Thames River Apartments residents to receive notice to vacate

The Thames River Apartments in New London Friday, Nov. 25, 2016.    (Tim Cook/The Day)
The Thames River Apartments in New London Friday, Nov. 25, 2016. (Tim Cook/The Day)

New London — Residents at Thames River Apartments can expect an order to vacate their Crystal Avenue units next month, another sign that relocation out of the troubled apartment complex is on the horizon.

New London Housing Authority interim Executive Director Lee Erdmann said the 90-day order is a requirement from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, now that Section 8 tenant protection vouchers have been issued to the majority of the families and the search for outside apartments is underway. The 90-day expiration date for the vouchers can be extended for up to 60 days for extenuating circumstances but adds to the sense of urgency for residents searching for new homes.

About 111 vouchers were issued over the last several weeks during meetings between residents and representatives from John D’Amelia Associates, the company contracted by the state Department of Housing to administer the vouchers.

The 349 people at the 124-unit federally subsidized complex for low-income families have waited for years for relief from what many have complained are deteriorating conditions that have included lack of hot water and concerns over insect and rodent infestations, among other things. A more than decade-old class-action lawsuit by residents against the Housing Authority over unsanitary and unsafe conditions led to a stipulated court judgment in 2014 that mandates new housing for the tenants.

Voucher distribution at a recent meeting elicited smiles among recipients. The vouchers, valid anywhere in the U.S., represent the promise of better living conditions.

"I'm excited. I don't want to be here," said Janie Scanlon, a 29-year-old resident who has a 4-year-old daughter and works at one of the casinos.

Scanlon, who is looking for an apartment in the Montville area, moved into Thames River Apartments at the age of 14 with family and said she and others had remained skeptical this day would actually come.

"No one believed it was going to happen. It's been years," Scanlon said. "It was bad 15 years ago. It's worse now. My apartment is clean and I still have mice and roaches because of my neighbors."

Michelle Molina, program director for J. D'Amelia and Associates, led a presentation last week for one group of residents, explaining everything from housing costs to the inspection process once an apartment is located.

"We have a lot of people eager to get out," Molina said.

HUD late last year released $1.28 million to fund the housing vouchers in response to the New London Housing Authority’s disposition application to HUD. HUD agreed that with the condition and location of the high-rises in an industrial area of the city, the complex was not well suited for multifamily use. Mayor Michael Passero has said it will be the end of an era of isolating families in substandard housing.  

Instead of the unit-based subsidies attached to the apartment complex, HUD agreed to issue mobile vouchers through the Housing Choice Voucher program, which is the federal government’s major program for helping low-income families, the elderly and the disabled to afford housing in the private market.

Federal requirements attached to the vouchers include provisions that the tenants' new apartments meet certain quality standards and the rent is reasonable based on the size and condition of each unit. HUD has established fair market rent prices for different regions across the state. In the New London/ Norwich area for example, the payment standards used range from $900 for a one-bedroom to $1,950 for a four-bedroom unit with utilities included.

D’Amelia representatives plan to inspect each apartment’s physical condition and ensure “rent reasonableness” to assure it has the attributes and amenities of similarly priced units in the region. It also must be affordable. Residents at Thames River were paying 30 percent of their gross annual income for rent but will pay between 30 and 40 percent with the vouchers. The actual size of the federal subsidy is based on a formula that includes family size.

A team from Glendower Group, contracted by the New London Housing Authority to handle the relocations, has compiled a list of about 100 apartments in the region as a starting point for residents in the search for new homes.

Erdmann said residents, who also are encouraged to find homes on their own, will be given at least three choices each. Glendower, holding office hours at Thames River five days a week, will drive families to view the apartments if transportation is needed and help fill out the application with the landlords.

“They are providing under contract whatever assistance the residents need to find an apartment,“ Erdmann said. “There will be someone there at the lease signing when we get to that point.”

The lease is between the tenant and landlord and residents will be responsible for the upkeep of their new apartments. They are subject to annual inspections and still must meet income criteria that allow them to receive a voucher.

The Housing Authority is paying for moving expenses and the security deposit at the new apartments. Glendower is expected to award a bid contract for a moving company this week.

Residents ultimately will be required to sign a one-year lease. Erdmann said the goal is to have everybody out by June. The Housing Authority plans to sell the property to the city once it is empty.

Erdmann said there are a total of 117 families living in the complex. There are still a small handful of families working to complete the appropriate paperwork in order to receive vouchers. Five families recently were notified their income was too high to be eligible for apartments in New London County, which offers the lowest rents in the state. D'Amelia is reviewing the income levels and may yet determine they meet low-income guidelines for the county, Erdmann said.

Two families were found eligible to reside at Williams Park Apartments, a federally subsidized complex reserved for elderly and disabled, managed by the city Housing Authority on Hempstead Street.

Clytie Wells, 93, perhaps the oldest resident at Thames River Apartments, is expected to be among the first to leave. She is moving to Williams Park Apartments. Her aide, Henrietta Jones, said Wells has lived at the complex for 41 years.

“It’s been a long process,” Jones said.

g.smith@theday.com

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