For over seven years, Natalie Rodriguez, her four children and her husband have tolerated the adverse health effects that came with living in an apartment complex infected with mold.
Rodriguez’s family is just one of 22 that have been displaced from the Church Street South apartment complex in the past few weeks due to hazardous living conditions resulting from the mold. Located across from Union Station, the Church Street South complex has been a point of contention over the last few weeks since the Livable City Initiative condemned 19 separate buildings and ordered the relocation of 22 of the apartment’s occupants to area hotels. The Livable City Initiative, a city department charged with enforcing building code compliance, inspected the buildings last month after six different residents filed complaints of inhospitable living conditions. For several years, many tenants have been complaining to apartment management about health issues stemming from the rampant growth of mold in their buildings.
“[Mold] was sprouting behind the washer and dryer, and whenever I smelled it, I’d get a headache and throw up,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez said she had complained about the mold to apartment management in 2008 but had received no response.
Northland Investment Corporation, the owner of the apartment complex, has been paying for hotel rooms for the displaced families. The Church Street South complex was subsidized by the federal government — Northland received roughly $3 million a year in Section 8 rent subsidies from the federal government for the maintenance and upkeep of the 301 units in the complex. Starting this year, Northland will no longer be receiving Section 8 subsidies from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Two weeks ago, Mayor Toni Harp condemned Northland on the WNHH radio show “Dateline New Haven.” Harp said she would be extremely apprehensive about collaborating with the company in the future.
“They have put people’s lives at risk by not maintaining their property,” she said. “Why would we want to trust them again? It’s certainly the best example of how a company can come in, land bank and destroy a community.”
Both Northland Investment Corporation and the Livable City Initiative declined to comment on the situation.
New Haven attorneys Yonatan Zamir and Amy Marx LAW ’00 represent the tenants. Zamir said he believes Northland has clearly not been using the government subsidy to preserve the complex, despite the company’s claims.
Zamir said he and his firm are trying to get answers as to why buildings quickly deemed unsafe by city investigators had passed years of inspection by HUD.
“For Northland to have continued to receive their subsidy from the government, the apartment complex had to have undergone yearly examinations,” Zamir said. “Inspectors typically assess a sample of 10 to 15 units, so it’s possible that they were simply analyzing the wrong ones, but it’s still puzzling that this happened year after year.”
For the past few weeks, Northland has been negotiating with Elm City Communities, New Haven’s housing authority, to find rentals in the private market for displaced tenants. HUD has recently approved 50 Section 8 housing vouchers for relocated tenants of the complex to use for other housing . Under the voucher program, individuals or families find and lease a unit either in a specified complex or in the private sector.
According to Zamir, Rep. Rosa DeLauro, who represents New Haven, has written to HUD for an additional 100 vouchers.
Before relocations began, over 280 families lived in the Church Street South complex.