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Blumenthal visits Branford Manor to hear residents' concerns about mold

Groton — Branford Manor resident Latasha Burage told U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., who visited the public housing development on Friday, that mold is one of the biggest issues tenants are facing, with the stench of mold apparent in some units as soon as people open the door.

Blumenthal called mold a "very dangerous health threat" that needs to be addressed effectively.

"The stories I've heard are really deeply concerning, and I want answers," Blumenthal said at the end of his visit on Friday in which he spoke with residents and local officials and looked at mold issues and leaks in an apartment.

Burage and a group of about a dozen residents shared their concerns about mold, along with an issue over storage space being closed off, at the 442-unit privately run development subsidized by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Town Councilor Aundré Bumgardner, who reached out to Blumenthal about the residents' concerns, City of Groton Mayor Keith Hedrick, City of Groton Deputy Mayor Gweneviere Depot, State Sen. Heather Somers, R-Groton, who serves on the legislature's public health committee, and Robert Boris, who serves on Groton Economic Development Commission, also listened to residents on Friday.

Branford Manor has told residents that their basements will be closed off and has given them a deadline to remove their items. But Burage said tenants believe management is closing off their basements so tenants can't see the mold down there. If the basements are closed, tenants can't go down to the basements to spray the walls with bleach and other steps to try to control the mold, she said.

Burage also said that after she raised concerns during a recent meeting with local officials and The Day, she received a notice to quit her premises and was told she owed the last four months of her rent. She said she went to the bank to pull up the receipts to prove her rent was paid.

She said UniteCT, which provides rental assistance, was supposed to cover rent for December, January and February and sent a letter informing Branford Manor of that, but is still processing the rent for her, along with other people. Burage, who said she has never been late on her rent, said that management sent her this letter in retaliation after she spoke out. She heard the same thing happened to another person.

Bumgardner, who went with Burage to the management office, said that for her to be served a notice to quit nearly a week after a public meeting "can only be described as retaliation."

"I'm particularly outraged by the potential retaliation because failing to repair or maintain is unacceptable but retaliation is beyond the pale,” Blumenthal said. "People come forward with the different complaints and then find they've been given a notice to quit their apartments or homes. There's no excuse for it."

Hedrick, who compiled a list of residents' concerns to share with Ledge Light Health District during the meeting earlier this month, said he is meeting weekly with management and will ask for a list of the complaints received versus the actions they've taken against tenants. He said Ledge Light is in the process of checking for mold and he's sending the city's building inspector and fire marshal to look for issues.

Bumgardner said there will be a meeting of tenants on Sunday. He said Burage has taken it upon herself to form an association of tenants, but they will be discussing on Sunday establishing a bona fide tenants union.

A U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development spokesperson said earlier this month that HUD will expedite an inspection of Branford Manor.

Bumgardner said HUD has issued Branford Manor a deadline to hire a contractor to do a site-wide assessment of mold and mildew and create a remediation plan.

Resident Patience Clarke said the mold isn't exclusive to basements, but many mold issues are on upper levels and around water pipes.

Resident Valarie Levy, who was there with her 2-1/2 -year-old daughter, Azrielle, said her family moved to Branford Manor about six months ago after being on more than 20 waiting lists for housing. She said someone told her that Branford Manor has had issues with mold, leaks and pipes since potentially the 1980s.

Levy, who doesn't have a basement, said she's on disability and she wants a safe place to live for herself and her daughter. She's grateful for her home, but she's concerned about the structure of all these buildings.

"If a natural disaster happens, these buildings need to stand up and do what they're supposed to do," she said.

"We appreciate the patience and partnership of residents and are working closely with all stakeholders to ensure a safe and healthy living environment at Branford Manor Apartments," a spokesperson for Branford Manor Apartments said in an emailed statement Friday evening.

In a letter this week, Branford Manor management told residents that they can call the management office if they need assistance removing items from their basement and that management is seeking a storage facility “that will negotiate reasonable pricing for those who need it.”

Management also said they have made arrangements regarding “the potential existence of moisture, mildew or other potentially hazardous” materials in the basement and a certified consultant will fully inspect basements within the next two weeks to “determine whether any hazardous environmental conditions exist." If remediation is needed, “the work will be undertaken as soon as possible by a licensed professional.” Management said they will perform quarterly inspections of the basements "or upon resident request" and install water sensor alarms in the basement to alert management of potential leaks.

k.drelich@theday.com

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