It sounded like a repeat of an old movie: Water damage causes a public-health emergency at the Church Street South housing complex, leading to families being put up in hotel rooms.
That happened quite a bit before the government decided that the 301-unit subsidized apartment complex across from Union Station had to be cleared out for good and demolished. Only 11 families remain there, with officials working to find them new homes.
Yet that scenario recurred in the most recent snowstorm: A pipe burst in a vacant upstairs apartment at the complex last Thursday. Water damage seeped into the ceilings of occupied apartments below.
One of those apartments was occupied by a family who had been moved from elsewhere in the complex while officials help straighten out paperwork for a federal Section 8 rental subsidy to be used for a new apartment outside Church Street South.
The family’s teenaged daughter told her mother that she noticed the ceiling in her bedroom crumbling. Then, “everything fell on her desk. She lost all her schoolwork, all her books,” said Daisy Ruiz, a staffer at New Haven Legal Assistance Association, which represents the family. (The mom told the Independent she prefers not to be identified or interviewed.) Bedroom furniture was also ruined, according to Ruiz.
Northland Development Corp., the Massachusetts company that owns Church Street South, ended up putting that family and two others — a total of six people — with similarly damaged apartments up at the Village Inn Suites on Long Wharf.
A Northland representative told the Independent Tuesday that “the company is currently assessing the situation” and doesn’t know yet whether or not the plan will be to repair the apartments so families can return or to focus more on finding them permanent new housing.
Northland and city officials say they’re working together to move families out of Church Street South and into new housing as quickly as possible. The process has taken over two years.
City housing authority Executive Director Karen DuBois-Walton said this week that 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 with portable vouchers (meaning they are tied to the renters, not to specific apartments), DuBois-Walton said.
She said of the 11 remaining families at Church Street South, five have opted to seek new apartments in which they will remain on a “project-based” Section 8 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.
NHLAA attorney Amy Marx, whose representation of families at the complex first led local and federal authorities to take action in the first place, called the latest incident “a result of a failure to provide the necessary replacement housing for these families.”
Marx said the process has taken too long, in part because officials haven’t come through on a commitment to find apartments in town — especially ones with three or more bedrooms — where landlords will accept the Section 8 project-based subsidies.
She noted that families won’t be able to move into remodeled Beechwood Gardens apartments for a year — and that those apartments were already housing low-income families. She said New Haven is at risk of permanently losing needed affordable housing in town if it loses those Section 8 vouchers, which the federal government is not expected to issue more of in the future.
“It boggles my mind that New Haven has not secured a commitment to this housing in New Haven. With all this development in New Haven, it is inexcusable,” Marx argued.
$1 Million Offer
Some of the families who have long left Church Street South have sued Northland over the dangerous conditions they endured while living there.
Most of the plaintiffs have joined a class action suit filed by attorney David Rosen. The family of former tenant Reuben Negron has filed its own separate suit. On Tuesday, the family made an offer: Its attorney filed papers seeking to settle the case for $1 million.
The next hearing on the Negron case is scheduled in state Superior Court in Waterbury on March 20. Assuming the $1 million offer isn’t accepted or negotiated, jury selection is scheduled to begin April 9.
Markeshia Ricks and Christopher Peak contributed reporting.
Previous coverage of Church Street South:
• Housing Disaster Spawns 4 Lawsuits
• 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