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    Monday, May 20, 2024

    Tenants of New London high-rises ponder possible future move

    A tenant in the Thames River Apartments shows some of the damage in her apartment Friday, Nov. 4, 2016. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
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    New London — Keisha Muniz took a moment Friday to swat at a roach crawling along the kitchen counter at her modest apartment on the fifth floor of one of three high-rises off Crystal Avenue.

    It’s nothing new, according to the 28-year-old mother of three and longtime resident of the Thames River Apartments.

    Problems have persisted throughout her stay despite repeated requests to the maintenance department and some extermination attempts of her own. She stays vigilant with her 1- and 2-year-old kids out of fear they might pick something up off of the floor and put it in their mouths. She keeps her windows closed, despite the heat, because of lack of screens and fear her children might crawl out.

    “I’ve been here 10 years. I’ve had it,” Muniz said.

    Muniz is one of a growing number of tenants who have been speaking more publicly about the conditions that have led to a class-action lawsuit, a substandard rating from Department of Housing and Urban Development and recent inspections by Ledge Light Health District.

    There was a glimmer of hope for residents this week with news that the New London Housing Authority’s Board of Commissioners favors a plan of action: an application for disposition with HUD, to remove all of the tenants — nearly 380 of them from 124 families — and help them relocate elsewhere. That could happen in about six months, according to estimates from city officials.

    It’s an emergency measure of sorts that needs a host of federal and state approvals but, if successful, would allow the tenants to take federally subsidized vouchers to an apartment of their choice anywhere in or outside the city, according to board Chairwoman Betsy Gibson. Residents pay 30 percent of their income toward rent under the federal HUD program and would continue to pay the same at a HUD-approved apartment.

    The board meets next week to vote on the move.

    Mayor Michael Passero said he also favors the move, considering the poor financial shape of the Housing Authority and its inability to tackle what could be a major crisis.

    Just where Muniz would move if given the opportunity is unclear, but she said it “won’t be a high-rise.” She is not excited about the proposal for a new development at the site of the former Edgerton School, which to her sounds like a transfer of the same problems.

    Her concerns about the future are shared by others in the complex who complain of infestations of bugs and mice, leaky plumbing and mold thriving in the bathrooms where ventilation systems appear to be overtaxed. Muniz said she has taken to sleeping on the couch because of a water leak in her ceiling.

    Jeanette Parker, another Crystal Avenue resident, mother of two and member of the Housing Authority board, said she also would look to move. Parker, however, feels the proposed 124-unit development at the former Edgerton School is something sorely needed — a new, safe and clean home for long-suffering, low-income residents.

    Parker, who is disabled and underwent open heart surgery last year, has lived at Thames River Apartments for the past year and says it has deteriorated much since she lived there in 1989, when her son was born.

    But she’s something of a neat freak and her unit is immaculate — no small feat, she said, because it takes constant cleaning to avoid the growth of mold. He main concern, and the reason she agreed to be appointed to the board, is the children.

    “It’s a mess over there. Not only is it dirty ... There’s no playground. There’s nothing for them to do or play with. I’m looking for something like movie nights, arts and crafts nights, reading nights,” she said. “Let's try to get a program going to see how it goes so the kids can come home and have something to look forward to.

    “Seeing people living under these conditions is heartbreaking,” she said. "We chose to live here because it's what we can afford."

    While some of the sanitary issues may be caused by tenants, Parker said the vast majority of people living there are good people and families that look to help one another when they can.

    Others contacted for this story spoke of similar issues in their units but declined to speak publicly or give their names. Parker said tenants are afraid that bad publicity for the Housing Authority could lead to intimidation by agency employees or threats of eviction.

    Housing Authority Director Sue Shontell adamantly has denied claims of intimidation.

    g.smith@theday.com

    Damage is seen in a Thames River Apartments unit on Friday, Nov. 4, 2016. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
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