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.
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.”
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.