Ceiling Collapses On West Rock Kids

Debbie Hill complained to the housing authority months ago that her kitchen ceiling would collapse. It finally did, sending two children to the hospital.

Hill (pictured) lives at 18 Lodge St. in the Westville Manor housing complex, run by the city housing authority in West Rock.

Her son, Taliferro Jones, was at the apartment with his daughter, Talizha, and a cousin, Honesty Gomez, Wednesday morning. Jones was washing dishes. Talizha, who’s 13, was making a salami sandwich with mayonnaise as a snack for after school. Honesty, who’s 5, was standing nearby.

All of a sudden, a chunk of sheetrock fell from the ceiling, hitting all three of them. All three were sent by ambulance to the hospital, where they were treated and released for head and neck injuries.

The chunk measured 1 foot by 2 feet, and fell at 9 a.m., according to housing authority spokeswoman Jasmin Franjul.

It left debris on the kitchen floor and counters.

“This is off the hook!” grumbled Hill Wednesday afternoon as she swept the floor with a broom.

“This is really aggravating,” she said. “I told the man last week” about the problem.

Hill said she has been trying to get the problem fixed for a long time. She first called the housing authority in April, when water was leaking through the ceiling in the same spot. The workers made a short-term fix, but the ceiling continued to crack and look worse. Hill, who’s the president of the Westville Manor tenants’ association, said she has made numerous requests since then for workers to fix the problem, but they have never returned.

“They never fix nothing,” she said.

“It’s not just this apartment, it’s every apartment,” Hill said. “This is crazy.”

The housing authority’s Franjul confirmed workers did some repairs to the ceiling in April. She confirmed that Hill put in a work order on Sept. 13 reporting a crack in her kitchen ceiling. She said the housing authority doesn’t have records of Hill complaining about the ceiling between those dates.

“We’ve responded to her requests. Repairs have been done,” she said.

“The exact cause of the ceiling collapsing has not been determined and still under investigation,” she wrote in an email.

Brian Jenkins, a family friend and a neighborhood activist who has been helping to resolve the situation, placed the blame on the housing authority employee who serves as property manager, not on the housing authority as a whole.

“This property manager is derelict,” he said. “It’s his responsibility as a property manager to make sure that when a resident makes a request regarding damage to the property,” that the problem gets fixed. He said he personally witnessed Hill tell the property manager about the problem about her ceiling at a meeting in April.

Hill said the drywall began to fall Tuesday night. She intended to call the housing authority Wednesday morning. She went out to an appointment Wednesday morning; her son helped the kids prepare for school.

“The next thing I know, I’m getting a call—the damn ceiling fell in,” she said.

The collapse unleashed a crew of winged insects that had apparently been living in the ceiling. On Wednesday, they were crawling over food left on the counter when the kids were whisked away to the emergency room.

The pieces of drywall hit 5-year-old Honesty in the head, giving her a big bump, according to her dad, Twaine Gomez. All three were sent to the hospital; Taliferro Jones and his daughter Talizha suffered neck injuries.

Gomez, who lives in Dixwell, sends his daughter to Brennan/Rogers School at the bottom of the hill below Westville Manor. He said he goes to work very early, so he drops off Honesty at Hill’s house so she can walk to school along with Talizha.

He said he worried Honesty would be left with lingering trauma.

“She’ll always be scared that ceilings [are] going to fall,” Gomez said.

Workers came by Wednesday and patched up the ceiling with duct tape, Gomez said Thursday morning.

Franjul said the housing authority is planning further repairs.

“An action plan to fully repair the ceiling” was set to begin Thursday afternoon, Franjul said. “This includes temporarily relocating the tenant to a hotel, providing food vouchers, abating the ceiling and testing for mold.”

Franjul said Hill “was given the option to temporarily relocate to a hotel” on Wednesday but refused.

Gomez said the family is hoping for a quick resolution to the long-running problem. The problem extends beyond 18 Lodge, to the many tenants at Westville Manor who are awaiting repairs, but are afraid to speak up about it, he said.

“It’s deeper than just what happened yesterday,” he said. “Those people need to be treated like an equal and respected.”

