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    Saturday, November 26, 2022

    Branford Manor residents press on with protest of living conditions

    Residents of Branford Manor, and their supporters, rally to protest conditions in the housing complex Friday, October 7, 2022 along Shennecossett Rd. in Groton. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
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    Groton - Residents of Branford Manor Apartments say they want to keep the pressure on.

    About two dozen people — a mix of residents and their supporters — stood curbside near the sprawling 441-unit subsidized apartment complex on Friday to protest what they say continue to be unhealthy living conditions.

    Residents have been complaining about mold, unhealthy air quality, shoddy repairs and an overall lack of communication from the owners of the 47 buildings that make up the complex.

    The Day’s Housing Solutions Lab, a yearlong investigation into housing issues in southeastern Connecticut, recently profiled several Branford Manor residents who said they or their children had been sickened by mold, have nowhere else to live and are frustrated with the lack of response from the management.

    Attorney Amity Arscott, who represents more than 100 of the estimated 1,300 Branford Manor Apartments tenants, called the problems systemic.

    “It’s chronic moisture resulting in pervasive mold,” Arscott said. “Over 70% of the buildings here have mold. We are here to keep the pressure on everyone — everyone who has a say in making sure Groton residents, including hundreds of children, are living in safe habitable homes where they can breathe.”

    Valarie Levy, 39, who has lived with her 2-year-old daughter at Branford Manor for about 10 months, said she’s been staying at a hotel for the past month because of the unhealthy conditions that led to repairs to her unit.

    Even before there was visual mold, Levy said there was a moldy smells and tests that revealed poor air quality.

    “It’s in my daughter’s toys. It’s in all of our possessions. We had to dispose of all three of our air conditioners. They just became encased in mold. It was causing my daughter to vomit,” she said.

    She said along with the mold, there is the issue of a lack of proper repairs and is worried about what awaits when she returns.

    Town Council member Portia Bordelon, who organized Friday’s protest, said people may have only recently started coming out with complaints, but the problems at Branford Manor are not a new issue.

    “People have been afraid to speak up because there is no other low income housing in the town of Groton where you can bring children,” Bordelon said. “This is it. Once they’re in here, they’re afraid they have nowhere else to go.”

    Bordelon said she also wonders why problems persist in light of the $55 million obtained by the Branford Manor owners from the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority for maintenance and upgrades.

    “Where did that money go?” Bordelon said.

    “I plan to stand with these residents until they can sleep comfortably and not worry about raising their families in deplorable conditions,” she said.

    Among the protesters was Maria Torres of Florida, who stood with a sign reading “We cannot breathe.”

    Torres she has been staying at the apartment of her daughter, 36-year-old Inez Vergara, who died of an unknown cause on Sept. 10.

    Vergara had been living in Branford Maor with her 11-year-old daughter since November of 2021 and had been complaining about health problems and fighting with management over the mold issues in her unit. Torres suspects the unhealthy conditions contributed to her death, but said it has not yet been proven through medical records.

    “I don’t think people’s lives should be played with,” Torres said. “Its not fair to people’s lives. They’re not cattle.”

    Sandra Fetters, 52, who has lived at Branford Manor for the past eight years with her two kids, has been staying at a hotel for the past several months.

    “My doctor told me to abandon my apartment. It’s toxic in there,” Fetters said.

    Fetters claims she’s been diagnosed with Farmer’s Lung, or hypersensitivity pneumonitis, from breathing in mold. Both of her children have health issues, she said.

    While Branford Manor says it has another unit for her to stay in, Fetters said she remains hesitant.

    “If I go in there I may end up dying,” she said.

    In a statement released on Thursday, Branford Manor Apartments said, in part, “The health and safety of residents continues to be our top priority as we diligently work under the plan developed in partnership with The Town and The City of Groton to rectify any concerns raised at Branford Manor.”

    “We are responding to any issue raised by local agencies and residents as soon as they arise and continue to report on the progress,” the statement reads.

    Branford Manor is owned by Branford Manor Preservation, L.P., a subsidiary of Related Companies.

    The statement was a response to news of an upcoming discussion by the Groton Town and City of Groton councils about holding the owners in default of an agreement that provides an annual $500,000 tax abatement/.

    Groton Town Council member Aundré Bumgardner, in a statement, said it appears Related Companies, “controlled by a gentleman worth over $8 billion,” is trying to drive out the tenants without legal ramifications.

    “On May 25, I formally called for holding them in default of the 30-year tax stabilization agreement and only now has the City relented. It should never have taken this long to acknowledge what is essentially criminal,” he said.

    G.smith@theday.com

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