High rise questions met with few answers

New London — Many of the more than 50 people who filled a cramped community room at the Thames River Apartments complex on Tuesday had one question on their mind: “When?”

The 119 families living at the Crystal Avenue high-rises are awaiting word on exactly when they will be able to move out and when they can expect the Section 8 vouchers they were promised.

The housing authority’s application to vacate the aging apartment complex, citing the fact it is an unfit location to raise a family, was approved by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development earlier this month. The goal has been to move residents out by the end of the year.

Representatives from the state division of HUD were on hand Tuesday to present the basics of the housing choice voucher program but were forced to defer some of the questions to a later date.

“How long before we get that phone call? That’s what I want to know. Are we going to be here another winter? Are we going to be here for another summer? I want to get the hell out,” announced Zenobia Ramos, a mother of four. “I want my kids to have a better life.”

Like others living in the federally subsidized complex managed by the New London Housing Authority, Ramos has stories of rust-tainted water, mold, bugs and rodent infestations in her apartment that have her anxious to leave.

And while the housing authority has HUD approval to vacate the complex, the process of distributing the Section 8 vouchers has yet to start. The distribution process is likely to be phased, with about 30 residents a month moving out, though it is unclear in what order the residents will be chosen.

It seemed clear after Tuesday’s informational meeting that all residents will not be out by year’s end.

It was anounced Tuesday that the administration of the vouchers will be handled by the Connecticut Department of Housing, through John D’Amelia Associates, which has office space at the TVCCA headquarters in Norwich. The timeline for the distribution of the vouchers has not yet been worked out.

The Glendower Group, hired by the housing authority to aid in the relocation, has already interviewed residents to gather information about family size and where people want to live. The residents can move anywhere in the United States, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands and Guam.

Jeanette Rios, 39, said she wants to take her kids to Alabama, and away from what she said is an unhealthy environment to raise children, especially one with asthma.

“I have a sister that lives there. It’s cheaper living, and there are a lot of jobs,” she said.

Residents are being encouraged to seek out a home of their own choice as the task of locating homes in the desired locations begins. Under the voucher program most residents will pay 30 percent of their gross income, similar to what they are paying now.

The biggest difference for residents is they will be dealing with a lease with a private landlord.

Marisol D. Peterson, a HUD portfolio management specialist, tried to ease nerves and told the crowd gathered on Tuesday that she had lived in Hartford public housing for 17 years and has been with HUD for more than 20 years.

“This kind of activity — you are not the only residents who have gone through this,” Peterson said. “You are going to continuously have questions. ‘I don’t know what’s going on. I’m afraid. I need questions answered. What do we do next?’” she said. “This is not the first time we as an office have dealt with a crowd this size or larger.”

Jennifer Gottlieb Elazhari, the director of HUD’s Office of Public and Indian Housing, said more questions will be answered when residents meet with representatives from the Connecticut Department of Housing.

"I want you all to know the city is committed. We've come a long way and we are beyond the point of no return. It's going to happen but we can't tell exactly if it's going to be next month or the month after that," said Mayor Michael Passero.

The 124-unit Thames River Apartments has long been the source of angst for the housing authority and city officials as complaints about the unsanitary and unsafe conditions have continued for years. Attorney Robert Reardon, representing the tenants pro bono in a class action lawsuit, secured a 2014 court-stipulated agreement to find new homes or rehab the existing homes.

g.smith@theday.com

 

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