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posted by: anonymous on September 19, 2013  3:30pm

Why are we giving massive raises to Karen, the director, sending her salary and benefit levels to the equivalent of over $250,000 per year, when ceilings are literally collapsing on the tenants?

posted by: Westville420 on September 19, 2013  3:55pm

Shout out to Aliferro, Talizha, and Honesty!!!

posted by: FacChec on September 19, 2013  4:21pm

The buck stops with Karen Dubois Walton, the property manager is just the go between of the tenant and the service provider work order dept. According to Ms. Hill there are a number of apartments in this development in Simi- total disrepair. The tenant is required to place a work order call to the maintenance department, receive a number and wait for action within 72 hrs, or 24 hrs in an emergency. 

It is evident that the system is not working and neither the manager nor Walton is monitoring the system despite the fact that each receives a daily back work order report electronically. 

Franjul verified the work order was called in April, whereas a plumber responded to fix the leak. 
Between April and September 18th there the one follow-up to pitifully duck taping the loose ceiling. This action is a dereliction of duty, the problem in the system is the division in labor wherein the plumber would have to refer the incomplete work order, over to a carpenter and somewhere in between the work order is lost in the system without a valid means of tracking.

The pieces of drywall hit 5-year-old Honesty in the head, giving her a big bump, according to her dad, Twaine Gomez. All three were sent to the hospital; Taliferro Jones and his daughter Talizha suffered neck injuries”.

Ms. Walton was just given a 5% increase in salary for performance with two years left on her contract, a premature action which did not consider the total operation of HANH and her maintenance department.

Stop working on the Harp campaign and pay attention to your own back yard. More importantly return the money to HANH.

A valid law suit is in the makings.

posted by: anonymous on September 19, 2013  4:49pm

FacChec - Her new 5% raise aside, are you suggesting that if Karen had been working at her quarter-million-dollar position instead of spending her time with Senator Harp (whose immediate family owns hundreds of units that are in far worse condition than HANH’s), she might have been better able to respond to tenant requests and prevent this tragedy?  That’s a pretty significant accusation.  Do you know more about Karen’s schedule than we do?

posted by: BenBerkowitz on September 19, 2013  4:52pm

Hey Guys,

If you know of someone who is having a problem with public housing please document it for them on SeeClickFix or show them how to do it themselves.

These kinds of issues should not go unattended for this long. Especially when the properties are maintained with public dollars as I understand it.

posted by: BenBerkowitz on September 19, 2013  4:53pm

Also, while there have been a number of reports on SeeClickFix from housing authority sites we could use help getting out the word to tenants. Please let me know if you’re interested.

posted by: darnell on September 19, 2013  5:10pm

I fought for these tenant rights when I was running for Alderman; I fought for their rights when I was an Alderman, I always got the same run around from the HANH. I respect Brian Jenkins, but he is dead wrong when he let’s the Director off the hook. How many times does the highly paid management get to say that they didn’t know about the problems? I know we are in an election year and are trying to protect certain folks, but enough is enough.

posted by: FacChec on September 19, 2013  5:32pm

@anonymous on September 19, 2013 4:49pm
I don’t make unsubstantiated accusations or a determination that:
“If Karen had been working at her quarter-million-dollar position instead of spending her time with Senator Harp she might have been better able to respond to tenant requests and prevent this tragedy”?

First, she does not earn a quarter million dollars; secondly, the Harp family holdings have nothing to do with this story or my response. And finally, I do not know Karen’s schedule other than that she reports for work about 8:30 AM until….

I would guess she makes campaign coordination calls during work hours, but takes leave time, if necessary, during work hours.
At least that is what she did while running DeStefano’s campaign in 2009.

What I am saying is that she needs to pay more quality attention to her maintenance department’s functions and practices in order to improve upon instances like this and avoid law suits as this impending one.

Ms. Hill is not the only tenant to bring maintenance problems to the fore front.
Here-to-for tenant wide complaints have been swept under the concrete.

posted by: Anderson Scooper on September 19, 2013  5:38pm

Better call Saul!

posted by: mm on September 19, 2013  7:42pm

What I find MOST annoying is that the ineot Housing Authority employees applied duct tape as a temporary fix on sheetrock.
How hard would it have been to nail a piece if plywood in place?  Duct tape will not stop the sheetrock from falling or keep rodents or insects from entering the apartment.

posted by: Noteworthy on September 19, 2013  9:13pm

The Sky is Falling Notes:

1. Ceilings do not spontaneously fall. They fall from long term neglect.

2. “Didn’t know” is just a lame excuse and is no more valid for HANH than it is for Harp.

