Wa Liu

Even more families will be forced to leave their homes downtown after city officials declared the Church Street South housing complex a health hazard.

On Monday, over 200 families living in a housing complex across from Union Station were informed that they must leave their homes in a year, the New Haven Independent reported. After they leave, the complex will be demolished. In recent weeks, dozens of families have already been relocated from the housing complex due to safety concerns from the city.

Northland Investment Corporation — the company that owns the 300-plus unit Church Street South housing complex — purchased the buildings in 2008 and continued the complex’s participation in a federal program known as Section Eight. The federal arrangement provided $3 million in annual maintenance subsidies to provide low-income families with access to good housing. Residents, however, brought numerous complaints to City Hall and the New Haven Legal Assistance Association about the slum-like conditions in the complex. These complaints included cases of mold in the water and chronic ceiling leaks, said Yonatan Zamir, an attorney at NHLAA. Over the summer, Zamir said, the NHLAA filed multiple lawsuits on behalf of families living in the complex, many claiming the mold in the buildings has given them chronic illnesses.

“There are leaks coming from the ceiling and leaks where it rains,” said Zamir. “When you have little children who are nearby and breathing in the air, they’re going to develop asthma.”

Northland moved the families represented by the NHLAA to hotels in the Elm City following the suit, Zamir said.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development reached a Sept. 15 agreement with Northland to relocate every resident of Church Street South, beginning with those already in temporary housing, City Hall spokesman Laurence Grotheer said. The displaced tenants will receive federal assistance to help pay for their new homes, he added.

“In order of urgency, the property relocator has agreed to relocate its tenants,” said Grotheer. “The federal government has agreed to provide those tenants with vouchers so that they are mobile.”

Though Church Street South residents could eventually find housing free from mold and leakages, they may still face challenges from the displacement process. Grotheer said new housing will be a slow process for most residents — many will have nowhere to call a permanent home for months.

Kiana Marie Hernandez ’18, a low-income student born and raised in New Haven, said the housing options in downtown New Haven, particularly near the New Haven Green, are likely too expensive for many living in the complex. She said if families must find new homes even farther away from the New Haven Green — a hub for public transportation — many residents will have no choice but to endure longer commutes.

“Having to spend a whole lot of time getting readjusted and being transported takes away from spending time with the family or relaxing for yourself,” Hernandez said. “Being low-income and having a job is difficult because often people work more hours or have to put in more effort to make ends meet.”

Zamir said he hopes New Haven residents and officials turn their attention to similar buildings in the city and work to prevent cases of drastic deterioration in housing conditions from repeating themselves.

Referring to the crumbling of 810 Chapel St., which had to be immediately torn down in August, Zamir said Church Street South is not the only building in New Haven currently too dilapidated to be safe. The Livable City Initiative, which responds to New Haven residents’ housing code complaints, clearly needs more resources to be a proactive presence, Zamir said.

Zamir added that unlike renters in New York City, prospective renters in New Haven cannot find a database that lists all complaints filed against a landlord. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development does not publish the results of their health inspections either, said Zamir. Landlords in the Elm City will be held to better account with more accessible information about the conditions of the buildings they rent to low-income families, Zamir said.

“Low-income people don’t have the same market power. But one way to fill the gap is technology and transparency,” Zamir said. “It is about holding private and public entities accountable.”

Northland Investment Corp. will lend logistical support to the individuals and families who live in and will be vacating from Church Street South.

Correction: This article previously incorrectly stated that Northland Investment Corporation enrolled Church Street South in Section Eight. Church Street South had already been under the oversight of the federal housing program when Northland Investment Corporation purchased the complex. The Wednesday article did not reflect Yonatan Zamir’s belief dilapidated housing exists throughout New Haven and not only in downtown. It also incorrectly stated Zamir believed the complex will be rebuilt into multifamily housing.