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    Sunday, April 14, 2024

    Attorney says city shirking its duty at Crystal Avenue high-rises

    New London — The attorney representing the 124 families at the Thames River Apartments has issued an April 1 deadline to the city to show its commitment to a 2014 court-stipulated agreement to find safe and sanitary homes for the residents at the troubled Crystal Avenue high-rises.

    Attorney Robert Reardon spent more than a decade sparring with the New London Housing Authority as part of a class-action lawsuit he filed to force the city to address what he called the deplorable conditions at the apartment complex. On the eve of a trial in August 2014, an agreement was signed that mandated new homes for the residents and a timeline dictating the stages of how that should occur.

    Reardon said the city is in default of that agreement with few signs that new homes or improvements to the existing homes are on the horizon. He said further litigation may be necessary. The default could lead to a court-appointed receiver, reopening of the lawsuit and potential financial damage awards, Reardon said.

    “This has been going on for so long and there have been so many different variations about what they plan to do to solve this chronic and horrendous problem,” Reardon said. “While there were periods of improvement, it’s as bad now as when we first decided to bring a lawsuit. Something has to be done. It’s going to have to be done promptly.”

    The suit began, Reardon said, when a single mother came to his firm with a serious arm injury after having slipped on human feces outside her apartment door.

    Residents at the high-rises have over the past year complained of rodents and cockroaches and a general lack of maintenance. The most recent concern voiced by residents is related to a lack of hot water, or intermittent hot water, flowing to the units. Some people say they are boiling water to take baths or wash dishes.

    Reardon has asked that by April 1 the city propose a revised timeline for terms of the original court-stipulated agreement and an outline of its plans. His request follows a Feb. 2 meeting he had with Mayor Michael Passero, Housing Authority Board Chairwoman Betsy Gibson and new Housing Authority Executive Director Roy Boling.

    “When I had the meeting I was not convinced they had a real game plane to get this done within a reasonable period of time,” Reardon said. “I feel like at some point we have to report back to the judge on the order because … over two years has passed and it has not been complied with and the court needs to be informed of that.

    “The revised timeline has to consist of what they’re going to do here and when they’re going to do it so these 124 families can have safe, habitable housing as soon as possible,” Reardon said.

    The timeline in the original court-stipulated agreement with the housing authority calls for funding for replacement housing or renovations to be in place by March 1, 2016, federal Department of Housing and Urban Development approval for replacement housing or renovations by July 1, 2016 and the bidding process for renovation or replacement to begin by Jan. 1, 2017. Construction is supposed to start by Nov. 1, 2017, according to the agreement.

    Gibson said the housing authority board, composed of members who were not on the board at the time of the suit, has tried its best to address the issues.

    Inspired in part by the recent decommissioning of a boiler at the apartment complex, which has been replaced with a portable unit, the city agreed to apply to HUD for subsidized vouchers in an effort to move the residents elsewhere. While the authority hired TAG Associates to apply to HUD for the vouchers, submission of the application is weeks or months away with no guarantee for success.

    The Housing Authority in 2015 enlisted two Massachusetts-based companies, Affordable Housing and Services Collaborative and Peabody Properties doing business as F.W. Edgerton LLC, to develop replacement homes. The companies purchased the former Edgerton School site at 120 Cedar Grove Ave. and developed a plan for a 124-unit complex. But a needed zone change was rejected by the Planning and Zoning Commission.

    Tenants remain frustrated with the lack of action, Reardon said.

    He said that in addition to a revised timeline, he is urging the city to get behind a revised plan by F.W. Edgerton to construct about 70 units, instead of 124 units, at the former Edgerton school and allow the remaining residents to obtain mobile housing vouchers.

    Gibson said the commission and the mayor are passionate about addressing the needs of the residents and the Thames River Apartments is a priority. She said she fully expects that at some point the high-rises will be demolished and residents will have homes elsewhere.

    “Everybody’s working in that direction. Whether we’re moving as fast as Mr. Reardon would like? That’s another question,” she said. “Does Mr. Reardon have every right to be upset? Yes, he does. For me I feel like we’ve taken steps to address the issues and will continue to work.”

    g.smith@theday.com

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