As tenants leave Crystal Avenue high rise, security will be increased
Crime, squatters among concerns as buildings continue to empty out
New London — With residents steadily moving out of the troubled Thames River Apartments, the New London Housing Authority has turned some of its attention to the security of the buildings and their remaining residents.
There has been little in the way of security at the Crystal Avenue high rises historically — there are no locking doors at the entrances to the three high rises, and a police substation remains unmanned. With fewer people around, the concern has focused on the possibility of increased crime and squatters.
City police have increased patrols in the area as the number of families in the 124-unit outdated low-income complex dwindles, though more costly security measures are on hold until there is an identified need.
New London Housing Authority Executive Director Kolisha Fiore said this week that 77 of the 114 families have moved out and more continue to leave every week. All of the families were issued housing choice, or Section 8, vouchers as part of the housing authority’s disposition of the federally subsidized property.
The goal is to have the entire complex vacated by the end of June, at which time the housing authority
expects to sell the property to the city. New Haven-based Glendower Group, hired by the housing authority, is working with the residents to find homes and move.
Betsy Gibson, chairwoman of the Housing Authority’s Board of Commissioners, said she expects that one by one the buildings will be closed and secured.
“As the buildings empty we have to make sure the safety of the residents and security of the buildings is maintained,” Gibson said. “We’re not in a position now to start moving residents from building to building. That time will eventually come.”
Gibson expects that once the number of families in one building reaches a certain threshold — that number is undetermined — they will be moved and consolidated into another building.
Police Chief Peter Reichard suggested as much during a meeting with the board at the end of February following a stabbing in the parking lot and the fatal drug overdose of a homeless man in one of the stairwells at the complex.
Reichard’s suggestion was to seal off floors as they are emptied and close buildings to allow them to be sealed off completely. He also suggested getting rid of abandoned cars in the parking lot, something that Gibson said is already underway.
He suggested ensuring all outside lights are working and perhaps increasing their intensity. Gibson said that security cameras on the site are an added crime deterrent.
Meanwhile, a Superior Court judge involved in a 2014 stipulated judgment is monitoring the progress of the move, at the behest of New London attorney Robert Reardon. It was Reardon’s pro bono work fighting the housing authority for more than a decade on behalf of Thames River residents that ultimately led to a court-stipulated judgment that ended the class-action lawsuit and mandated new housing for the tenants of Thames River by November 2017.
When it became clear deadlines would not be met, Reardon reopened the case and has been holding monthly status meetings with the Judge David M. Sheridan, the original judge in the case, along with housing authority and city officials.
Representatives from both the Connecticut Fair Housing Center and Connecticut Legal Services have remained on site to monitor the progress and ensure residents are not being discriminated against.
Fionnuala Darby-Hudgens, Community Education & Outreach at The Connecticut Fair Housing Center, had expressed concern last month about notices to vacate that were poised to be issued to remaining residents.
The 90-day notices might have been a cause for angst, but thanks to a collaborative effort with Connecticut Legal Services and the housing authority, now run by Imagineers, explanatory letters were included with the notices.
Connecticut Fair Housing is also providing remaining residents with help to fill out extension requests for the Section 8 vouchers. They have hosted three different forums with Connecticut Legal Services and plan another from 5 to 7 p.m. April 23 at Thames River Apartments to help residents fill out the second extension.
Vouchers, the first batch issued on Dec. 28, expire after 90 days without an extension request. Residents can apply for two extensions if they are having trouble finding a place to live.
“Connecticut Fair Housing will continue to do outreach to ensure everyone has found safe and affordable housing,” Darby-Hudgens said.