Waterbury woman, NAACP speak up to city officials after living in deplorable conditions for over a decade; Housing Authority says action has been taken

New Haven

WATERBURY, Conn. (WTNH) — A Waterbury woman exposed to deplorable living conditions for over a decade is speaking out against the Waterbury Housing Authority Friday.

Carla Johnson has lived in the Berkeley Heights apartment complex for over 50 years. 

She told News 8, “Mold and stuff were so bad that it ruined all of my grandmother’s pots and pans and everything.”

She got emotional as she walked us through each room, one was more deplorable than the next. She cried out, “This is where the maintenance crew tried to stop the mice from coming through.”

She filed one complaint after the next to the Waterbury Housing Authority. With no help after a decade, she asked the NAACP and elected officials for backup.

Ginne-Rae Clay, NAACP president, said, “I don’t know who goes in their kitchen and as a part of your kitchen tools you have my strips on your counter at all times to catch the mice in case they come.”

Alderman Vernon Matthews added, “You’re there to work for these people, you’re not there to say ‘you can’t put in a complaint.’ If they feel like that’s the way they need to do stuff, then they need to get out of the job because that’s not what they’re hired for. They’re hired to help these people.”

RELATED: Alderman calls for suspension of Waterbury Housing Authority leadership after reports of deplorable conditions at apartment complex

Carla told News 8 she had to throw away furniture, bedding, clothing, some contaminated from mice droppings others from the mold.

She said, “Every day I came here to get things out: seven mice and one trap.”

With a broken heart, NAACP president Ginne-Rae composed a group of investigators. Together, they did their work and reminded the Waterbury Housing Authority of their responsibility to Carla and the other residents too afraid to speak up in the complex and surroundings complexes.

“My understanding with the management team here will take measures, very strong measures, to evict you if you complain.”

We reached out to the Waterbury Housing Authority and are waiting on a response.

In the meantime, they have issued a housing voucher to Carla so she can go anywhere she wants within the city of Waterbury. She’s also been placed in temporary housing.

In a statement to News 8 Monday, the Waterbury Housing authority addressed some of Carla’s concerns, but added, “The relationship between the Housing Authority and the tenant must be a collaborative one…We cannot respond to what we are not aware of…Ms. Johnson has denied the Housing Authority access to the apartment for the last 4 weeks. It has been impossible to address her complaints.”

The Housing Authority works very hard to provide, safe, decent affordable housing. With all due
respect, we take exception with attempts to disparage the efforts of a dedicated, hard-working staff. The Housing Authority contracts for regularly scheduled pest control services to address these types of issues. We also have 24-hour property management and maintenance coverage where tenants have access to file a work order to advise us of an issue that needs to be addressed. Our response is consistent and done in a timely manner.

The relationship between the Housing Authority and the tenant must be a collaborative one. Tenants have the responsibility to communicate with staff if there are issues that arise between scheduled contract service calls. We cannot respond to what we are not aware of.

We have 3 work orders from Ms. Johnson in the last 2 years, none of which were related to the current complaints, and all were addressed immediately.

Ms. Johnson has denied the Housing Authority access to the apartment for the last 4 weeks. It has been impossible to address her complaints. Furthermore, the apartment you visited has not been inhabited by the tenant in over a month as she was moved to a hotel and was then given a new unit, however, your news report does not mention this.

When the Housing Authority was made aware of Ms. Johnson’s complaints through social media, staff immediately went into action to address the issues:

• She was relocated to a hotel for 12 days

• We changed the hotel at her request

• She was offered several newly-rehabilitated apartments since the beginning of this process

• At our request the Health Department inspected the apartment and found no violations, it
advised us to make certain repairs which we have not been able to address as we have been
denied access to the apartment

• We provided staff, not once but three times to move her belongings to the new apartment

• She has been issued a voucher for reasons we cannot discuss due to legal and privacy issues

• With regards to personal items she states were ruined, a financial offer was made to her, not
because we were required to but because we wanted to assist her in resettling temporarily
while she looked for another apartment. She refused. We also offered to sanitize all other items.

The HUD Hartford Field Office has been apprised of the Waterbury Housing Authority’s efforts and expense in attempting to rehouse Ms. Johnson. Our legal counsel has walked us through our attempts to satisfy Ms. Johnson and has deemed us as having exceeded our responsibilities financially and otherwise.

We are awaiting a report from our pest control company. In the interim, we will continue to do our due diligence at the Berkeley Heights campus.

With regard to other concerns highlighted at the press conference:

• The playscape was closed due to security and insurance liability concerns. Shortly after the
playscape was installed, older individuals involved in gang activity and drug dealing took over
the area and were bullying the younger children, eventually denying them access. Disputes
between groups eventually escalated to the point that one group dowsed the area in gasoline
and set it on fire. Tenants also complained about vagrants loitering after hours and drinking and
participating in drug activity. As incidents increased our insurance carrier expressed
apprehension regarding our coverage. At that point, the focus for recreation for our children
shifted to the Rec Center and adjacent park. A playscape and sprinkler were installed in the park,
in addition, we resurfaced the interior basketball court. We then partnered with the YMCA to
provide afterschool programs that are free to all our Berkeley residents.

The fenced-off building was closed due to structural issues; however, we do not have the
financial resources to demolish these buildings at this time as we must use the funding we do
receive to address capital improvements at all of our developments. We continue to
aggressively pursue other funding to try to do this.

• We do not own or operate Villagewood or Northwood Apartments

The Housing Authority is committed to improving Berkeley Heights. In the past 11 years, we have
invested over $9,000,000 in capital improvements to the apartments and property that comprise the Berkeley Heights campus. We are on track to invest another $350,000 before the end of the year. Berkeley Heights’ REAC score in the HUD assessment system is a 92 out of 100.

On behalf of our dedicated staff, we appreciate this opportunity to provide a response and ask that you give us equal coverage with regard to this issue.

– Waterbury Housing Authority

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