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    Housing Solutions Lab
    Friday, May 17, 2024
     

    Branford Manor residents make a difference with mold complaints

     
     
    Kathryn Pruett talks about the musty smell in the corner of the living room in her apartment in Branford Manor located in Groton. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Latasha Fisher-Harris, a former Branford Manor resident who spoke out about mold issues, shows the kitchen at her new apartment in New London on Tuesday, June 20, 2023. She has had to move twice with her family and lost many belongings. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Scott Mills talks shows the mold issue in the bathroom Wednesday, June 21, 2023, in the apartment where his family lives in Branford Manor in Groton. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Latasha Fisher-Harris, a former Branford Manor resident who spoke out about mold issues, talks about moving at her new apartment in New London on Tuesday, June 20, 2023. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Kathryn Pruett stands outside her Branford Manor apartment Wednesday, June 21, 2023, and talks about how issues in her apartment have not been fully addressed. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Latasha Fisher-Harris, a former Branford Manor resident who spoke out about mold issues, shows how Rubbermaid boxes are still used for storage in her bedroom at her new apartment in New London on Tuesday, June 20, 2023. She has had to move twice with her family and lost many belongings. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    John Mills, left, talks Wednesday, June 21, 2023, about the issues he and his wife, Kristy, have with living in Branford Manor while outside their apartment with their son, Logan, in Groton. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Latasha Fisher-Harris, a former Branford Manor resident who spoke out about mold issues, at her new apartment in New London on Tuesday, June 20, 2023. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Storage pods, used by residents to store stuff from their apartments while renovations and mold remediation work is happening, are seen on the lawn at Branford Manor on Tuesday, June 20, 2023. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Groton ― Latasha Fisher-Harris, who has spoken out about mold at Branford Manor, a federally subsidized housing complex in the City of Groton, said she has always been motivated to make sure children and other people live in a safe and healthy place.

    “That was always my goal: to make sure the next generation coming doesn’t have to endure what we had to endure,” Fisher-Harris, a former Branford Manor resident, said in a recent interview in her New London apartment.

    Fisher-Harris spoke up nearly two years ago, and then more residents came forward to voice concerns about their living conditions. She has since moved out.

    “I think that’s what really made the big difference: everybody realizing that they have a voice and that they are allowed to use their voice,” she said.

    Still, she said she wishes change had come sooner and there hadn’t been so many families affected and displaced, but it’s important to keep growing and moving forward. She said she is there to help as much as she can, and her heart is still with every person at Branford Manor.

    A project to renovate apartments and remediate mold is ongoing at Branford Manor, and the governor recently signed into law a bill that will require the state Department of Public Health to develop standards for identifying and fixing mold in housing. For the standards to then go into effect, the General Assembly would have to then pass another bill. U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, also is working on federal legislation to address the issues raised at Branford Manor.

    There is also a class action lawsuit against Branford Manor Preservation, LP; Branford Manor Preservation GP, LLC; Related Affordable, LLC; and Related Management Corporation, which own and manage Branford Manor.

    But some residents still say they are struggling with mold and other issues, and some still believe their voices aren’t being heard and complete renovations of the development are needed to fix the mold.

    Fisher-Harris said obtaining a voucher through Section 8 was a way for her to leave Branford Manor and settle in a new apartment in New London. However, her first apartment in New London was infested with bed bugs and mice. The family had lost their possessions due to mold at Branford Manor and then had to throw out all their new possessions. They found a new apartment in New London, but she said it’s a struggle because they have to pay full rent due to her husband’s new job, along with electricity and other bills.

    “It’s hard, but it’s worth it because you can breathe,” she said. She said she’s not sick like she was before, and her husband no longer takes asthma medication since they left Branford Manor.

    Mold legislation

    Fisher-Harris said she is hopeful about new legislation, but people need action to help them now.

    “I feel like if they stick to it and they’re sending the proper people to check and make sure that things are being properly handled, I definitely think it would have a great impact,” Fisher-Harris said.

    City of Groton Mayor Keith Hedrick said the mold regulations are needed so there can be standards by which to declare residences safe for children and their parents to live.

    “We are supportive of any science-based initiative that helps to protect our residents and provides regulatory authorities with tools to address environmental concerns,” said Ledge Light’s Supervisor of Regulated Facilities & Housing Katie Baldwin.

    Town Manager John Burt said mold has been a major issue and he wants to see it addressed. He said he knows it’s not easy, but hopefully lawmakers and public health officials will come up with the right standards.

    “I don’t want this to happen here or anywhere else again,” he said.

    Burt said he and Hedrick have weekly phone calls with the owners of Branford Manor. Burt said he wants to make sure once the renovations are done, that they have proper maintenance plans in place. Hedrick said he and Burt are also holding quarterly meetings with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.

