The city and the owners of the dilapidated Church Street South housing complex have presented a united front when it comes to redeveloping the site. But when it comes to taxes and how much the owners should pay, they’ve essentially told each other, “I’ll see you in court!”
Northland Investment Corp., the Boston-based owner of the soon-to-be-demolished 301-unit subsidized apartment complex across from the train station, has taken the city to court over its most recent tax assessment.
It is one of at least four lawsuits moving their way through state courts to resolve unfinished business with New Haven’s biggest housing and public-health emergency in years.
Northland, doing business under the name Church Street New Haven LLC, is appealing the assessed value of six parcels comprising the sprawling complex that deteriorated so badly that officials ordered it cleared out in order to protect tenants’ lives. The company has asked a judge to do what the city’s Board of Assessment Appeals refused to do last spring — lower the tax bill.
After allowing the apartment complex to fall into such disrepair that it was forced to find new homes for its tenants, Northland argues in its court filing that the six parcels with the crumbling buildings are worth less than what the city says they are. The filing doesn’t specify how much less the company believe it’s worth.
Years-Long Relocation Nears End
The land could be worth a lot more once the complex is torn down to make way for a bigger mixed-use development, which Northland and the city are looking to team up on raising financing to build. But for now the process of relocating tenants has taken two years, and 11 families remain.
City housing authority Executive Director Karen DuBois-Walton said 260 families used the emergency opportunity to take their government subsidy to a landlord who would accept it. The majority of the families —229 to be exact — remain within the housing authority’s jurisdiction as renters under the federal Section 8 rental subsidy program, DuBois-Walton said.
She said of the 11 remaining families, five have opted to remain on a project-based subsidy like they had at Church Street South, meaning the subsidy is tied to a location, not a family.
“Northland works with [U.S. Housing and Urban Development] to identify landlords where the subsidy can be transferred,” DuBois-Walton said. “We are not handling those.”
Three families with tenant-based vouchers are waiting for their new unit to pass an inspection before they can sign a lease and three are still looking for a place to live. Northland worked a deal with HUD that allowed it to transfer 82 of its project-based units to another federally subsidized complex in the city, Beechwood Gardens on Whalley Avenue.
Back in October 2016, the city said that the following parcels at Church Street South had the following values:
• 1 Tower Lane, fair market value: $596,200; assessed value: $417,340
• 86 South Orange St., fair market value: $3,118,500; assessed value: $2,182,950
• 91 Columbus Ave., fair market value: $1,198,500; assessed value: $838,950
• 94 Columbus Ave., fair market value: $2,148,000; assessed value: $1,503,600
• 89 Union Ave., fair market value: $1,292,000; assessed value: $904,400
• 169 Union Ave., fair market value: $1,386,400; assessed value: $970, 480
Northland filed an appeal to the Board of Assessment Appeals this past April “claiming to be aggrieved by the actions of the Assessors,” according to the suit filed in Superior Court in June by attorney Michael D. Reiner. The board denied the appeal, prompting Northland to seek relief from the court.
For each of the six parcels, Reiner wrote, “The valuation of this property placed thereon by the assessors was not that percentage of its true and actual value on the Assessment Date but was grossly excessive, disproportionate and unlawful.
“The applicant appeals from the action and ruling of the Board of Assessment Appeals and prays that the valuation of this property on the Assessment date be reduced to 70 percent of its true and actual value,” he further wrote.
When contacted Tuesday, attorney Reiner said that he is not authorized to discuss anything about the case. The court filings don’t say what Northland thinks the “true and actual” value of the parcels are. Pretrial conferences are slated for April and May, according to the state’s judicial website.
City spokesman Laurence Grotheer said in a statement, “It is both the policy and practice of the City of New Haven to withhold comment on matters about which there is pending litigation.”
From Plaintiff To Defendant
Meanwhile, lawsuits against Northland/Church Street New Haven continue to wind their way through the court system.
In November 2016, a class action suit was filed against Northland by attorney David Rosen on behalf of nearly 100 Church Street South tenants and in many cases their children. It was transferred from the Superior Court in New Haven to Waterbury in early 2017 (where a New Haven judge, Linda Lager, is assigned to the case). Court records show that it is headed for a status conference near the end of January.
