Storm Brings Inspectors To Church Street South
by Melissa Bailey | Feb 13, 2013 11:41 am
Posted to: Housing, The Hill, Winter Storm Nemo
In a surprise post-blizzard visit to the Church Street South housing project, inspectors found 60 of 100 apartments in violation of the housing code.
Remembering dangerous conditions the city found there after a 2011 snowfall, eight city inspectors fanned out Tuesday morning through the privately owned, publicly subsidized housing complex informally called “The Jungle.”
The complex comprises 301 apartments in a drab 1969 cement fortress across the street from Union Station, the gateway to the city for many visitors. In recent years, conditions have deteriorated there as a new landlord, Boston-based Northland Investment Corp., bought the complex with plans to tear it down, then stalled on redevelopment plans. In his State of the City address, Mayor John DeStefano set a goal to reboot those stalled plans in his final year in office.
The violations inspectors found Tuesday stemmed mostly from deferred maintenance, not from storm damage, said Rafael Ramos, deputy director of the city’s anti-blight agency, the Livable City Initiative (LCI). Some failed for minor violations, such as a broken kitchen counter; others failed for more serious concerns such as water running down the wall and an unprotected electrical socket next to a child’s bed.
In all, the violations were less severe than those the city found two years ago, when a poorly installed furnace leaked dangerous levels of carbon monoxide into the air, sending four adults and one child to the hospital. At the time, the city had been chasing after the landlord to eliminate a deadly CO threat. Northland was shamed into fixing up the apartments after that widely publicized episode.
Northland Senior Vice President Peter Standish could not be reached for comment for this story.
Tuesday’s inspections came in the wake of Winter Storm Nemo, which dumped a historic 34 inches of snow on the city over the weekend. In recent days, Ramos has been busy responding to storm-related calls: He has bought Pepto-Bismol, milk and bread for snowbound seniors at 50 Grand Ave. and relocated four families whose roof was leaking at 608 George St.
Amid rain and warming temperatures, LCI has also been checking up on buildings with flat roofs that could be in danger of collapse or leaks.
“Flat roofs have been a problem,” said LCI Director Erik Johnson. “We’re trying to look at places that have been a problem—while there is an emergency declaration and while we have resources in place.”
The city chose to make “proactive” inspections at Church Street South because it not only has flat roofs; it has “parapet” walls blocking water from draining off those roofs, Ramos said. Water damage has been a problem there in the past.
Ramos gave Church Street South management a last-minute courtesy call Monday night warning them of the inspection. Then he gathered seven other city inspectors Tuesday morning and headed over to the complex.
The inspectors fanned out past the abandoned laundromat and community center into the complex’s inner sanctum.
They knocked on random doors in each of 23 buildings.
In a half-dozen apartments, Ramos found no signs of storm-related leaks. He did find “deferred maintenance.”
In one apartment on Station Court, he cited the landlord for a door that didn’t close flush with the door frame, letting a slice of bright light and cold air pour into the room. In another apartment, he marked off a violation for a window that “freefalls,” meaning it does not stay up.
The most serious violation he found came in a second-floor apartment.
“Hello, inspector!” Ramos said, rapping the door with his knuckles.
“Inspector,” he repeated, with a Spanish pronunciation.
He was greeted by a Puerto Rican woman holding her 16-month-old son.
The woman led him to an upstairs bedroom, where two electrical outlets were missing covers.
One sat dangerously close to where her son sleeps. Ramos bent down and took a look.
“He could get electrocuted,” Ramos remarked.
He said Northland or its management company, Community Builders, will have to fix that problem ASAP.
In another apartment, he found stripes of mold running down the walls. He said that’s usually a sign that the insulation has deteriorated in the walls, laying bare the metal studs, which draw condensation in vertical stripes, proving fertile ground for mold.
After making his rounds, Ramos regrouped with inspectors in front of Sandavi’s Market, a store inside the complex.
Inspector Edward Rodriguez (pictured) reported finding one apartment with a leaking roof. Water was running down the walls. The tenant had pulled out her couch and had put towels on the ground, he said.
Ramos said the city plans to issue violation orders Friday. The landlord will have up to 21 days to fix most of the problems, except for those that put tenants’ health or safety at immediate risk.
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Thank you LCI. The city needs to do these inspections more often, and raise the fines significantly so that landlords have an incentive to comply with them.
There’s a big difference between being a child living below the poverty line and being a child living below the poverty line while also living in a crumbling, moldy, poison gas-filled housing unit.
posted by: streever on February 13, 2013 1:06pm
Good job Ramos.
This building is a nightmare, and Standish should be ashamed that he houses people in substandard conditions.
Sounds like this is part of DeStefano’s pledge to get rid of this place…hit it with inspections right when you know there will be problems.
the most serious violation was a missing 35 cent outlet cover? if there was an immediate threat of electrocution, why not take an outlet cover from the parent’s room, until they could get a replacement from the hardware store.
“he could get electrocuted”, but we’ll pass the buck until someone else ponies up .35 cents to replace the cover. great work everyone, way to show initiative.
i work nearby, if there is a shortage of outlet covers at CSS, i’d be happy to drop some off this weekend.
Not amazed at the living conditions since landlord is an out of state property owner. We have a lot of them in New Haven thanks to the current administration. What amazes me is that these conditions have been going on for how long with LCI blocks away and the fact that jaynewhaven minimized the unsafe and unsanitary condtions as simply in need of a cover. Wow!!!
random, i think your amazement sensor needs recalibrating. i wasn’t making light of the danger to the children. i was making fun of the response. a danger was identified that could have been fixed at virtually no cost by any adult who was willing to take some responsibility, and every one of them passed the buck to someone else.
then streever gave the equivalent of a “heckuva job, brownie” in the comments.
granted, the responsibility ultimately falls with the propery owner, but something so simple could have been attended to by the tenents or any of the LCI personnel that were on site, for the sake of preventing harm to the children. i would hope that a new cover is in place by now, but if it is not, my offer still stands.
posted by: streever on February 20, 2013 8:18pm
I’m glad you are so handy! I am not, and have never fixed that problem.
I don’t understand why you think I deserve special attention for my ignorance of home repair?
I’m glad that Ramos made this surprise inspection on a slumlord. New Haven doesn’t typically have a good follow-through rate on these issues (i.e. 17 Lewis Street), so I’m showing appreciation for a guy who works hard and is doing what he should do.
I think my point of view is acceptable, even if you feel my knowledge of home repairs is not.