GROTON — On Friday morning, about 20 tenants of Branford Manor and their supporters stood outside holding signs on Branford Road, protesting long-standing conditions of disrepair and mold that the owner of the 441-unit subsidized housing complex promised the residents would be remedied.
Amity Arscott, an attorney who is representing more than 120 tenants, said most residents have contacted her primarily concerning mold but also safety issues and frequent problems of unlawful entry without permission and without notice.
Arscott told CT Examiner that there has been “no sense of urgency” from Related Affordable, owner of Branford Manor, in remediating the mold issues.
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“They opted to first delay and then, in mid-July, employed an industrial hygienist to assess every apartment,” she said.
At the protest, resident Christina Tejeda said she and her three children were moved from their apartment to a hotel from early July to late August. She said that since her family moved to Branford Manor in 2018, they have all experienced respiratory issues resulting in her children using inhalers and allergy medications.
“We could breathe at the hotel. Now that we’re back, I can’t protect them from mold. I’m very stressed out. It hurts to see my children sick,” she said. “We should be treated as a human, not a poor statistic. It makes you feel you have no value.”
Arscott said the company needs to determine the source of the moisture and humidity that is causing moldy conditions.
She said she saw one of her clients’ apartments being remediated on Friday – but that was the only remediation of any apartment she has seen so far. She said her client was told a few days ago that the work would occur on Oct. 14, but the workers showed up on Friday, Oct. 7 instead.
She also said the remediation procedure appeared to be incorrect.
“I saw workers in hazmat suits but they should have had a containment area. The people were well-protected but the living space was not. Workers were bringing out unsealed bags of moldy drywall and dropping them in the parking lot,” Arscott said.
Potential Default of Tax Agreement
The day before the protest, town officials announced that they intend to consider placing Related and its subsidiary, Branford Manor Preservation LP, in default of the $55 million joint Tax Incentive Agreement, which included Related investing $18.5 million in maintenance and upgrades.
The agreement, signed in 2017, gives Related a $500,000 tax abatement annually.
In a release, City of Groton Mayor Keith Hedrick, Town of Groton Mayor Juan Melendez and Town Manager John Burt said that Related “has not utilized adequate resources to promptly address these violations” and that the town and city “remain committed to ensuring that Related complies with the terms of the Agreement and provides Branford Manor residents with clean, safe housing.”
Hedrick, Melendez and Burt said that they intend — through their respective councils – to consider placing Related in default “for the purpose of prompting Related to engage in the work that needs to be done in a manner consistent with the terms of the Agreement.”
In an email, Groton Town Councilor Aundré Bumgardner said he had called for holding Related in default months ago.
“Apparently Related Companies, controlled by a gentleman worth over $8 billion, has other plans for the property and is trying to drive out the tenants without legal ramifications,” he said. “On May 25, I formally called for holding them in default of the 30-year tax stabilization agreement and only now has the City relented. It should never have taken this long to acknowledge what is essentially criminal.”
CT Examiner contacted Related to ask for a punchlist and schedule of the remediation work, and to find out whether the company will continue to pay for hotel rooms for residents who cannot stay in their apartments because of mold issues. .
In an emailed response, a spokesperson from Related did not provide a punchlist or schedule of the work but said that while the company “aggressively remediates the issues,” it will continue “to support affected residents with alternative options including hotel rooms and on-site accommodations.”
The spokesperson said the health and safety of the residents “continues to be our top priority as we diligently work under the plan developed in partnership with The Town and The City of Groton” to rectify any concerns raised at Branford Manor.
“We are currently undertaking that comprehensive strategy to bring every resource necessary and are working in good faith with elected leaders and residents to ensure it is done as quickly and professionally as possible. We are responding to any issue raised by local agencies and residents as soon as they arise and continue to report on progress,” the Related spokesperson said.
The Town of Groton Council and the City of Groton Council will discuss placing Related in default of the Tax Incentive Agreement at their respective meetings on Oct. 11.