A plaintiff in the class action suit, Margret Brodie, has a separate slip and fall case pending against Northland. She alleges that on Feb. 15, 2015, Northland’s failure to remove snow and ice caused her to fall and injure her right ankle, her spine and both her hands. She argues in the complaint that not only did she incur medical costs but it diminished her ability to work. Northland’s response: Prove it.
As part of its special defense, Northland’s attorneys wrote, “Plaintiff’s injuries and damages, if any were caused by her own comparative negligence and, therefore, her recovery is barred or must be proportionately reduced in that: 1. she failed to keep a lookout; 2. she failed to exercise reasonable care for her own safety under the circumstances there and existing; and 3. she failed to observe and avoid the alleged defect, the existence of which is denied.”
Northland made a cross-claim against the company that it had contracted to handle ice and snow removal, All-Around Home improvement. Northland argues that if Brodie is determined by the court to be owed damages, the contractor should be the one made to pay up. Brodie’s case is scheduled for jury selection and trial in May, according to court records.
A separate suit filed by a former tenant named Reuben Negron and his family, who lived at 34 Cinque Green in Church Street South, is also moving ahead in Waterbury Superior Court. Three expert witnesses recently submitted testimony to the court that they had inspected the apartment and found conditions of water damage and mold as had been reported by the city’s anti-blight agency, Livable City Initiative, and the tenants.
Master Code Professional Mark Tebbets told the court that he inspected Negron’s former apartment back in July: “I was allowed access to only unit 15-B, however, the entire building appeared to be in poor condition. The extent of the deficiencies found in this one unit would indicate that the entire building was more than likely in the same extremely poor condition.”
He went on to write, “Every room in unit 15-B showed signs of deterioration, broken sheetrock, evidence of water leakage from the roof or wall infiltration and a prevalence of mold on the interior of walls. Inspection of the bathroom showed improper plumbing repairs of the drainage system and multiple repairs which appear to be done at various times.
“All of the violations observed appeared to have existed for a considerable length of time,” he further wrote.
A hearing is scheduled for Negron’s case is set for March; jury selection and trial is set to start in April.
Northland has yet to file a response to that suit.
Previous coverage of Church Street South:
• 20 Last Families Urged To Move Out
• Church St. South Refugees Fight Back
• Church St. South Transfers 82 Section 8 Units
• Tenants Seek A Ticket Back Home
• City Teams With Northland To Rebuild
• Church Street South Tenants’ Tickets Have Arrived
• Church Street South Demolition Begins
• This Time, Harp Gets HUD Face Time
• Nightmare In 74B
• Surprise! Now HUD Flunks Church St. South
• Church St. South Tenants Get A Choice
• Home-For-Xmas? Not Happening
• Now It’s Christmas, Not Thanksgiving
• Pols Enlist In Church Street South Fight
• Raze? Preserve? Or Renew?
• Church Street South Has A Suitor
• Northland Faces Class-Action Lawsuit On Church Street South
• First Attempt To Help Tenants Shuts Down
• Few Details For Left-Behind Tenants
• HUD: Help’s Here. Details To Follow
• Mixed Signals For Church Street South Families
• Church St. South Families Displaced A 2nd Time — For Yale Family Weekend
• Church Street South Getting Cleared Out
• 200 Apartments Identified For Church Street South Families
• Northland Asks Housing Authority For Help
• Welcome Home
• Shoddy Repairs Raise Alarm — & Northland Offer
• Northland Gets Default Order — & A New Offer
• HUD, Pike Step In
• Northland Ordered To Fix Another 17 Roofs
• Church Street South Evacuees Crammed In Hotel
• Church Street South Endgame: Raze, Rebuild
• Harp Blasts Northland, HUD
• Flooding Plagues Once-Condemned Apartment
• Church Street South Hit With 30 New Orders
• Complaints Mount Against Church Street South
• City Cracks Down On Church Street South, Again
• Complex Flunks Fed Inspection, Rakes In Fed $$
• Welcome Home — To Frozen Pipes
• City Spotted Deadly Dangers; Feds Gave OK
• No One Called 911 | “Hero” Didn’t Hesitate
• “New” Church Street South Goes Nowhere Fast
• Church Street South Tenants Organize