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City Turns Up Heat On Dwight Co-Op Landlord

by Thomas MacMillan | Mar 7, 2013 12:17 pm

(6) Comments | Commenting has been closed | E-mail the Author

Posted to: Housing, Dwight

Richard Davis’ landlord “fixed” the pipe that had been leaking water into his basement for three months—and created a new problem in the process. The owner now has 14 days to correct other violations, before the city pursues a warrant for his arrest.

That’s the latest chapter in the ongoing saga of the Dwight Co-op Homes, the four-decade old housing development on Edgewood Avenue, which has fallen on difficult times.

The complex started in 1969 as an 80-apartment housing cooperative, then fell into foreclosure in 2010, following a similar fate to that of other idealistic New Haven federally backed coops from the same period. Bridgeport developer Garfield Spencer—who had a history of legal trouble—picked it up, on the condition that he make millions of dollars of repairs by July 2012.

He didn’t. Dwight Co-op is now half-vacant, with renovations only partially complete.

Spencer, who is still collecting monthly rents, also hasn’t paid his taxes. The city has filed for tax foreclosure, said Erik Johnson, head of the Livable City Initiative (LCI), the government neighborhood anti-blight agency. Johnson said Spencer owes over $60,000.

Johnson (pictured) made that announcement Tuesday night at an inaugural meeting of the co-op’s tenants association.

Spencer couldn’t be reached for comment.

Last month LCI sent inspectors to Dwight Co-op apartments and found a number of violations, including mold and broken countertops. Spencer now has 14 to 21 days to correct those problems, or the city will try to have a warrant issued for his arrest, Johnson said.

Johnson said the city is looking for a new developer to buy the co-op and follow through with the needed repairs.

Johnson said the city will make whatever emergency repairs are needed to ensure tenant health and safety, but that the city is not prepared to take over the management of the property.

Meanwhile, tenants are stuck in the middle, between an AWOL developer, a city agency with limited resources, and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which is also reluctant to get involved.

“Blacked Out”

Richard Davis (pictured at the top of the story), who’s 72, has lived at Dwight Co-op Homes since they opened 44 years ago. For the past three months, he’s been dealing with a pipe that was leaking water in his garage.

“It was constantly coming up,” Davis said, standing in his garage after Tuesday’s meeting.

He said he found the problem after noticing a lingering stench. “I could smell dead water.”

He pulled off some sheetrock and found two or three inches of standing water under his stairs. The water was leaking from a pipe under the floor.

For week, Davis would have to vacuum the water out several times a day. “I lived like that for three months,” he said. “I called Garfield so many times.”

Davis said he got tired of calling. His neighbor, Al Gadsden (pictured), found water was leaking from the pipe into his garage too. He started calling LCI, and his alderman, Frank Douglass.

Eventually workers showed up and made a repair. Davis now has a PVC pipe wired to the ceiling of his garage, coming out of a hole in the concrete floor. It won’t last, Davis said. For one thing, he can’t shut the door between the garage and a stairwell; the pipe is in the way. It’s not a sustainable solution.

Davis said it’s nothing new. “There’s been promises broken so many times,” he said.

For instance, garbage pickup has been spotty. Sometimes no one collects it for three weeks at a time, he and Gadsden said.

“I’d just like it to be back like it was when I first moved in,” Davis said. “Get rid of the slumlord that they hired.”

“Find a developer who can take on the job,” Gadsden said. “Someone who will do what they intend to do in a timely manner.”

Davis said he’s “tired of having your dreams blacked out.”

“Pushing”

Johnson, who helped bring Spencer to New Haven, said the city is looking for new developers. One developer has already taken a look at the site, and two others have plans to assess the property, he said.

Half of the co-op apartments are now clad in synthetic siding. Inside one unsecured apartment, the first and second floors had been gutted. The third floor still had moldy sheetrock in place.

New windows had been installed, but the new door had no handles and was held closed only with a scrap of wood. All the apartment had a open square holes in the wall, possibly for vents that hadn’t been installed.

Johnson told tenants Tuesday night that LCI will secure the open apartments and bill Spencer for the expense. He promised to send staffers to look at Davis’ new pipe/door conflict.

Tenants asked whether they should keep paying rents to Spencer. Johnson said the city may step in to be the receiver of rents, but until then, it’s up to tenants to decide if they want to withhold rent.

Johnson said the city will address “emergent” problems at the complex if they represent a threat to tenant health and safety. But the city can’t work on “quality of life” issues. “The city is not in a position to be the property manager. We’re just not.”

