Groton City joins town in officially voting to hold Branford Manor owner in default
Groton ― The City Council voted unanimously Monday to hold the owner of Branford Manor in default of a tax incentive agreement, a move City Mayor Keith Hedrick said is being taken to protect families who have been complaining about mold and maintenance issues in their apartments.
With Monday’s vote, the city joined the Town Council, which voted last week to hold Branford Manor Preservation, LP, a subsidiary of Related Companies, in default of the agreement signed in 2017 by the company, the city and the town.
The agreement provides an annual tax abatement of about $500,000, and required Branford Manor Preservation to invest $18.5 million to build a new resident services building, and make exterior and interior repairs, upgrades, renovations, and replacements to the more than 440-unit subsidized housing development.
In their votes, both councils said that on or around Sept. 8, Ledge Light Health District issued at least 16 orders for violations of the state public health code, and the city on or around Sept. 26 had 37 open violations of its rental housing code at Branford Manor, with inspections continuing. The agreement requires the federally subsidized housing development in the city to be kept “in good order and repair.”
Branford Manor Preservation has a 30-day period to comply with each violation after the compliance deadlines specified in the orders. If the violations are not addressed at the end of that period, the councils can end the tax incentive agreement.
About 15 people attended Monday’s meeting at the Municipal Building, some holding signs that said “Fix It Now” and “Default Related.” About seven residents spoke about Branford Manor during public comment.
Branford Manor resident Richard Decilorami said a friend who lives at the apartment complex recently sent him a photo of a rat at Branford Manor that is “about the size of a cat.” He also said his lawyers made arrangements for Branford Manor to fix issues in his apartment, but it’s been three weeks and no work has been done.
Branford Manor resident Marilyn Monagas spoke about substantial mold problems, brown tap water and animals such as raccoons she described as “the size of dogs” crawling into the Dumpsters.
“It’s just unsafe,” Monagas told the council. “We’ve given them time. We’ve given them patience. We’ve given them complaints. We’ve called Ledge Light. We’ve called everyone, and we really need your support in solving these issues.”
Representative Town Member Ian Thomas, a city resident, said the tax agreement was never executed properly. He said the community center got built, but center services never were provided, regular maintenance of apartments never occurred, and the systemic moisture issues were never addressed.
Thomas said voting for a default is the first step.
“That is not the cure. That is a step towards the cure and there's many layers beyond that that it’s going to take some tenacity and resilience to dive into, and I encourage you to be as assertive and aggressive as possible when it comes to that time,” he told Hedrick and the City Council.
Town Councilor Portia Bordelon, a city resident, criticized the city for not doing more to address the problems at Branford Manor.
“How come we have not called the criminal prosecutor for the housing authority at the state level at this point yet?” Bordelon asked. “Again, as the city you want to be a separate strong town, act on it. Be the leader on it. Take the initiative to put other pressures on the living conditions of Branford Manor. I don’t have jurisdiction as a town councilor, only the contract for default. You guys have the building inspector. You have the driving force. I have called the Attorney General. He’s stated there’s been no complaints from the city side as of yet. Why?”
In response, Hedrick said he was invited to a meeting by several Branford Manor residents on May 6 to hear their complaints, and he and the deputy mayor were the only elected officials who showed up. He said after he started working with residents to resolve basement access and mold and material issues, then other elected officials got involved. The next week, he met with Related Companies representatives and local management to address issues. Since then, the city’s building department and Ledge Light performed many inspections, and some residents have been offered hotel units as their units are remediated. He said he met on Friday with Town Manager John Burt, Ledge Light, the city building department, Related Companies and Amity Arscott, the attorney for the residents.
“To claim the City of Groton, or myself as the mayor, have not been diligent in following up on this issue is not supported by any facts,” Hedrick said.
He added that he repeatedly asked the management company for a mold remediation plan, a schedule, and plan to move forward, which have not been provided.
City Councilor Rashaad Carter said it is incorrect to say the council knew about the mold and other problems when the agreement was signed five years ago. He said that if the problems were known then, they would have been rectified by now.
In responding to public comment about eviction concerns, Deputy Mayor Gweneviere Depot said retaliation is illegal and if residents think they are being retaliated against by Branford Manor Preservation, they can call the building department and make a complaint.
In a statement last week, a Branford Manor spokesperson said: “Our singular focus continues to be taking the aggressive measures necessary to ensure that every remaining issue at Branford Manor is addressed so that residents feel safe and comfortable in their homes. Certified, third-party, licensed industrial hygienists have inspected every apartment they have been allowed access to by residents at Branford Manor and we will continue to work in good faith with the City and Town of Groton on the comprehensive strategy to ensure all of the necessary repairs are completed as quickly as possible.”
The spokesperson also said the company does not believe there have been any evictions.
Hedrick said he and Burt, Ledge Light Health District Director Steve Mansfield and city Building and Zoning Official Joseph Summers plan to meet to decide how to monitor and manage the issue, now that the city and town approved holding Related in default of the agreement.
Hedrick said he planned to inform the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the office of Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., that both the town and city have found Related in default of the agreement. He said he also plans to send a copy of the letter, once he and Burt sign it, to HUD asking it for assistance so that Related puts needed resources into the project.
Blumenthal and U.S. Senator Chris Murphy, D-Conn, have sent a letter to HUD calling again for reform of its inspection process in light of problems at Branford Manor and federally subsidized housing developments in Hartford. Blumenthal plans to hold a press conference Wednesday morning with local officials at Branford Manor.
HUD issued a statement Tuesday night saying it is monitoring the situation at Branford Manor and have been holding monthly meetings with local officials and lawmakers.
“With ongoing oversight of Related and coordination of efforts, we expect that the conditions found at Branford Manor will be effectively remediated, preserving 441 HUD subsidized family housing units in Groton,” HUD said.