    According to the City of Groton Building Department, there were a total of 66 rental housing complaints from June 28, 2022, to the present at Branford Manor, with four still open.

    According to Ledge Light Heath District, it received and closed 87 complaints at Branford Manor from May 11, 2022, through April 27, 2023, and has one open complaint, according to Baldwin.

    Branford Manor Preservation, L.P., the developer of Branford Manor, remains in default of a tax incentive agreement signed with the city and the town, local officials said.

    An attorney for Branford Manor Preservation wrote a letter to town and city attorneys in November 2022 stating it disagreed that it was in breach of the agreement, but is continuing in “good faith with its comprehensive remediation efforts.”

    The apartment complex management informed residents last fall that it is undertaking a project to remediate moisture and mold issues, including replacing leaking pipes installed by the previous owners, and replacing bathroom exhaust fans.

    In a June 16 update to residents, shared with The Day, Branford Manor Apartments said it was continuing to “make steady progress in our remediation work” and “continue to have dozens of workers on site daily.”

    The apartment management wrote that all hot water and sanitary lines have been replaced in apartments with crawl spaces, and 95% of apartments with crawl spaces have new insulation and vapor barriers.

    The letter said that 355 apartments have received new air conditioners, and 323 have new two-stage fans in their bathrooms. All apartments with basements have had their hot water lines replaced, 90% of apartments with basements have had de-humidification ducts installed, 97% of apartments with basements had sanitary lines replaced, and 87% of apartments with basements have had basement windows replaced.

    “We will continue to apply the needed resources to finish as soon as possible,” Branford Manor Apartments wrote. The apartment management also said services are available to residents and events are available, such as a game and book club night, a virtual mental health awareness event, and a nutrition and fitness events for youths on Fridays in July.

    ‘Worried’

    As portable storage units dot Branford Manor, resident Kathryn Pruett said she has seen apartments next to her get renovated, but she is still waiting for her issues to be addressed.

    She said that with mold found in some of the apartments and in the crawl space underneath her building, “there’s no way it’s not in my apartment.” She said splotches appear in the ceiling above her shower in her bathroom on the second floor when she runs the water. Pruett said the spot was tested and she learned from the report from the company that did the testing for Branford Manor, sent to her through her lawyer, that there were four types of mold and the level of contamination was “light.“ She said a later air quality test detected mold on the second floor.

    She said she has received a new bathroom fan, dehumidifier and air conditioning unit, but she wants the mold to be remediated.

    “Mold grows, and that’s what worries me,” Pruett said. Pruett, who is raising two children on her own, said she is worried about their health. Her oldest child never had breathing or sinus issues until they moved to Branford Manor.

    She also said there is a musty smell in the corner of her living room.

    “I don’t make much money,” said Pruett, a store manager, “I raise my kids by myself, no child support, and I’m barely making it at the rent that I’m paying here. I don’t have an option to go anywhere else except a shelter. I should not be forced to live in mold, in stink.”

    Looking for housing

    Sandra Fetters, a former Branford Manor resident, was living in a hotel for a year. She said she was offered apartments that Branford Manor said were fit for occupancy, but she said the apartments had mold and she can’t be around even low levels of mold. After turning the apartments down, she said Branford Manor stopped offering her apartments and stopped paying for the hotel and she stopped paying her rent.

    Her family moved in with her ex-husband and is trying to find a new place, but hasn’t found anything acceptable. She said the mold exposure at Branford Manor has made her more susceptible to it.

    “Anywhere that’s going to be affordable for low-income people like myself, it’s all mold infected, and I cannot throw our lives back in jeopardy even though we’re still struggling on a daily basis,” she said. “We have to live in a bubble now (to avoid mold).”

    Fetters said hopefully mold regulations will save lives. She said she plans to run for a seat on the Groton Representative Town Meeting to make a difference.

    Speaking up

    Branford Manor resident Scott Mills said he had an issue with termites and work was done, but he is concerned there is still an issue below the surface. He and his family are moving to a temporary unit at Branford Manor so remediation can be done on closet and bathroom mold in their unit.

    He said he would like to see a full overhaul to fix mold issues at Branford Manor. He said there are people still afraid to speak up.

    Mills said he also would like to see more opportunities for children and transportation to take them to places for recreation.

    When asked for his thoughts on the new state mold legislation, he said: “I think it’s going to open more eyes, so it should help.“

    Branford Manor resident Julie Robinson, who hadn’t noticed any issues with mold in her apartment, but would like Branford Manor’s electrical and plumbing systems to be modernized, said she was moved out for three weeks so walls in her basement could be replaced. She said one of the walls connected to an old laundry room and she thinks there had been some mold there.

    She said she was shocked to see some of the photos of extensive mold in other residents’ apartments.

    “I think the people that originally spoke up about mold definitely made the difference,” she said. “I mean, they forced the hand to make them come and fix the issues.”

    k.drelich@theday.com

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