HUD, however, “holds a ‘reverter’ deed on the property,” Johnson said. That’s triggered if the developer doesn’t meet the timetable. “HUD doesn’t like to use that tool,” Johnson said. HUD can be leery of taking on a property with known issues, that it would then be liable to fix, Johnson said.

Meanwhile, Spencer is still trying to figure out how to sell the property and still turn a profit, Johnson said. That makes it hard to determine a sale price to give to new potential buyers.

“Every time I come down here, I feel bad because I know what you want and I don’t know how to make it happen faster,” Johnson said.

Attorney Jack Keyes (pictured), who is a probate judge, showed up at the meeting to give legal advice at Alderman Douglass’ request,. He asked about Spencer collecting the rent: “So he’s taking rent money, sticking it in his pocket, and not making any repairs?”

“Mm-hmm,” tenants said.

“If he’s making a profit every month and not doing anything, you’ve got to raise the ante,” Keye’s said. “You’ve got to push.”

Johnson said the city will “put [Garfield] in jail” if he doesn’t make repairs.

“That’s pushing,” Keyes said.

Gadsden asked about problems with snow removal and trash pick-up.

“We’re going to continue to have a problem until the ownership of this building is transferred to someone else,” Johnson said.

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posted by: AverageTaxpayer on March 7, 2013  1:36pm

Three years later and this HUD development is finally ready for a full transition back to private property!

No more sweetheart deals, no more subsidized housing, and no more income requirements. (See below.) Here’s hoping the City sells this nightmare off to Yale or someone like Pike International. Maybe they convert it to condos.

From this NHI past article:
The 80-apartment complex will have 20 units set aside for people whose income is 50 percent of area median income, or AMI.

Another 20 will be set aside for those with 60 percent AMI; 20 at 80 percent AMI, and, finally, 20 at 115 AMI. Schroeter characterized the latter as about market rate.

In expectation of a happy ending, the Housing Authority of New Haven also passed a resolution Tuesday night at its board meeting to empower its executive director to approve up to 40 project-based rent subsidy vouchers to eligible families who might live at the re-furbished Dwight Co-Ops.

posted by: darnell on March 7, 2013  4:10pm

You didn’t need to look into your crystal ball to predict that this was going to happen. Some of us objected to this deal several years ago (http://www.newhavenindependent.org/index.php/archives/entry/dwight_co-op_deal_squeaks_through/). Besides the fact that this guy was a crook, they were trying to make the tenants into the bad guys, and even evicted some of them.

To the tenants: DO NOT LISTEN TO ERIK JOHNSON AND PAY THIS GUY ANOTHER DIME. Have Judge Jack Keyes help you set up an escrow account to deposit the rents. Erik actively supported and assisted this guy with evicting previous tenants (see the above linked article).

Same ol’ thing.

posted by: kevinmacd on March 7, 2013  4:24pm

I used to be the snow removal company for this slumlord as well. Still waiting to be payed!!! The city needs to send these out of towners packing!

posted by: Razzie on March 7, 2013  6:02pm

I have to agree with Darnell that this deal never, ever should have taken place. It is truly incredulous that $1 million would be given (“loaned”) to a developer like the one involved, who had such an abysmal record for following thru on project commitments. Of that $1 million loan I can only surmise that little if any has been paid back to date. My only regret is that Darnell was not successful in derailing this no-bid give away when it was originally proposed.
In my view, the Administration’s missteps on this project are only symptomatic of the weaknesses of LCI and Economic Development when it comes to dealing with long term development projects. A serious upgrade is needed.

posted by: BLACKFEMMEWALKING on March 7, 2013  9:37pm

This is a disgrace. I’m happy the tenants have been fighting to have their voices heard and that they’re alderman is getting his hands dirty with them. LCI needs to be examined… who exactly do they work for/represent? It always seems like they side with the developers, then when things really explode (or surface like with MANDY) they issue arrest warrants to take the attention away from themselves. I’m tired of hearing these stories, these tenants need to RISE UP and FIGHT BACK they deserve safe and secure housing.

posted by: Seth P on March 9, 2013  1:04am

“But the city can’t work on ‘quality of life’ issues”
I he meant to say that the city has no other obligation to its residents.  Or, OUR quality of life should be of the utmost priority.

Question:  Have any of the units been completely renovated? 

If so, mandate that the landlord grant the rent paying residents immediate access to said units.  Effective Monday! 

I am no judge, but that sounds fair to me.

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