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    Friday, January 27, 2023
     

    Action needed at Branford Manor

     
     

    The squeaky wheel adage is playing out for the tenants of Groton’s Branford Manor apartment complex, but mold and other unsafe living conditions at the 441-unit federally subsidized apartment complex remain.

    Residents for several months have loudly and publicly spoken out about unhealthy and unsafe living conditions in their apartments and their pressure has gotten plenty of notice from local, state and national officials and lawmakers who all promise to take action that will lead to improved conditions at the federally subsidized apartment neighborhood.

    The problems were outlined in The Day’s Housing Solutions Lab on Sept. 26. (“It’s ʽraining mold’ and making people sick in area apartments.”)

    Despite these promises, along with ones from Branford Manor’s owners Related Companies, some tenants are still living in hotels, where they’ve been for months because mold in their apartments has caused coughing, wheezing, worsening of asthma symptoms and other health problems.

    These residents deserve quicker action to remediate mold and make the other repairs necessary to allow them to return home to safe and healthy environments.

    U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, said late last week he’s pushing for a federal standard aimed at addressing mold issues. He’s also proposing legislation that would give federal housing officials more enforcement tools to help address issues such as those at Branford Manor.

    On Wednesday, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal visited the apartment complex and conducted a press conference on site. At the event that was also attended by City of Groton and Town of Groton officials, state representatives and senators and candidates for various offices, Blumenthal said he and U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy submitted a letter to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which is responsible for inspecting the property, to put pressure on the agency to hold the apartment complex owners accountable. He also called for revamping HUD inspection rules to specifically include looking for mold. In addition, he said he wants HUD inspectors to have conversations with tenants when doing inspections, which certainly seems commonsense as residents are the ones with the most knowledge about everyday living conditions in their neighborhood.

    While threats from the federal level may help convince those in charge at Related Companies to do right by their tenants, actions taken closer to home by both the town and city of Groton carry the most potential to ensure conditions improve at the apartments. Both the town and city councils in Groton voted that Branford Manor’s owners are in default of a tax incentive agreement signed in 2017. If satisfactory repairs are not made soon, local officials can eliminate the $500,000 annual tax abatement that was granted the apartment complex owners in return for promised investments of $18.5 million in repairs, upgrades and renovations.

    As officials push for change, it is the tenants, who have been persistent in publicly airing their complaints not only of mold, but also of rats and other vermin, along with other unsafe conditions, who deserve much credit. It can be exhausting and demoralizing to wage such a persistent campaign for change, especially when being forced to live in temporary quarters such as hotels.

    “Without the support of everybody, this push would have never happened and it’s so horrible that we have to fight for basic human rights,” Branford Manor resident Sandra Fetters, who is currently living in a hotel, said during Blumenthal’s visit. “Just because we’re low income doesn’t mean that we don’t deserve to have safe, healthy housing.”

    Fetters words are spot on.

    Branford Manor’s owners must make good on promises to improve living conditions for tenants. They need to move quickly and with a sense of urgency to turn this situation around. In the meantime, local and state officials and lawmakers must stand with the tenants and keep the pressure on Branford Manor’s owners until they do what’s right.

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