Last January, water leaked from Laynette Del Hoyo’s Church Street South apartment so severely that her daughter developed respiratory complications from the resulting mold.
Her experiences refuted the high inspection score given to the low-income housing complex by the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development less than three months prior. But scores released earlier this month from a January investigation more accurately reflect the living conditions that Del Hoyo and many other residents continue to face.
This inspection cut Church Street South’s score from its 2014 high of 81 to a failing score of 20 out of 100 in January 2016, 40 points below passing. The HUD officials leading the investigation found 1,015 building code violations — 445 considered life-threatening — such as blocked fire exits. Regional HUD spokeswoman Rhonda Siciliano said that the report would not change the city’s, HUD’s and Northland Investment Corporation’s plans for moving families out of the complex. Northland, the owner of Church Street South, moved 58 out of over 300 families into hotels after several residents filed litigation last summer. According to Siciliano, almost 70 percent of residents living in hotels have been moved to new homes.
The results only confirm what parties involved have known for the past few months, she said.
“The plan all along has been to relocate the residents in the hotels and then begin working to move the residents that are still in the CSS apartments,” Siciliano said. “That continues to be our plan.”
For the residents living in conditions that HUD’s inspection found far below livable, leaving the complex may require at least one more month. While some wait to be moved out of hotels, some residents will not be able to find permanent homes until the process for distributing vouchers begins in March. The department, Northland and city officials met tenants in early January to present the two options for new housing: a Tenant Protection Voucher for any home of their choosing or a project-based development that would receive the federal subsidies currently given to Church Street South.
Of the 241 families living in the complex, 198 opted for a voucher, Siciliano said. The future housing for these families is now in the hands of the New Haven Housing Authority — the local arm of federal housing programs — which will meet with each family to determine the size and conditions of their vouchers.
The 43 families deciding to move into project-based subsidized housing will be moved into a temporary apartment while the city, HUD and Northland work to transfer Church Street South’s old federal subsidy to a new apartment for that family. All residents should be out of the crumbling housing by the end of this year, which is around the time when Northland plans to demolish the complex.
The investigation followed an August letter by the New Haven Legal Assistance Association questioning the previous results based on Del Hoyo’s experiences. Because the October 2014 score was so high, HUD would otherwise not have needed to investigate the complex again until October this year.
Northland Chairman and CEO Lawrence Gottesdiener said that after the development organization bought the complex in 2008, it improved conditions in the building, leading to the high score from the October inspection. The particularly harsh winter that followed, however, quickly reversed the strides that had been made, he said.
The recent investigation also found 67 cases of broken smoke detectors, which violate a 2014 Connecticut law requiring them in all homes built before 2005. The other 503 cases contributing to the complex’s dismal score of 20 included broken handrails, damaged walls and plumbing leaks.
Only two other existing complexes in New Haven have also received failing scores in their most recent round of scoring, but neither scored as low as Church Street South. The Dwight Cooperative Housing received a 43 in 2007 and the Ethan Gardens Cooperative a 30 in 2003. Both have since fallen under new ownership. Work crews are currently renovating Dwight, and real estate company Pike International bought Ethan in 2010, said Amy Marx, the NHLAA staff attorney who filed litigation on behalf of Church Street South residents last year.
The Church Street South complex was built 47 years ago.