3. Jenkins - there is joint responsibility for the haphazard, sloppy maintenance. KDW should quit playing footsie with the board in order to get a 5% raise, and spend 5% more time touring the properties for which she is ultimately responsible.

4. I am sick of people in the apartment business saying they don’t know, they’ve never set foot in there, thought it had been fixed and blaming the tenants for general and egregious neglect. With low income properties, you have to be in and around these properties every week, not once every five years. And you NEVER accept a subordinate’s affirmation that something has been fixed. Trust but verify.

posted by: Billy on September 19, 2013  11:10pm

I wish all the best to Deb Hill and her family. Deb’s efforts on behalf of her community, as the TRC president and as a grandmother are really impressive. I hope the kids recover quickly, and can get back to their normal routines. I also hope Deb gets a speedy response from HANH. Good for her for staying put in her lovely home, instead of taking HANH’s “we’re sorry..kind of” offer of a hotel room.

Shame on HANH for getting so much federal money and running such a shabby operation.

posted by: SteveOnAnderson on September 20, 2013  9:29am

I think these issues are extremely widespread throughout the city and wonder how many of them never register a blip. While not public housing, I was living in an apartment in East Rock two years ago when there was a massive carbon monoxide leak that only was noticed because it was accompanied by smoke leaking into a hallway that was noticed by my two roommates right before they went to sleep. There were no carbon monoxide detectors.

It turns out that the old, unmaintained furnace (that had driven our upstairs neighbors to almost sue the landlord a year earlier) separated from the wall, and carbon monoxide was leaking into the building for hours before my roommates saw the smoke. We called the fire department, who promptly evacuated the building, sealed the leak, and ventilated the building. LCI was contacted, but as far as I know never took any action against the landlord, who I believe still owns the property and many others in New Haven.

posted by: robn on September 20, 2013  9:35am

Winged insects in the ceiling? What would they eat?

HANH Problem solving (shoulda)
Step 1- poke at the ceiling with something sharp like a knife or awl ( something you should always have on you)
Step 2- if the GWB is soft, cut that area out with the $5 saw that you should always have on you
Step 3- identify the source of the damage and repair.
Step 4- temporarily or permanently patch hole

posted by: Brian L. Jenkins on September 21, 2013  10:42am

@ My good friend Darnell Goldson.  To respond to your accusation regarding my “letting the Director off the hook.”  Darnell, I’m ashamed of you to infer such a thing.  I am very connected to this problem.  In fact, three days prior to the incident I took pictures of the potential problem and on the day of the incident I also took pictures.  My point is clear, one can’t simply blame the fire chief if a fireman is illegally lighting a building on fire.  However, one can blame the chief if he/she doesn’t fire him or her for doing it.

I don’t know Karen Walton well at all.  I have had the distinct pleasure of being in her presence a few times, and my impression of her is that she is a very kind person.  Be that as it may, It is my wish to have this property manager removed from the Housing Authority based solely on derelict of duty. I would be remiss if I didn’t also put blame squarely on the shoulders of his immediate supervisor.  In my opinion, they both should be removed immediately!!!

I, unlike you Mr. Goldson, work closely with public housing tenants to help them quell their disputes.  I get paid absolutely nothing!  But it costs me time and money to help these tenants organize, and to teach them how to become more self-sufficient.

I’m a product of public housing. And as long as I have breath in my body, I vowed in the presence of my late mother that I will always fight for tenants rights and to assist them with disputes between neighbors and that of the HA if necessary. 

My immediate concern, however, was with children’s welfare.  After speaking with both fathers and obtaining the assurance that the children would be fine, that put me at ease.

So all of you experts who wish to criticize the amount of money the director makes, here’s my email address. (.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address))

If you personally wish to assist me in making the lives of the those tenants who wish to live a better life, I invite you to contact me expeditiously.  Including you Mr. Goldson.