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    Sunday, April 14, 2024

    Scrutiny of conditions at New London high-rises continues

    New London — A health inspector visited units at the Thames River Apartments on Crystal Avenue this week as complaints continue to mount about the unsanitary living conditions there.

    An inspector from the Ledge Light Health District’s environmental health division inspected homes based on complaints about “mice, mold, cockroaches and the filth,” along with sporadic reports about a lack of heat or hot water, according to Betsy Gibson, the newly elected chairwoman of the New London Housing Authority’s Board of Commissioners.

    Ledge Light Health District Director of Health Stephen Mansfield said six units were inspected. A final report has not yet been completed but he said there was evidence of vermin in some of the units. All of the units inspected had hot water at the time of the inspection, he said.

    If the inspection rises to the level of a public health concern, Mansfield said Ledge Light could issue a public health order and insist the housing authority take corrective actions.

    The inspection and the continued cries for action heard at Tuesday’s board meeting is representative of the turmoil under which Gibson, a former state representative from Groton, takes over the leadership reins.

    The housing authority’s board, mostly new mayoral appointees, faces increasing pressure from residents who continue to complain of deteriorating conditions at the Crystal Avenue high-rises. The housing authority was downgraded to substandard by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, in part because of what inspectors found last year at the two federally subsidized properties and because of perceived financial issues.

    Gibson said a request to take Thames River Apartments into receivership still is being considered by the board because of the pressing health and security issues for the 124 families there.

    Receivership is not such a far-fetched idea, according to attorney Robert Reardon, whose firm represented the families at Thames River Apartments in a class-action lawsuit against the city and housing authority that ended in 2014 with a stipulated agreement that residents get new homes.

    Reardon met with Crystal Avenue residents on Monday and with the new commissioners on Tuesday to fill them in on the history of the suit and to encourage support for replacement housing proposed by Peabody Properties and its nonprofit partner, Affordable Housing and Services Collaborative.

    Reardon urged support for the $40 million proposal to build a housing complex at the former Edgerton School and said the site was chosen after an exhaustive, but ultimately unsuccessful search for other suitable properties.

    “It’s a crisis right now,” Reardon said. “The conditions have worsened in the decade we’ve been litigating and since the two years the order has been in place.”

    It doesn’t appear the housing authority will be able to meet some of the conditions laid out in the stipulated agreement. The authority was to obtain all necessary approvals for replacement housing or renovations of the Thames River Apartments by July 1. Construction of replacement housing or renovations is supposed to start no later than Nov. 1, 2017.

    Reardon said he had not exercised his right to take the city or housing authority back to court “because we are giving both entities ample opportunity and some latitude in resolving the issues that are before them before legal action may be taken.”

    He said he hoped to avoid any further litigation that could include penalties and a court-appointed receiver.

    But Reardon said construction cannot start if there is no site to build on and said hopes are resting with the Planning and Zoning Commission to consider the zoning changes necessary to allow the project to go forward.

    Housing authority Executive Director Sue Shontell said she was unaware the health inspection was to be performed but said the three high-rises are on a regular extermination schedule, with any specific problems reported being immediately addressed.

    Shontell said the heat and hot water complaints were addressed with the renting of an exterior boiler that will handle the needs of all three buildings. It was to be installed and fired this week. The complex has one boiler out of commission and another on its last legs, she said.

    Installation of a new boiler and an investment of between $170,000 and $220,000 was not considered while the future of the residents remains in flux, she said. The rental, at a cost of about $15,000 a month, will be used during the winter but not in summer, when demand is lower.

    Commission member Kathleen Mitchell remains unsatisfied with the slow progress of the commission and said she is seeking to form a residents’ organization to ensure people “have a voice and work towards a resolution.”

    “Instead of more hall walking, I want to see someone pick up the phone and call pest control and go over there right now,” Mitchell said. “I want to know the maintenance people have been called to make repairs to the walls that are falling down behind sinks, tubs and toilets. As soon as we got that (HUD) letter, we should have gotten someone over there. Residents want answers and the commission has not delivered. It’s the same stuff.”

    Anyone within the jurisdiction of the Ledge Light Health District can file public health complaints online at www.llhd.org or by calling (860) 448-4882.

    g.smith@theday.com

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