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    Friday, May 24, 2024

    New London Housing Authority board hopes to relocate high-rise tenants

    New London — In what may prove to be a historic decision, the Housing Authority board of commissioners has voted to potentially fast-track the relocation of nearly 380 residents from the aging Thames River Apartments.

    The commission, in a 4-1 vote on Tuesday, agreed to apply to the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development for a demolition disposition — which commissioners consider to be the quickest way to move residents out of the three troubled high-rises off Crystal Avenue.

    Housing Board Chairwoman Betsy Gibson said deteriorating conditions and the apparent inability of the Housing Authority to maintain the units prompted the action. One of the more immediate concerns was the installation last month of a temporary boiler which supplies heat and hot water to the entire complex.

    She called it a “critical emergency situation if that boiler doesn’t work and the city of New London has to relocate 124 families.”

    If the application for a disposition is approved by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, a process that is likely to take six months to a year, residents would be issued tenant protection vouchers and the choice of living elsewhere with a federal subsidy.

    The vote also comes in the wake of a HUD notice that designated the federally-subsidized complex as substandard, with insect and mice infestations, mold and numerous physical deficiencies. Similar complaints were the basis for the decadelong class-action lawsuit by residents represented by New London attorney Robert Reardon.

    The suit eventually led to a stipulated agreement that the Housing Authority replace the units. The agreement in turn led to the hiring of Peabody Properties and Affordable Housing and Services Collaborative — organizations who have planned a $40 million replacement complex off of Colman Street at the site of the former Edgerton School.

    But Gibson said the status of that development, both the funding and the local land-use permits, remains in flux and could be several years away.

    “It might take six months to a year to move families out of here but better that than waiting for three years for some development to get built that we don’t even know if it will get built,” she said.

    Housing Authority Executive Director Sue Shontell agrees something needs to be done but said HUD approval of the disposition is not a given and questioned how expenses associated with the move would be paid.

    It could cost an estimated $627,000 to complete the process, she said, more money than the Housing Authority can afford. The cost estimate includes $2,000 per family for relocation and hiring of case workers to help identify HUD-approved apartments for the families.

    She said the authority received about $238,000 in federal funds for capital needs of two federally-subsidized apartment complexes and about $78,000 a month for operating expenses. In addition to Thames River Apartments, the Housing Authority manages a 99-unit complex on Hempstead Street.

    Shontell said her first task after Tuesday’s vote was to explore the costs of a request for proposals for a consultant who could handle the lengthy and complex HUD demolition disposition application process.

    Peabody’s plans for the relocation of the residents ultimately would lead to similar results, Shontell said, but with the private organization shouldering a portion of the costs.

    Affordable Housing and Services Collaborative President Michael Mattos said Wednesday that once funding is secured and a construction site approved, the Crystal Avenue high-rises would go through the demolition disposition process and residents would be issued mobile tenant protection vouchers.

    Upon hearing news of the board’s vote on Tuesday, Mattos said Affordable Housing Collaborative and Peabody would continue to “work in good faith to do what we were hired to do — to replace the existing units.”

    “The Housing Authority has a short-term goal and also a long-term issue they need to deal with,” Mattos said. “In the short term, they need to provide decent housing to the residents immediately. The longer-term issue is to replace those units. There is still a need for deeply subsidized affordable housing.”

    Mattos said Peabody and Affordable Housing and Services Collaborative hoped to be “part of the solution,” and if residents are relocated, they still would be offered preference at the new development.

    “We’re happy to help and assist them in any way they need help,” Mattos said.

    Board member Kathleen Mitchell voted against the measure on Tuesday and was not immediately available for comment on Wednesday.

    g.smith@theday.com 

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