing high-rises at the intersection of Crystal Avenue and State Pier Road, which were built in 1968. The housing authority manages the federal housing project under an agreement with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Attorney Robert I. Reardon Jr., whose firm represents the tenants free of charge, said the firm has been engaging in mediation and negotiations for months with the housing authority, but the parties have not been able to come to an agreement.
“At this point, we’re preparing for trial and need to advise the tenants because they have to prepare for trial,” Reardon said.
The trial is set to begin Aug. 25 in Hartford Superior Court, with Judge David M. Sheridan presiding.
Reardon’s goal is to demolish the three buildings and relocate tenants to more suitable housing. He says the housing authority has been mismanaged and mired in financial problems for years and has missed out on millions of dollars in federal redevelopment grants that have been received by other Connecticut cities.
Reardon said he met with the housing authority’s board of commissioners in May and they spent an hour on the phone with Jaime Bordenave, principal of the Washington, D.C., based firm The Community Group International. Reardon said Bordenave, who is serving as an expert in the case free of charge, explained to the board that they would need eight or nine different funding sources — “a blending of numerous grants” — to accomplish a project of this type.
“I believe the housing authority was truly impressed,” Reardon said. “He explained the complexity of the process, which I don’t think they fully appreciated.”
The authority agreed to resolve the lawsuit with a stipulated judgment that detailed the planned project, but Reardon said the authority’s attorneys would not agree to language requiring them to report regularly to Bordenave and Reardon’s firm.
“We insist we have to follow this closely, because the history is that promises are made and never kept,” Reardon said.
He said it is time to act, because grant money is available now, but is not guaranteed when a new administration takes over in Washington in January 2017.
He said, also, that his expert says tenants need not be fearful of losing their homes or experiencing major rent increases once they are relocated to better housing.
The housing authority in recent years has made several improvements to the property, installing security cameras and high-powered lighting in an effort to eliminate dark corners where drug dealing and other illegal deeds tend to occur.
A rickety elevator has been replaced in one building. The plumbing is being updated and the housing authority implemented a preventive extermination program.
Reardon, though, says the buildings are out of date and are “hopelessly beyond rehabilitation.”