Deteriorated flooring, framing and sheathing are just some of the problems plaguing an apartment complex on Norton Street that the city deemed in danger of an immediate collapse last week.

Nearly 80, mostly low-income New Haven residents learned in late February that their more-than-100-year-old building at 66 Norton St. was structurally unsound. The city ordered residents to leave the building on Feb. 22, and the displaced New Haveners have been searching for new housing, some moving in with their families and others seeking temporary housing in hotels.

The apartment was initially opened in 1920, after being converted from a motel. New Haven Fire Department Fire Marshall Robert Doyle said older buildings are more susceptible to problems and that deterioration is only natural given the age of the Norton Street building. But despite the natural deterioration of old buildings, Doyle said, the building owner has not properly maintained the facility and repeatedly put “Band-Aids” over leaks.

Among the 80 tenants who were forced to relocate, about two dozen were children. City Hall’s Department of Youth Services is currently working with the Board of Education to make sure that the children involved have the support they need.

“An email was sent out to all principals and guidance counselors of affected students. They were asked to do an assessment of student’s needs,” said Jason Bartlett, director of Youth Services. “All transportation was coordinated … so busses and the like are sent to the motels where families are staying to pick up kids.”

He added that since these students are now considered “homeless” by government standards, both youth services and the Board of Education are working to make academic accommodations for the students involved.

After receiving warnings from the Livable City Initiative and the city’s building department, the property manager of the Norton Street site hired a contractor fix the problems with the building. But the contractor’s work was not enough, and the owner had to hire a structural engineer. City Hall declared the building as “an imminent danger of failure or collapse” on Feb. 27.

When the tenants were forced to leave 66 Norton St., the building’s owner, Ernest Schemitsch, who currently resides in New York City, relocated his tenants to hotels. Doyle said Schemitsch has been cooperative, paying the tenants’ hotel costs and providing them with food vouchers.

“Our goal is to make sure that the building is 100 percent before anyone moves back in,” Mendy Katz, the property manager for 66 Norton St., told the New Haven Independent on Feb. 22.

Katz did not respond to multiple phone call requests for comment.

The Livable City Initiative is currently working to find the tenants safe homes. But Doyle acknowledged that moving people into different areas around the city will be difficult to do.

Still, the department’s main goal right now is to make sure all the tenants are “safe and have a place to put their heads on a pillow,” Doyle said.

Once all the tenants remove their belongings from 66 Norton St., the city will lock the building’s doors and a fence will go up around the apartment to deter people from occupying the empty space, Doyle said.

“They’re going to have to rip [the building] apart,” said James Turcio, New Haven’s building official.

The Norton building is located near the Dwight and Edgewood neighborhoods.

Grace Kang |